Dividing up the church for teaching

(Jamie Dickson) #1

The topic about women’s bible studies built up so much steam that I thought my slightly tangential question would be best in a new thread.

What do people think about dividing up the church, not by gender but by other categories, to give more “relevant” or “appropriate” teaching?

Some examples.

  • A students-only bible study
  • A prayer meeting for men who work in a particular area of the city
  • Children’s ministry
  • A pastor doing further/more in depth study with a small group of young men who he sees as potential future candidates for full time ministry
  • A “singles” group (cringe)
  • A simplified bible study for those who speak English as their second language.
  • A one-off or short-term programme put on for people entering a particular phase of life (getting married, starting work, having children, retirement, etc.)

(Joseph Bayly) #2

Jesus often instructed his disciples separately from the rest of the people. Needless to say, I don’t dare to condemn it.

(Ryan) #3

Somewhat related is the Homogeneous Unit Principle. I’m in favour of both. :smiley:

(Nathan Smith) #4

Dividing is often helpful. Children’s instruction is the obvious example. This should not be done, however, at the expense of the full body worshiping together routinely.

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #5

I concur when it comes to discipleship; that is, any activity that is fundamentally educational in its purpose. I also concur that worship should be for the entire body - not a segregated subgroup within it.

On that last point, I think children in worship is vital. It’s one of the most powerful “training exercises” a parent might find. I learned this over a decade when my children were (in seriatim) wee ones. It was the period of time when we were connecting with the heritage of the English Reformation (e.g. Anglican Christianity), which has distinctively audio-visual-olfactory-kinetic features, each of which is redolent with spiritual significance.

And, so, our small children were always asking “Why, Daddy, do we do that?” or “Mommy, why is he doing that?” or oftentimes mimicking the actions of the priest, as in when they’d assume an orans posture when prayer(s) were offered during the liturgy. Everything they see, hear, touch, taste, and smell means something. And children unabashedly ask their parents about it. Constantly. If they were excluded from worship, none of this completely natural education of children by their parents and the extended social network of worshiping Christians would ever take place.

(Caleb Starr) #6

Cue the “family-centered church” comments in 3…2…1…

(Zak Carter) #7

There’s a good episode on Practical Ecclesiology about the family-integrated movement. My main takeaway was that “family-integrated worship” does not equal “family-integrated church.” We can support the former (with charity, of course) without buying into the latter.

(Caleb Starr) #8

Yep. It was a great episode. I think you summarized it well

(Nathan Smith) #9

I love having my kids with me during the service. We’ve had friends who’ve left our church because they wanted to be free from their kids during the service. It boggles the mind, really.

I recall once during communion my son grabbed my wife’s hand to stop her from taking the “wine.” He said, “Don’t drink that, momma, it’s blo-o-od,” with a wide-eyed expression. It was great. He’s listening and he’s getting things, and it’s setting up great conversations.

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #10

Oh my, yes!

After seminary I did a one-year intership in a church where I was given opportunities to preach, baptize, and preside over ministries like Awana. A father approached me to relate this:

After worship one Sunday, he was driving his family home, his five-year old son sitting in the back seat. The boy piped up while they were zipping down the freeway to ask “Daddy, why does Jesus stand on my plate? I never see him on my plate.”

The father was flummoxed. Jesus on his son’s plate? What is he talking about??

After puzzling over this with his wife, he remembered that during the sermon I had delivered, a digression developed the concept of Jesus standing in our place to take God’s judgment upon our sin.

The father recalled that during most of the sermon, when he noticed his son at all, the boy was quietly applying crayon to a coloring book. Clearly, the boy was listening to me, and just as clearly he had misparsed a phrase, a concept, and so integrated into his head the strange notion that Jesus stood on his plate (rather than in his place).

The father continued to relate how the entire afternoon had been spent in explaining this challenging concept (difficult for adults to fathom oftentimes) to a five-year old boy. But, it led by the end of the day to the boy’s profession of faith in Jesus! The father wished me to baptize him (this was a virtual-Baptist church).

(Zak Carter) #11

When I was about 4 years old, we would sing an old favorite of a children’s song in my Sunday school class:

The B-I-B-L-E,
Yes THAT’s the book for me!
I STAND alone
on the WORD of God,
The B-I-B-L-E!

On the word “STAND” I would plop down my little Gideon New Testament on the floor and STAND on the B-I-B-L-E. That’s what the song said, wasn’t it? What greater act of obedience could I show?

I don’t remember anyone correcting me about this, but I did eventually give up the practice.

(Jason Andersen) #12

In our previous church, I used to teach Sunday school for 7-10 year olds. Families remained together during the singing time, and then children were dismissed to Sunday school during the sermon. Pretty typical set up, I imagine.

I really enjoyed it, and it was a great privilege to communicate the gospel to these children. We went through a different catechism question each week and unpacked it. However, as my own children began to get older, for a variety of reasons, I grew uncomfortable with the idea of segregating families during the main time of corporate worship.

