Family Integraded Church by J. Mark Fox

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I believe this book is mistitled.  Rather than a detailed study of how to structure and run a family-integrated local church, Fox has given us a chronicle of the history and philosophy of the church he has pastored for 18 years.  To be sure, one of the key components of Antioch Community Church is the centrality of the family and the importance of parents, particularly fathers, to disciple their own children.  But the book is much broader than that and includes his view on everything from elders to church finances to body life to church planting. 

The majority of Fox’s ecclesiastical philosophy is grounded in Scripture and well worth considering.  Many pastors and churches would benefit by adopting much of Fox’s understanding of the New Testament church. 

Fox uses a folksy writing style which might appeal to some but may seem a little casual to others.   He talks about the importance of Scripture and does a good job explaining many truths but I was troubled by a number of things.  For example, the church women have used Beth Moore’s book Breaking Free as a Bible study, but Breaking Free is basically pop-psychology wrapped in a scriptural theme.  Fox also uses the example of Pharaoh not wanting the Jewish children to accompany the adults and Nehemiah 8 has some of the “strongest passages” supporting family-integrated worship (pp. 64-65).  In both cases the stories are taken out of context and forced to teach something foreign to their meaning.  And quite frankly if this is the best that he has to support family-integrated worship he is in serious trouble. 

As for the family-integrated church approach, I found this volume helpful on a number of fronts.  First, Fox and Antioch Community Church are obviously solidly in the family-integrated camp but he is not radical nor does he come across as arrogant.  Perhaps this is because, unlike some of the best known proponents of this approach, he is actually a pastor dealing with real people in real life situations.  Secondly, this book shows that the movement is not monolithic.  Unlike some his church has a nursery, it periodically has segregated teaching opportunities and it occasionally offers what amounts to a Sunday school setting.  All of these are rejected by some in the movement.  In addition, while he obviously has high regard for children and has seven of his own, he does not beat the large family drum as some do.  These things, and more, demonstrate that there is variety in the movement.

While the family-integrated church movement offers a needed corrective to the program-oriented church of modern times, some of its leadership goes too far, pressing Scripture beyond its intended meaning, adopting legalistic standards and attempting to elevate primitive practices to the level of biblical mandate.  We must always be careful not to allow the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction.  As far as I could tell Fox does not do this.  We might not all make the same choices he and his church have, but one senses that he is trying to be faithful to his understanding of Scripture and create a church that is true to that understanding.  Antioch, as Fox makes clear, is a church in process.  All churches are.

Xulon Press, 2006, paper $14.99

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