Why the Family-Integrated Church Model?


These notes are from a recent interview I did with Eric Burd on a live conference call. Pastors and elders from around the country gather and discuss topics relevant to the family-integrated church. Eric is the president of the Household of Faith Ministries and The Council for Family-Integrated Churches. This discussion revolved around the ministry model used at Hope Family Fellowship and HOFC, and how we arrived at it. If you would like to join in on future discussions, drop Eric an email and he will invite you. Thanks – Jeff

Eric Burd

Friends,Here are the notes below from today’s conference call – HOFCC Reform: Household-Like in Structure. Thank you, Dr. Jeff Klick, and all who were on the call today. The notes in Word document form are available here.

Our next call will be on July 13th.
Household-Like in Structure

This is HOFCC Reform #11 – and to us it simply means that we organize the structure and activities of our church along the simple lines of a loving, well-ordered, age-integrated household.

Jeff, don’t you think God intends a “familiness” to be present in the church?
Is God the CEO of the universe, or our Heavenly Father? Is Jesus the vice president in charge of human redemption, or our Savior and brother? Is the Holy Spirit the grand change agent for the human affairs department, or is He the One that integrates us into the family of God?

When we are born again, we become part of the family of God. We are not absorbed into a new corporation, but we enter into a family. We do not join a new movement but we enter into a family relationship. God is the One that came up with the design, not man. God is the One that said we are part of a body. We are the Bride of Christ. We are His children. God started the human story with a married couple, Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding, and we are heading to the ultimate wedding as history ends. His idea. His plan.

Therefore, it would seem logical that God would have structured the organization of His church body along the same general pattern as He revealed Himself to us – like a family. The organized church today closely resembles a corporate structure more than a family one. Is this the plan revealed in Scripture?

Why do you think the church today looks more like a corporation than a family?
The church has not always functioned this way. We in the FIC movement, sometimes tend to think we created something new, but what we really have done is return to something old. The separating of the family into age groups is a relatively new concept compared to the scope of church history. In the 1950-60’s, a school of thought arose along the Youth for Christ mindset that found great success. I am not knocking it, just reporting here.

Pre-1950’s there really was not that much thought even given to teenagers as a stage of life. They were simply young adults and expected to act like adults. As groups started to form that focused on the teenagers, there began a gradual downward spiral into more juvenile and isolated thinking. The popularity of these groups caught the attention of the church. The church began to adopt some of these methods and the modern youth emphasis was in full swing.

If you perform a simple Google search today on youth or children’s ministries, you will find thousands of them. Full curriculums, how-to seminars, leadership training, and a host of supporting ministries have sprung up. A mindset has been adopted that in order to be successful as a church, the youth must be served.

Studies are quoted that state that if you fail to reach the young people before the age of eighteen, they will not be reached. So children’s ministries, age-segregated Sunday schools, junior youth, senior youth, college and career, singles, and just about any other age division you can think of, are common. If a church hopes to be relevant and attractive to the modern family, ministry must be supplied for the children.

Thus, enter the corporate mindset?
As the church attempted to reach the young people, more structure was required. A solo teaching pastor was not going to be gifted or able to reach the children, youth, singles, and other groups effectively. The church had to grow and adapt. Staff had to increase. Support staff had to be added to help the staff reach the various groups. Larger buildings were needed to support the growth of families that were willing to allow the church staff to train their children.

As the church grew and became popular, more structure was needed. The days of one pastor studying, praying, and visiting his members were quickly becoming a distant memory. Ministry was being redefined and quantified. Numerical growth, facilities, staff size, and outreach all became the goal. Again, I am not calling into question the motives of anyone, just reporting historical facts.

Part of what happened was some churches became huge. New terms were coined, like mega-church and hyper-growth. These became the visible ministries that purchased TV and radio time. Success breeds imitation. This ministry model became THE ministry model. Young pastors wanted to become the next mega-ministry to leave their mark on the world.

Seminaries began to teach young students this model is the one that will lead to success. A large staff, huge budget, growing congregation, and ever-present facility expansion became the norm. More than the norm, it became the plumb line for success. Attend any pastor’s meeting and walk up to a pastor and after the name is given, the next question will almost always be – “How big is your church?”

The bigness of a church demands structure and organization. Department heads, countless volunteers, payroll, financing, fund raising, maintenance, and clerical staff became a need. The church had arrived at the pinnacle of success. Millions of dollars and hundreds of employees demands organization. Leadership seminars and books proliferated. How-to’s from those who had achieved the results, became must reading. Speakers, seminars, conferences, training, all in the quest for success became standard training for church leaders.

While none of these things is necessarily wrong, it makes one wonder about what happened to the pastor’s study, prayer time, and personal relationships. A pastor will receive a great deal of training in leadership but how much in effective prayer? The ins and outs of advance fund raising and staff management are required but how much in developing personal relationships? It is easy today for a corporate executive to move into the pulpit and the lead pastor’s role because the functions are not that much different, just the end product and dollar amounts.