I think it’s good to take special time to get down to a child’s level and teach them the things of God at the level of their intellect. But I also think it’s important to maintain that we want them to grow up into thinking like adults as well — and that requires that they be exposed to adult thinking. We also shouldn’t rob families of the blessing of getting to discuss the sermon over the lunch table, or the blessing for young children to get to learn how to sit quietly for an hour without it being solely about them and their entertainment.

So I have nothing against Sunday school, or age segregation in general. I just didn’t like the idea of Sunday school being a replacement for the corporate preaching of the word. I would have liked to simply extend our Lord’s Day gathering to incorporate both.

(Valerie) #13

There’s also the clear expectation that older women will teach younger women separate from the rest of the body. That’s both age and sex segregation.

(Tim Bayly) #14

Right. It is commanded by Scripture:

> Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. (Titus 2:3-5)

The failure to command and assist older women teaching younger women is one of the more significant weaknesses in reformed churches today. Male elders should be a second line of defense when the first has failed, and that first is older women teaching what is good including being domestic (workers at home) and submitting to their husbands. Imagine if reformed churches obeyed this Biblical command! Think of what a reformation there would be in the church today! A prominent woman in the church is the head of her home and the older women take her aside and rebuke her, telling her to submit to her husband—that this is a necessary part of loving him and her children. Telling a full-time lawyer and doctor who is a woman that she should stop working full-time outside the home (assuming she doesn’t really need to), thereby neglecting her children and husband. Explaining to such a woman that she needs to obey Scripture’s command to be domestic, a keeper at home.

The authority of older women in the church is desperately needed today.


(Jason Andersen) #15

Pastor Tim,

I say “amen” to the picture that you paint – of older women rebuking and exhorting younger women unto godliness. What a blessing it would be, indeed, to have such godly women throughout the church. But I guess I’m still having trouble with referring to this as “authority.”

There is a sense in which we are all called to teach, exhort, and admonish one another within the body (Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 3:13), but this isn’t the same as exercising authority over one another, is it? Or should we think of all forms of teaching and admonishment to be “authoritative” in nature?


EDIT: (I trust that you understand, on the basis of previous interactions, that my question is not a denial of authority within the church. The inquiry now just has to do with how authority works itself out in other relationships of the church besides in the instance of the authority of elders).

(Bnonn Tennant) #16

Jason, I also feel sketchy about that language. But I wonder if that’s just because we’re victims of modernity, and since moderns hate authority we have corroded it down to only the hardest and most indissoluble remains.

Are honor and authority not bound up together in some way? If you must honor someone, then in some sense they have a standing over you that translates into a power of command. It might not be a power to command much, as in the case perhaps of a mother and her grown son. Or, better stated, it might not be a power to command as such, but it is nonetheless a powerful ability to have her son do something. Is that not a kind of authority?

In the case of Titus 2 women, Young translates verse 4 as saying that the older women must “make the young women sober-minded, to be lovers of [their] husbands, lovers of [their] children.” Is this not some kind of authority? The form of it is certainly not like the form of authority a father has over his younger children, or a pastor has over his flock, but it seems like we’re maybe pouring acid on the idea of authority if we say it isn’t authority at all.

(Ross Clark) #17

Here’s one excellent use for a “breakout” service - one in a foreign language.

Years ago in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to sit through a service conducted nearly entirely in Arabic. It wasn’t that the people there couldn’t speak English, indeed most were quite fluent. But the whole thing was a (positive) reminder of how important it is for people to be able to worship in their mother tongue. Salaam!

(Tim Bayly) #18

There are many stations in life that carry with them authority and submission. Old and young. Man and woman. Employer and employed. Master and slave. King and subject. Teacher and student. Father/mother and son/daughter. Shepherds and sheep. Sometimes several stations go in opposite directions. For instance, within the flock of God, a son may be his father’s elder. Other times, stations flow in the same direction. A father can also be his son’s elder.

Being egalitarians at heart, we need to become more observant and thoughtful about these stations, and honor them. But I fear most of us are as defensive about stations and authority as we are about manhood and womanhood: we fall all over ourselves trying not to see their significance and denying their meaning. When we do finally grant some meaning to them, it’s only because we were dragged kicking and screaming to some silver bullet of Scripture which, in the final analysis, we found ourselves incapable of denying.

So when it comes to teaching and admonishing one another, it would be helpful to study who we are likely to accept admonishment and instruction from, and who we’re not. And if we look closely enough, often we will find that there is a station in life and some aspect of authority involved. In other words, the one anothers of Scripture should not be turned into egalitarian propaganda. In no way does such back-and-forthness in the church deny the up-and-downness of authority God has placed everywhere across His creation.

Hope this is somewhat helpful. Love,

(Jason Andersen) #19

It is helpful, thank you.

(Jesse Tiersma) #20

I think this is something that is both helpful and potentially unhelpful. If there are a large number of college students in a church it is certainly helpful to provide discipleship to their specific challenges and needs, or if a church has many newlyweds, then a class to help them learn about the transition from being single to being married could be great.

However, oftentimes what these devolve in to are various cliques in a church, everyone divided into groups that are the most like themselves, and this carries over into corporate worship as well. People sit next to those in their “group” and they are the people they socialize with before and after service.

I’m not sure what the best way to gaurd against cliquishness is, but it is something that needs to be watched out for.