I wrote before on my passion in ministry for missions, and how my desire is to see students engaged in God’s mission to reconcile lost people, both near and far, to Himself.
Today comes a more recent passion, family ministry. Much of this passion comes from my study under Dr. Timothy Jones and Dr. Randy Stinson, reading of Voddie Baucham and Brian Haynes, and my friendship with Steve Wright. These men have all contributed greatly to the Kingdom and I am deeply indebted for their work which has made my life and ministry more clear.
What Family Ministry Is Not
Family ministry tends to be misunderstood in many circles, especially in churches that have operated for years under what has been called the “Segmented Programmatic” approach. This approach in short treats individual ministries as individual silos. You have a children’s ministry, a youth ministry, a preschool ministry, adult ministries, college ministry, etc. The usage of this approach came from an increase in professionalization and specialization within the church. The good news of this means that more guys and gals were coming through Bible colleges and seminaries to be equipped both theologically and practically for local church ministry. The downside was that this largely resulted in an abdication within the home. It became the professional, paid clergy’s job to lead children to Christ, disciple them, and encourage them spiritually. Youth ministries operated in many cases independent from the family and other adult involvement, some with “No Adults Allowed” in the entryway to these ministry areas. In time, not only the practical implications of church dropout but the biblical/theological concerns of this model began to surface and come up for discussion. Out of that came the idea of “family ministry” and the resulting controversy. Here are a few things that family ministry is not.
1) Family ministry degrades age-graded ministry. One of the critiques is that family ministry leads to blowing up all existing church structures, firing your children’s and youth ministers (transparency, this would be bad for me and my family!), and removing any structural or relational barriers that keeps the generations apart. Yes, this can be done in some extreme circumstances, but the majority of family ministers recognize the reality that there is a need for teaching at different levels depending on cognitive and emotional development. That’s why I don’t lead a class of three year olds through Grudem’s Systematic Theology, but I will take high schoolers through it. Family ministry recognizes the value of creating community among peers, but not allowing the peers to dictate the culture of the community.
2) Family ministry does not apply to “spiritual orphans.” Another critique is well-intentioned, because it seeks to find a place for the teenager or child who comes from a non-Christian home. The response was to criticize family ministry because of the impression that this approach would neglect them. Family ministry does recognize the difficulty of reaching unchurched families, but does not seek to diminish the role of the family in the life of the churched child/student. Instead, a family approach to ministry enables a church to engage an entire family. Families within the church have the opportunity to build relationships with the unchurched family, share the Gospel, point them to Jesus, and minister to them. The child/student who comes to church through the faithful witness and invitation of a friend can serve as an entry point for engaging the home.
3) Family ministry means lazy ministers. In the current approach, the youth/children’s ministry is the primary spiritual connection for the child/student. There is a push for that person to lead the child/student to Christ and disciple them. In a family model, that emphasis shifts to the father (or mother) in the home, or to another dad in the church who can in some way “adopt” the unchurched family’s child/student. The response becomes “well, what does the minister do then?” Let me say this as someone who’s trying to work this in, it actually increases your work. Instead of just leading Sunday and Wednesday nights, you become a resourcer and communicator to parents. I read more books, I browse more Internet sites, all to pass on to parents to help them in their task of discipling their kids. It still means meeting with students and talking with them about things and becoming an adult mentor to them, but their champion ought be their father, not me.
4) Family ministry won’t work here. Yes, taking a church to family ministry is hard, but it can be done. It requires the vision of a lead pastor and a shared commitment from the leadership team to transition a church to it. It also requires a culture change within the church. When a church adopts a family ministry model, that becomes the model for the church. Everything must be funneled through that lens to build, equip, and strengthen families. It cannot simply be another program attached to an already too long list of programs. If that happens, it fails to receive the due attention, time commitment, and emphasis it requires.
What Family Ministry Is
1) Family ministry is biblical. Just a cursory glance through Deuteronomy 6, Proverbs, and Ephesians 5-6 shows that the home is the primary place of discipleship. Parents are given the unique and God-sized task of shepherding their child’s heart to Christ, and this particularly falls to the responsibility of the father. Deuteronomy 6 lays out the prescription for faith training to happen in the course of everyday life, as God in Providence gives lots of teaching moments. They’re as simple as observing the order of creation, the beauty of God’s handiwork in the sky, and the relationships within the family. Proverbs has many sections where it is written from a father to a son for the purpose of training and teaching him wisdom. Ephesians 6 calls on fathers to not provoke their children to anger but to bring them up in the fear and instruction of the Lord.