Here is something that I call a dirty little secret – this model produces activity because of job security and not necessarily results achieved. Every staff person must produce and earn their share of the budget or their job will be in jeopardy. Thus, you have an explosion of meetings, outreaches, and events in order to justify the salary paid. We must stay busy or we will be out on the street. This breeds infighting, competition, and many times strife over money, people, and face time before the congregation. The vision of the church is often fractured around strong personalities and individual visions.

You seem to know something about all of this – can you explain your background a bit?
In the late 1970’s, I began working for H & R Block. I managed 32 tax offices for them and wanted to become the youngest divisional director in the company’s history. As I was pursuing this goal, God called me to walk away from it. I did not know what He had in mind, but I was not too happy. We ended up going to a large church in KC where I noticed an advertisement for help with the bookkeeping. I offered to assist and shortly thereafter, the church offered me the position of church administrator.

During the next eleven years, I worked like crazy. We grew from 1100 to 3500 attendees. I helped build the infrastructure of this church. Hired the department heads, associate pastors, was in charge of basically everything from the facilities to being the elder in charge of the Christian school. I taught, led the staff, had dozens of meetings, and basically ran on adrenalin overload for over a decade. I was able to build the ultimate church structure and we were hugely successful. We had a network of over 40 churches and we were the hot spot in KC.

In 1993, the senior pastor ran off with his book editor and chaos reigned. During my final few months there, many of my views of what a pastor should do were challenged. Actually, this evaluation time had begun a few years earlier, but now these thoughts were being forced into the forefront.

A couple of years before this, I had begun to question the wisdom of what we built. One event stood out in my mind as I revisit all of this. I took a week once to interview the 120 junior and senior students at our Christian school. Out of these young people, I found just a few that really loved the Lord. This struck me as sad since we had these young people under our care since birth. Where had we failed to reach them? We were spending over 1/3 of a million dollars a year on the school and the young people were hard as a rock toward the Lord. Why?

I have since learned that this is not a unique finding. Studies show that 70-90% of young people walk away from their faith by the first year in college. How could this be? In my world, we had the best nursery, children’s ministry, junior and senior youth leaders, and college leaders that money could hire. How could we be losing these young people in such huge numbers?

As I contemplated the changes coming to my personal world, I began to entertain some new thoughts. What did the Bible actually say the job of a pastor was anyway? I knew what I had been doing, but what did the Scripture specifically say? If I ever started a church, what would it look like in function and vision? If the fruit of what we were doing was so poor, what could we do differently? These are dangerous thoughts indeed.
In December 1993, Hope Family Fellowship was birthed. Our goal was to not do much of what the corporate church had decided was required to be successful. The goal switched from being financially and corporately successful to helping families take the responsibility for their own spiritual development and discipleship. I would challenge fathers to lead their families. In fact, I would resist having them delegate that responsibility to me as the pastor and to the church organizationally.

We did not find out that we were called a family-integrated church until the early 2000’s. Up until then, we thought we were alone and just plain weird.

How did you come to these conclusions about family integration?
The question I had to answer was if a church were not going to be corporate in structure, how would it operate? As I studied this, it became clear that much of what I had been doing was not mandated in the Scripture. In fact, there is a procedure used to help us think differently called “The Desert Island View.” This method would be good to run some of our ideas through on a regular basis. Here is a quick summary:

If the Bible washed up on a deserted island and was found by someone who had never seen one before what would they do based on what they read? If the reader had no preconceived ideas of how “church” should be performed, what would it look like? While we cannot know for sure, no serious thinker would come up with an age-segregated, corporate model from the pages of Scripture. Nowhere within the pages of Scripture is a reader going to find what we do today as church. In neither Testament will the family being separated into parts come into focus. The family is always primary and almost always intact. There are no youth groups, children’s, or single groups mentioned, but the family is centric and primary on nearly every page.

In the Old Testament, using either the tabernacle or the temple model, the family is usually either all together or the father represents the whole unit. It was unheard of to isolate the various segments of the family. The same pattern is true in the New Testament. There is no mandate for the organized church to isolate. The picture presented in both Testaments is a family unit serving God together. The father is leading and the family is in step with him. While there is an organizational structure in the Old Testament, even this is always tied to the father. God’s people in both Testaments were strictly warned to not imitate the unbelievers around them. The modern church has largely ignored the warning.

By adopting a corporate mindset in the church, has the role of the father been diminished?
The simple answer is yes. The currently popular church model, while I believe it is unintentional, has almost entirely removed the father from leading his home. Parents can delegate away their responsibility to the “professionals” at the local church and honestly believe they are doing the best thing for the family. These staff pastors/leaders are highly trained and they know how to reach the children, or so the thinking goes. Never mind that every study proves the failure of this method – the myth continues. The typical youth leader is just slightly more mature than those being led.

