An Integrated Church – introduction

My senior minister and I haven’t ever sat down and designed a grand master plan for an integrated church with children’s and youth ministry, but what we have had is a continuing and developing conversation about how our church practice can integrate people across generations and, by extension, integrate the full diversity of people. This is what we mean by an integrated church: how our church practice can integrate people across generations.

It’s a conversation that was born out of studying youth ministry at Youthworks College and out of a wholehearted commitment to continually reflect upon the consistency between our theological principles and church practice.

Overtime, it has become apparent that there are three theological convictions that have particularly helped in reforming our church practice towards being an integrated church:

  1. People are Truly Human: All people are finite creatures and all have value as persons. (Theological anthropology)
  2. The church is Truly One and Many: God’s people have a real unity with each other in Christ and a real diversity of individual particularity. (A christological, pneumatological, soteriological, & eschatological ecclesiology)
  3. We are Truly Responsible for each other: The family of Christ truly belongs to each other and the immanent family as the locus of raising children and young people.

It’s been hard to apply what this will look like in our context at All Saints Petersham, but we’ve tried to be creative, to reflect and critique and make adjustments as we’ve gone along. For example, some concrete application of this conversation has been to:

  • Not have an alternative youth bible study during any of our church services.
  • Restructure the 10:00am service so that children get to stay in church and participate in singing, hearing the word read and taught, and to lead the church in prayer before they go off to a further age-appropriate bible teaching program.
  • Have “youth services” once a term where young people actively serve in things like Bible reading, prayers, music, welcoming and morning tea, so that adults and young people alike know church is a place for them to serve and not just observe.
  • Have kids’ services occasionally where the whole service is remodeled around the teaching of adults and children together.
  • Not restrict the new evening service to a young adult demographic.

All of these applications have their limitations and challenges and are part of the process of critique and adjustment.

This is actually a journey that the good people of All Saints Petersham have tacitly been on together in the last 10 years, and the experiment continues.

What is left for us to do is articulate the theological underpinnings for an integrated church, starting first with the issue of integrating people across generations and then extending and applying the theological framework beyond our generational diversity to include other human particularities (e.g. people affected by chronic disability, mental illness, addiction, poverty etc.)

The following three blog posts will follow the titles of the three theological convictions that have particularly helped in reforming our church practice towards being an integrated church:

  1. Truly Human
  2. Truly One and Many
  3. Truly Responsible

Hopefully these blog posts will also be informative for you as you work out and reflect upon your theological principles and church practice, not least that we might do youth and children’s ministry in a way that honours God, builds his kingdom and is biblically and theologically faithful.

There will be discussion questions at the end of each post for your own reflection or comment.

Mike.