My Top Four Favorite Family-Integrated Church Pastors

The critics of the family-integrated church movement often forget that what we advocate was practiced by some of our most treasured pastors and theologians of the past.  The puritans, for example, enjoyed a rich life of family-integrated worship in their lives.  The Parliamentary Directory indicates that the Puritans’ Sunday worship experience was:

spent in reading, meditaiton, repetition of sermons; especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard, and catechising of them, holy conferences, singing of psalms, visiting the sick, relieving the poor, and such like duties of piety, charity and mercy accounting the Sabbath a delight.[1]

Some of the most important pastors of the last four hundred years practiced family-integrated worship.  These blessed pastors enjoyed lifelong minstries preaching the gospel to their congregation in age-integrated worship services with the whole family together.

Week after week, they found great joy in preaching the pure and pleasant Word of God to families, filling them up with great theology.  Imagine what it would have been like to have heard the voice of Richard Baxter or Matthew Henry or Jonathan Edwards as a babe in arms, then as a teenager, and then as a young man starting out life with a new wife at your side.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

What joy it must have been for these men to preach and, at the same time, to pray for whol families as they sat before them in the pews.  Richard Baxter would systematically visit his families in their homes throughout the week and then preach to the gathered families on Sunday.  Baxter sought to teach in a way that his whole flock could understand:

All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible.  This doth best suit a teacher’s ends.  He that would be understood must speak to the capacity of his hearers…. I mean as plainly as the nature of the matter will bear, in regard of capacities prepared for it by prerequisite truths; for I know that some men cannot at present understand some truths, if you speak them as plainly as understood by a child that is but learning his alphabet.[2]

John Bunyan (1628-1688)

How encouraging it must have been to explain the gospel to whole families, anticipating the growth that would come when the wives would ask their husbands though questions at home (1 Corithians 14:34-35), making every head of the house “the Bible answer man.”

John Bunyan, the tinker-turned-preacher who gave us Pilgrim’s Progress, spoke of the importance of having children in the church meeting in this way:

You should also labor to draw them out to God’s public worship, if perhaps God may convert their souls.  Said Jacob to his household, and to all that were about him, “Let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress” (Gen. 35:3).  Hannah would carry Samuel to Shiloh, that he migh abide with God for ever (1 Sam. 1:22)….

If they are obstinate, and will not go with you, then bring godly and sound men to your house, and there let the word of God be preached, when you have, as Corneius, gathered your family and friends together (Acts 10).[3]

Mathew Henry (1662-1714)

Matthew Henry, one of my favorite Bible expositors, sat as a boy under meaty expositions of his father, pastor Phillip Henry, and then followed in his footsteps.

Think of the rich life applications they spun with all generations sitting there in the form of infants, widows, fatherless, grandmothers, and singles.  Mathew Henry would later write:

Little children should learn betimes to worship God.  Their parents whould instruct them in his worship and bring them to it, put them upon engaging in it as well as they can, and God will graciously accept them and teach them to do better (Comm. on 1 Samuel 1:19).

Also: “It is for the honour of Christ that children should attend on public worhips, and he is pleased with their hosannas” (Comm. on Luke 2:41).  Christ Himself said, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes Thou hast prepared praise for Theyself” (Matthew 21:16).

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

In Northampton Church where Jonathan Edwards was pastor for twenty-three years, the children were always present to hear his sermons.  Notes Ednwards’ biographer, Iain Murray:  “No one in those days doubted whether children whould be attenders throughout public worship.” [4]

Even during the height of the Great Awakening when the throngs flooded in for worship, the children would be crowded in so they could experience the service.  While speaking on the need for children to hear the same truths as adults, Edwards remarked, “I have seen the happy effects of dealing plainly and thoroughly with children in the concerns of their souls.”[5]

This is what every child needs — and in my experience — wants.

Perhaps this is one reason for the towering transgenerational impact of these family-integrated church pastors.

What we advocate at the NCFIC is nothing new, but is rather the practice of historic Christianity.  It was clearly practiced in the early church and for centuries afterward by some of our greatest heroes of the faith.  It was not until the philosophy of age-segregated education inflitrated the educational regimen of the nations, and then was adopted in the churches, that the people of God had to face so many family disintegrating forces.

In the midst of the debate over the principles of biblical decipleship methodology, history helps us to recognize that thousands of faithful pastors have made age interagration their settled practice for worship and discipleship.

 


1. Quoted in Horton Davies, The Worship of the American Purtians (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1999), p. 54.  Text found in The Parliamentary Directory under the Diretory’s sections heading, “Of the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day.”  Reliquiae Liturgicae, ex. Peter Hall, vol.III: The Parliamentary Directory (Bath: Binns and Goodwin, 1847), 58-60.

2.  As outlined in Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (originally published in 1656), Chapter 2, The Oversight of the Flosk, Section 2 — The Manner of Oversight.  Available online at http://www.reformed.org.

3.  John Bunyan, “Family Duty: A Father’s Duty to His Family in General.” Article available at http://graceonlinelibrary.org.  Article taken from Christian Behavior, originally published in 1663.

4.  Iaian Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1997), p. 188.

5.  Jonathan Edwards, The Words of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), vol. 1, p. 393.