Caveat – Bringing your child up in a Christian home is not a guarantee of their faith, or that they won’t one day reject your teaching and rebel against God. The salvation of every person, regardless of their family, is a work of the Sovereign Lord who calls each person to Himself. The starting place for your child’s salvation is your knees. Pray for them, often. Samuel is 15 months old and we are already asking God to work in his little heart to create a love for Jesus in our little boy.
2) Family ministry works with the big picture. I am convinced that family ministry is preferable over programmatic ministry models because family ministry has a long-term goal in mind. Most program-driven models seem to focus on the programs (which may be very good programs and very beneficial, please don’t hear me wrong), but don’t operate with the big picture in mind. Family ministry tries to do just that, to operate with the beginning, middle, and end in mind. It starts at the end and works its way back. The end is to present every man mature before Christ (Colossians 1:28). This informs everything that family ministry does, it asks “how will ____ present people mature before Christ?” Family ministry operates across generations, across divisions and groups within the church, and sees itself as part of a 50 or 100 year process of intergenerational faithfulness. That process is the creation and encouragement of a godly legacy, one that endures for generations because fathers and mothers are faithful to love and shepherd their children to Jesus. It also works to put families together on mission, as kids watch their parents serve and give and go, in the hopes that it will create a love for the nations in the family.
3) Family ministry involves the whole church. This is where many pastors do the collective “gulp” when thinking of shifting to a family ministry model. In order to do it right and do it faithfully, it involves everyone. Not just the children’s and youth ministries, it involves the senior adults, the parents, the grandparents, the single college students, the widows, those without children, and everyone else I didn’t mention. Why? Because family ministry is the connecting of the church and the home. The cliche that it takes a village to raise a child is partly true for this, it takes a whole church to raise a disciple of Christ. It requires a re-orientation of priorities, budgeting, focus, energies, programming, and scheduling because the church sees the value of building and encouraging strong families. Parents get wisdom from those who have walked in their shoes before, children have mentors in the church who aren’t related to them, older adults get to leave a lasting legacy, and children see the beauty of a covenant community rooted in love for not only one another but more so for Christ. It’s not a small undertaking, but it’s beautiful. I worked several seasons in Upward, a sports ministry, at my home church. Through it all we saw 100 or more volunteers across the demographics of the church coming together and the results were incredible. Children heard the Gospel, parents were built up, and some grandparents got saved. Pretty cool stuff. But it required a huge commitment. Pastors, lead your church well in this. Don’t push them, but lovingly guide them to embrace this paradigm shift.
4) Family ministry sees the value of intergenerational ministry. One of the most frequent things I get told when recruiting potential youth workers sounds like this: “I just don’t think I can connect with them. I wonder if I’m too old.” My response is always the same “You’re right, you may not be able to connect with them. I’m not even 30 yet and I don’t know if I can connect with them sometimes.” The point behind that is simple, what children and students need is not another voice on their level – they get that plenty from culture, from media, from their peers. What they need is the voice of wisdom, the voice of godliness that comes from life well lived. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have come from men and women who were retired when I was in elementary school. I cherish their stories, I love asking them about their marriages, and I love asking them what they would tell our students if they had the chance. Intergenerational ministry connects the older with the younger like Paul encourages the church to do in 2 Timothy 2:2. I want my son to have some older, godly men in our church he can call upon for wisdom and who will speak truth into his life. I want older godly men in my life to encourage me as a husband and daddy. I want to help a 70 year old get on Twitter because they want to know what’s going on in the world! There’s much value in connecting generations and allowing them to get involved in one another’s lives. How beautiful it would be to see old and young doing ministry, loving the Lord together, and pursuing Christ as one.
Is family ministry perfect? No, unfortunately not. No system is, everything has its flaws and every church is unique and has to find out how the general principles apply to the specific environment and culture of the church. But let me encourage you to consider a paradigm shift in your church, or even start within your own home. Model this in your family pastor, as you seek to love and serve your wife and raise your children. Be a part of a revolution, not a political one through elections, but a revolution of love and mission.