Churches Are Abandoning Age Segregation All Across America
WAKE FOREST, NC, September 15, 2011. The film Divided the movie, which has gone viral over the last 45 days, has now been thrust into the national media. The Washington Post (yesterday), the fifth largest newspaper in America, and USA Today (today) ran stories about the film and of the many churches, who are reconsidering the practices of modern youth ministry – and jettisoning them.
Scott Brown, who is a pastor in Wake Forest, NC, the Director of The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, and the Executive Producer of the film explains it this way: “What’s going on? It is a form of validation. It is saying, ‘Look there are other churches doing this. The dialog has reached national proportions.’”
Brown said, “What we need to recognize is that, for many pastors, it is permission to ask, ‘Have we been doing something that is destructive?’” It allows them to say, “It’s ok if we abandon this segregated ministry.”
Abandoning the established patterns of youth ministry is very difficult because they are so entrenched in the fabric of church life. There are so many churches saying, “We’ve always done it this way. We cannot abandon this.” But the reality is that other churches are doing this and are thriving. It’s like saying, “Get in while the water's warm.”
Brown has written a book, A Weed in the Church, explaining the history of youth ministry, the biblical support for age integration as well as what youth ministry ought to look like if all you had was the Bible. Brown explains, “The book shows that the Bible not only communicates the message of the gospel, but it actually tells us how to communicate the gospel to youth.”
“What is encouraging about the recent media acknowledgment is that there are now many churches to point to. If we have an acknowledgment that ‘It’s ok,’ it grants permission for other churches to look at it as well.”
While there are many who are embracing the practice of age integration for the discipleship of youth, there is still a vigorous discussion in the Christian community, especially among those who are against it.
Christianity Today ran a harsh movie review of the film on their website and likened it to “an angry letter-to-the-editor,” calling it “propaganda,” “categorically dangerous,” and “filled with scare tactics.”
On the other side of the spectrum of responses is Ted Baehr of the popular Christian film site, Movie Guide, "Everyone should watch DIVIDED. It is that important. DIVIDED is an interesting and compelling documentary. The point of DIVIDED has to be brought to the attention of everyone in the church - it is critical!"
Another critic of Divided, sounding much like Christianity Today, is a popular, neo-reformed blogger Tim Challies, who recently dismissed the film in an unfavorable review, counseling his readers to stay away from it. “It’s a destructive message wrapped in a poorly-made documentary. The church would do well to ignore it,” Challies wrote. He lobbed several grenades against the documentary, saying it was “not at all fair,” builds a “case on a cliché,” and is “not only uncharitable but also utterly ridiculous . . . complete and utter nonsense.”
Brown acknowledges, “Age integration is a very difficult proposition to embrace. I know how counter-cultural and disruptive it is to dismantle the age-segregated world that dominates not only the church but also all of society.” Yet, Brown categorizes the backlash criticisms in this way, “What is interesting is that many of the negative comments can be summed up by ‘You are ugly and your sister's ugly,’ yet they never come in with biblical arguments for their position.” They’re high on emotionalism, personal experience, and pragmatism and low on biblical support.