I recently watched the documentary “Divided” by the Leclerc Brothers and promoted by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. The following are some of my thoughts concerning this film.
I’m going to start off with the concerns and disagreements I had with the film. I found parts of the film highly ironic and actually contradictory. It was stated and inferred several times throughout the film that the purpose of youth ministry was to draw kids’ hearts away from their parents and to usurp the parent’s role in raising and discipling their kids. What was ironic was that most of the youth pastors they interviewed said the exact opposite. They stated that it was their desire and intent to work alongside the parents and support and uphold what the parents are teaching. They didn’t want to take the parent’s roles or the parent’s place in these kid’s hearts. I’m surprised that such a blatant contradiction was allowed to remain in the film.
I was confused by the way they referred to various ministries within the church. They seemed to use youth groups, Sunday schools, any age segregation, and corporate worship interchangeably is if they were all one-in-the-same thing. However, youth groups serve a distinct function from Sunday School, and both of those are very distinct from corporate worship. To lump them all together under one category is both confusing and misleading.
I found there were several irrelevant points and misapplications of Scripture made. Their reference to Plato and his ideas of complete separation of children from parents is irrelevant. Taking a child completely away from his family and preventing him from even knowing them has nothing to do with age segregation and youth ministry. There is also a statement that age segregation is the product of evolutionary thinking. While it is blatantly stated, there is essentially no explanation or support given for it. You are left wondering how they reached such a seemingly illogical, unconnected, and unsupported claim. One of the speakers referenced the story of Jesus and the children – using the passage to state that children came to hear Jesus teach and thus were not age segregated. The problem is that the passage says nothing of the kind. What the Scripture actually says is the children were brought to Him so that He would bless them. There are other passages he could have used to support his statement (for instance, the boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish) but instead he misuses a passage of Scripture. They also took commands given directly and specifically to parents (Deut. 6, Eph. 6) and applied them to the church itself. That is not sound biblical hermeneutics.
They discuss how age segregation is the idea of an atheist and humanist and is therefore, wrong. While we should certainly be careful with what we hear and believe, the fact that a method came from an unbeliever isn’t of itself enough to discredit it. Yet that’s exactly what they do. They never explain why age segregation is unbiblical and unscriptural except for the fact it was the brain child of an unbeliever. If you’re going to state something as strongly as that, you have to back it up with Scripture – which they don’t. They also assume that because the Bible never mentions youth ministry and never lays out how age segregation works or see a command for Sunday School, that those things are then wrong. But is something wrong simply because the Bible doesn’t expressly mention it? What about worship leaders, power point slides, pulpits, men’s and women’s ministry, prayer breakfasts, small groups – or prayer journals, spiritual diaries, answered prayer lists, group Bible studies… are these things also wrong because the Bible doesn’t tell us to do them? That’s a very shallow argument. Silence on a topic doesn’t make it right or wrong. It simply means we need to use the principles of Scripture along with a God-given ability of reason and Godly wisdom to determine whether or not something is “okay” or not. Without backing any of their arguments up with Scripture the film sounds more like personal preferences that they are trying to force on the Bible.
That being said, there are some things I do agree with. I don’t think Sunday Schools or youth groups are necessary things for a church to have. While I don’t think they are wrong when they’re done well (solid deep teaching coming alongside of parents), I don’t think they are mandated by Scripture. Many youth groups have strayed from a God-centered, biblical approach to youth ministry and have gone all out for fun and entertainment. I don’t believe that revolving youth groups around fun, food, and friends is glorifying to God or helpful to the youth’s faith. Quit entertaining and start teaching and discipling. I believe for the most part, young people want to be fed, they want to learn and grow and go deep. Yet even more than that – they need to be fed in order to grow in Christ.
I also agree that parents have dropped the ball when it comes to raising and discipling their kids. While I feel the film put too much of the blame for this on the church itself, it definitely is a huge problem with the church at large. Parents are given the responsibility by God of raising, training, correcting, disciplining, and discipling their children. They are not given the freedom to slack off or hand their job to someone else. And until parents take up their role as parents, kids will continue to flounder and walk away from faith and the church. Parents need to realize that one hour once a week (or a couple hours a week for youth groups) is not enough to nourish, instruct, correct, disciple, and grow their children into maturity in Christ.
I would agree that it’s important that kids are with their families for corporate worship. They need to learn to worship, to listen to God’s Word being taught, to see that the “church” is a community – a family. To learn that church is people of all races and all ages brought together by the blood of Christ. They need to see that worship and receiving instruction is vital to Christian growth and faith. They need to see that the church is bigger than themselves and their group of friends. To see that it’s comprised of people with all different kinds of gifts and abilities using them for the glory of God and the furtherance of His Kingdom. And they need to see faithful men and women of all ages and walks of life consistently living out their faith.
So, I do agree with some of the views they put forth and I think their concern for youth leaving the church is valid. I agree that many youth groups and even Sunday Schools have strayed far from biblical and God-centered models. Yet their arguments against age segregation and youth groups largely falls flat. Many of their arguments are logically shallow and they never give adequate Scriptural support for the positions they take. While the film is good fodder for discussion, the lack of support for the claims they make causes the film to be entirely unconvincing. The film sounds more like personal convictions than a biblical consideration of youth ministry.
I'm including a link to Tim Challies review of Divided here. While I think he comes off a little too strong, I think his review is pretty spot on.