That is probably harsher than it needs to be stated, but still, the proof is in the fruit produced. Marriages are falling apart and young adults are leaving the church in record numbers. If something does not change quickly, the church is in deep trouble. I am not full of fear because I know Jesus said He would build the church and it will not fail. However, that growing church is largely moving away from the country that I love.

To be honest, the corporate mindset is not entirely the fault of the church. The delegation of the training responsibility to the church provides a measure of insulation later on for the parents, and I believe that is why so many choose this model. “We did the best we could. We sent them to the finest schools and church programs, so it is not our fault that they walked away. What else could we do?” says the broken parent when their child rejects Christ.

How entrenched is this view and church model?
Those of us who have attempted to challenge the status quo have been criticized, marginalized, and demonized. We have been called extremist. We are told we worship the family. We are Amish-like and ruining our children through withholding what is so obviously good for them. This all sounds like the abuse we early homeschoolers endured as well.

Some of us have pursued advanced degrees and ventured into the academic foray. My Ph.D. dissertation was entitled, The Biblical Analysis of the Roles of the Family and Church Regarding Faith Impartation. One has to love the titles of such things. My basic argument went along the lines of the current church model is clearly failing, so why don’t we go back and look at Scripture to see what it really says?

My lead professor had earned his degrees in Christian education and I was attacking this as unbiblical. Our relationship was tense, to put it mildly. The understanding that the Scripture presents a clear family-oriented society seemed to be a strange concept. Historical writings, Scripture quotations, examples, and objective research really did not go over too well. After about a year-and-a-half battle, my final draft was approved, but I think they just wanted to get rid of me.

The model is entrenched because it seems to work. It works, that is, if money, numbers, large staff, and buildings is the goal. If effective generational transference of the faith is a goal, it fails miserably.

So if this current model is not really biblical, what should a local church do?
I believe we must abandon the corporate mindset. The pursuit of numbers, money, and activity must be changed into the desire to see a healthy functioning home. That is, if the family is the primary tool used by God to propagate the faith, and it is. If the family is the glue that holds together the society around us, and it is. If the family structure is the plan and preferred model from God in the beginning, and it was, we must rethink what we are doing.

Yes, we must reach the young people with the Gospel before they reach adulthood, but who should reach them is the correct question. Whom did God place in their life with the best opportunity, the most access time, and natural relationship? Even the busiest church in the country only has the children for a few hours a week. The parents have access that every pastor could only dream about. A captive audience that had to listen. Most pastors would love to have someone attend a discipleship class that lasts six weeks. How long does a father have access to his children? Every meal is an opportunity. Each day is a possibility to impart to the next generation. We must not waste it.

“But what about service projects and ministry?” the department head asks. Great question. What would happen if each pastor began to challenge every family under their care to reach out to those around them in love? Every person in the pew knows people that the pastor or staff member will never be able to reach, but they could. What would happen if families actually began to do the work of the ministry instead of the paid staff only?

A mindset must change if this is going to happen. I hear rumblings of it and I am very grateful. Authors like David Platt and others are getting press for their “radical” ideas. These ideas are pretty commonplace in the FIC world, but let us rejoice if they receive a larger hearing and acceptance.

Part of my soul searching during my transition time was based around Ephesians 4:11-12. This is one of the few places that the job of the pastor is actually expounded. Verse 12 says we are to “equip the saints to do the work of the ministry,” and here is where the mindset needs to change.

In the corporate structure, this equipping takes place from the staff’s point of view and at their initiation. In the large church where I served, we would schedule an event or outreach and invite the masses to come along with us. We would promote, attempt to train somehow and conduct the event. The results were almost secondary to the activity itself. “We had five hundred people go out witnessing,” boasts the evangelism pastor. “We handed out thousands of tracts.” Of course that is great! However, if those same five hundred people had been inviting their neighbors over for a cookout and evening of fellowship and getting to know one another, would the results be higher or last longer? Which event would lead to more relationships and the possibility of discipleship?

What would have happened to the children’s view of their father as he was observed sharing his faith with the neighbor? What about the mother, or the children, as they helped get everything ready to share their faith? The evangelism pastor may not have had as big or seemingly successful event, but I wonder in the great scope of things, which way would produce the best, longest-lasting fruit. I really don’t have to wonder, for the statistics are clear.

God created the family as the primary model for the Church to imitate.
Why focus so much on the family? I did an informal survey, knowing full well the results before I even asked. I polled pastors, asking, “How much of your counseling time is spent in dealing with dysfunctional family issues such as marriage counseling, parent/child issues, etc.” As expected, the vast majority of the time spent dealt with the breakdown of the family. The next question is often not asked, but must be – what are we doing about it? I asked this question one time to the fifteen pastors under my leadership and all I received was blank stares.

