How can I help my church become more integrated?

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How can I help my church become more integrated?

Nov 16, 2009 |John Thomas
Question

My church has recently tried to create a fledgling young adult ministry that includes our 20s class, a "Nearlywed/Newlywed" class, and another young married adult class, with about 65 people total in that department on a good day.

The church staff wants to see more interaction between our classes and less division based upon marital status.

I would agree that previously our single friends in their 30s and 40s being in close proximity to us did little to encourage others, especially guys, to seek marriage. I myself only recently "woke up" to the need to be more intentional in finding a wife.

Having been a lay leader in college ministry, I volunteered to be the department coordinator for these classes back in the summer. Months before that, I became a regular reader and listener of Boundless content, and I've bought into the vision of encouraging single adults to be intentional in their attitude toward relationships, and I've personally come to see the value of being mentored by those who are successfully navigating young married life.

This year a lot of our single and married guys have started going to our men's fraternity class and are starting to learn what it means to be intentional and "reject passivity" as a man, and it's been easier to get some of them to see these values, too.

But I think there's still some resistance to this integration from adults on both sides of the altar, as well as some divorced, single mothers and even some of our teachers. A great deal of the young married adults don't even know that it's supposed to be one department. I've talked with a few staff ministers, and I don't know that our church staff has a clear vision for integrating this department.

I would never blatantly disregard their judgment or buck their authority, but I think God may have me in this unique position in time to present a case for building a ministry with many of the principles in mind that you espouse here on mentoring, intentionality and community. Specifically, I'd like to see us have more department-wide activities and potentially a mid-week worship/teaching/fellowship gathering geared toward our young adults. I've been told that eventually they might hire a young adult minister if we continue to grow.

I'd like your thoughts on how good of an idea this integration is, and what I could do to encourage this to happen and pave the way for even greater things to come.

Answer

I admire you for your desire to see more integration at church. I'm absolutely for it, and while pulling it off can be tricky, there are some churches doing it and doing it well. It's going to look differently at different churches, but we can learn from what others have done.

Not knowing your church's mission and personality puts me at an obvious disadvantage in advising you with too many specifics, but I agree that maybe God has you in this place for a purpose, so let's think about how to proceed and see if that is the case.

First you need to know why integration is worth the effort. And your highest purpose needs to be more than that it promotes intentionality in marriage. That's good, but not enough.

One of the main ideas behind more integration at church is that we all have something to learn from one another and we benefit when different ages and seasons of life in the body of Christ are in regular proximity with one another.

God has given us each spiritual gifts, and the more we can be around others and their gifts, the more mature Body we become. It's erroneous (and even prideful) to think that all the spiritual gifts I need are represented in my small group of friends.

That isn't to say we don't benefit when we spend time with those in similar seasons and of similar ages — we absolutely do — but we don't want to do that exclusively.

Second, in order for something like this to begin to form in a church, there has to be belief and buy-in from leadership. If it's only you, you will be continually frustrated. I advise that you spend some time with key leadership and pitch your thoughts on the vision you have. Be ready to make a good case for it. Once you have a person of influence at the church buying in, the road will be a bit more smoothly paved.

Also, begin to talk the idea up to your friends. Find at least one or two representatives from each age and season of life you hope to integrate and begin selling them on it. Once you have a tiny spectrum of "believers," get them to join you in praying about it and brainstorming about ways to begin informally promoting it.

Third, know that there will be resistance for any change, much less change that brings us into a church scenario for which most people just don't have a paradigm (though they need look no further than a family to find such a paradigm). But let's face it, we like people like us. People who are like me affirm me. Being around others with whom I (think I) have nothing in common sounds tiring. What would we talk about?

Note that most of the resistance comes from a me-centered approach to life and church, but the irony is that it is actually of greater benefit to "me" to be around a broader spectrum of the gifts in the body of Christ. What good does it do me to only be around certain body parts of Christ's body? But it's more than a good thing; I actually need it to be a healthy member of the body.

Fourth, people need teaching about integration. Know that beginning to integrate will be filled with trial and error. I wouldn't advise a complete overhaul at once but would urge little steps that merely introduce the concept. But you (or someone in leadership) need(s) to teach about the biblical case for more integration — that it is more than just a new fad or trend or idea, but a way to mature as a Body into the image of Christ.

So get your case for integration together, get buy-in from leadership and at least a few from each season of life and age group, prepare for resistance (but don't be discouraged by it) and help people understand the biblical case for it. Give lots of grace for those who don't "get it" by remembering the day when you didn't either. And of course, pray for God's wisdom as you move forward. I'll be praying too.

Blessings,
JOHN THOMAS

Copyright 2009 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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