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The Final Word

By Gregg Harris
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #27, 1999.

What would Jesus do? An age-integrated church? Here's how.
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Gregg Harris

Recently I read a little booklet sent to me by Nate Atwood, called Virgin Territory. He points to research done back in 1930s and 1940s by a Dr. Unwin, who was responding to what was at the time the cutting-edge psychological theories of Freud and Jung. Freud was saying much of society's design and energy comes from repressed sexuality. Unwin, a secular professor, decided to check this idea out historically. He discovered that Freud was wrong; over a 5,000-year period that those societies that strongly supported premarital virginity and monogamous heterosexual marriage thrived. Whenever a thriving culture decided to get rid of these "repressive" values, within three generations it collapsed. Unwin theorized that young men, especially, became extremely creative and productive when their energies were channeled into marriage and society building rather than into promiscuity.

The detail I found intriguing was that, even within these collapsing cultures, there would be pockets of virtue. Those within these pockets of virtue would rise into leadership positions in the new society. The liberal element lost energy and momentum and caved in on itself.

It only takes three generations to lose touch with the past. We're right at that third generation. The Playboy generation was followed by the Sexual Revolution/hippie generation, and now we're in Generation X, which is just arriving at positions of responsibility. Typically what causes kids to grow up is marriage and children. But Gen X has decided not to get married, even if they have children.

This creates an opportunity for the church to "parent" the Lost Generation into maturity. There's a huge need for remedial Christianity.

Who is going to provide this basic training in Christian morals and lifestyle? So far, not the Christian education programs of most churches. Because they are age-segregated, those who need the most help find themselves spending the most time with other helpless learners. The solution is to pair the new, immature Christians of whatever age with wise, seasoned Christians.

This is why at this new church Sono and I are planting in Gresham, Oregon, called Household of Faith Community Church (509-665-6471, for you who live in our area), we have no age-segregated programs. We have no youth ministry, no Sunday school, no college and career group, no singles ministry. What we offer in the place of all these things are age-integrated delight-directed study groups and clubs. For example, we have an age-integrated drama team. Anyone willing to attend and participate is welcome. So you might be acting alongside a grandma, a teen, and a child. Those who are older and more mature are in control of the climate. Those who are younger and less mature are under their guidance and direction.

This is not really a new idea. Two hundred years ago, French nobleman Alexis DeTocqueville wrote in his famous book Democracy in America about the way Americans got things done. Wherever you'd find a nobleman, or a king, or a bureaucracy getting things done in Europe, in America you'd find a voluntary association. We've taken the principle of delight-directed study, meaning pursuing interests you're excited and enthused about, and linked it with hospitality. You can even include an unbeliever in a delight-directed area, and it stays Christian-directed. So far, the groups we have formed include:

  • An entrepreneur study group for Christian principles of business and investment.

  • A ministry technologies team. Their activities so far include designing the church web page, and setting up the church's sound engineering.

  • A worship team for songwriting and composition.

  • A Men of Integrity prayer meeting for ages 13 and up.

  • An activity team that handles ski trips, chess club, etc.

Our social network is now dominated by more mature Christians, focused on something useful and productive. Now we have a very full Christ-centered social life that is not programmed from the top down, but arises from the lifestyles of the mature households in the church.

We work hard to make sure everyone is walking with the wise. For that to happen, the wise have to be in charge. Our ministry teams are run by church rules and an elder attends. Study groups are directed by the host family, who are chosen for their ability to act as a role model.

We want everyone to have a few really good friends, but we don't choose their friends for them. We create age-integrated context and remind everyone they are supposed to be walking with the wise. We create a non-authoritarian culture of discipleship. "Non-authoritarian"? Yes! If I have a garden in my backyard, and you have a garden in your backyard, and my tomatoes are large and juicy, and yours are small and withered, I don't have to be a heavy-handed authority to help you. You'll be asking on your own how to improve your tomatoes. It's the elder's fruitful lifestyle that gives him his authority.

In the upheaval of Elizabethan England, two groups did much good: the Puritans and the Pilgrims. The Puritans worked from within the church to restore it to biblical purity, while the Pilgrims separated into new congregations that had greater freedom to implement the Puritan agenda. I think it takes both to keep the church on track: those working from within the current denominations, and those, like Household of Faith, providing a biblical model from without.

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