My premise is that a great deal of ministry flows from a functioning home and very little from a dysfunctional one. If effective ministry is the goal, where should our emphasis be focused as leaders? If we are to be effective in equipping the saints, we must cast off the corporate model and get back to the basics of helping the family flourish. Dividing the family into its parts simply is not the best method to accomplish the God-given task to pastors/elders of equipping those under their care.

If the church is a family, and she is, then following the family model would make the most sense. Far more sense than following corporate America. Families have a more fluid structure, and they are primarily relationship-based. Churches should be relationship-based as well. The kingdom of God is relational at the root level. We have a relationship with our Father and we are part of a living group called the body of Christ.
Being born again is a family term. We were born the first time into a family, and when we are saved, we are born again into a new family. We have a new Father and millions of new brothers and sisters. We do not join the great corporation of Christ but we become part of His bride. In any family, there is structure. Biblically speaking, the father is the under-shepherd to the family, leading under the great Shepherd. In the church, God has called pastors/elders to provide leadership and oversight.

The goal of a wise father is to train his children and to prepare them to leave the comfort of the home to make a difference for Christ. The same should be true for the leadership of the local church. The pastor/elder should be equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry. Train and release. Prepare and send out. The most logical place for the pastor/elder to invest his time is with the head of the family.

I realize that there are many families that are already dysfunctional. The tragedy of divorce and absent fathers is wreaking havoc. But, the correction of abuse is not disuse but proper use. We cannot minister by exception but by vision and principle. We deal with exception but we should order the church based on clear biblical principles. The family model is clear.

We hurt with and assist those without the family intact, but we do not throw out the model because of them. In fact, the best help for dysfunction is to model proper function. Healthy families are the cure for sick ones. Integration is part of the solution and help needed to repair what is damaged. Further isolation is not helpful. We must model what is correct to change what is damaged.

So, Jeff, for our HOFCC reform, Household-Like in Structure, we define that as: organizing the structure and activities of our HOFCC church along the simple lines of  loving, well-ordered, age-integrated households. It sounds like that explanation would be a fit for your church at Hope Family Fellowship in Kansas City as well?
Exactly, Eric, this has always been our model as well. In fact I have gone through this interview with the very purpose of showing the contrast between contemporary models and what it seems that God had in mind for the church from the beginning.

Our churches ARE our extended family, and the ideal is when we experience the joy and fellowship of what God has designed for us. As churches we should more-or-less function as an extended family.
A)    The church is the “household” of God.
B)    God is our “Father.”
C)    Christ is the “firstborn” and our “Elder Brother.”
D)    Leaders are “elders” of the family.
E)     We are all “brothers & sisters.”
Galatians 6:10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faithThis emphasis allows us to avoid institutionalism while maintaining an orderly structure that encourages our ministry to be more of a loving lifestyle.

We have returned to a more relationship base rather than an institutional base. We are really not program-oriented. Ministry takes place in the context of relationships, and I would argue in a more efficient manner with a longer impact than anything I ever accomplished through the corporate structure model. The primary difference is it is age-integrated and family-directed, and not commanded from the leadership. Pastors/elders should invest the bulk of their time in supporting the family to be healthy. The fathers should be the primary target for training and follow-up so they can take that training and lead those under their care. This does not mean that mothers and children are never addressed or given specific training, but the leadership should invest in the leader of the home first, and often, if long-term change is to be gained.

About a year after starting Hope Family Fellowship, I had a meeting with the elders of the large church I had left. As we chatted, I shared one important principle learned. “When I served at this church I used people as a means to an end. Now I know the people are the end.” An awkward silence followed.

The local church should support the family unit, not divide it. You will be hard pressed to find any examples of age-segregation in the Scripture. You will however find examples of a unified family unit in just about every book. By staying together in worship and ministry, families actually model the philosophy of ministry God has established for both church and family.

If God set up the family the way He did, if God wrote the Scripture the way He did, if down through the centuries the family has always been primary, why are we abandoning it now? Is the age-segregated, department-dominated model really a biblical one? I do not believe so. The family model is, so why are we not following it?

Why would we separate the children from the parents on Sunday? Why would we want to remove the primary responsibility of teaching away from the parents and onto a church staff? Why would we want to deprive the father the joy of leading his children to salvation? Why would we want to create activities to keep the family busy instead of helping each family fulfill its unique calling from the Lord?

We would not, and that is why we are FIC.

Dr. Jeff Klick
Eric Burd

360 909-9210


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About Jeff Klick

Husband, father, grandfather, pastor and author that loves his Lord, wife, family and the Word of God. Please let me know how I may help you in your journey.

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