Family is in. Marketers know it. Employers know it. But does the church know it?
After talking to children’s ministers across the country, the answer is a resounding yes. Whether churches have plunged into this thing called family ministry or held back for the right timing, the biggest trend in children’s ministry today is a shift to family ministry.
“We need to treat children’s ministry as a whole. Children’s ministry is family ministry,” says Darrell Fraley, a children’s pastor in Mason, Ohio. “You cannot change a child over a long period of time without impacting the parents. Families and the church have to be partners.”
You may be doing “family ministry” already and not even realize it. You may still be in the dreaming stage of starting a family ministry. Or you may have a full-blown ministry in place. Wherever you are in your journey, you can be assured that you’re riding one of the biggest current sociological waves that — if it hasn’t already — will crash into your church.
What does that mean for your church? It means lots of things to churches who really care about impacting this generation and generations to come.
OUT WITH THE OLD?
Is family ministry the most important ministry in your church? Should your church be “less concerned about building good churches and more concerned about building strong families” as one family ministry proponent suggests? A word of caution: Any time a new ministry trend emerges, those of us who live in black and white realities are quick to toss out the old and bring in the new. But children’s ministers who’ve moved into the realm of family ministry advise moving slowly. Bring people on board, share your vision, and then ease into change.
In addition, keep your eyes on the goal. What is it that God has called your church to? What is the mandate for the church at large?
Many sociologists tell us that societal woes are due to the breakdown of families. If only the family were “fixed,” our world would be a much better place. So why shouldn’t your church jump on the family bandwagon?
Well, you should, of course. But you should do it for the right reasons.
Some people say families should not be the church’s focus. William Easum in Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers writes, “Family is never a priority in Scripture. It is mentioned only six times in the New Testament and never in relation to a congregation. Family is always secondary to Christ’s claim on us (Matthew 10:37). On several occasions Jesus de-emphasized the importance of family. Family obligations came behind the demands of discipleship.”
Is Easum right?
Take another look. I believe with all my heart that God is not calling the church to strengthen families for the sake of society. Or for the sake of simply building church attendance. Or even for the sake of the family itself. God is calling the church to strengthen families so the Kingdom of God is strengthened.
Why is God interested in Christians growing to be more like him? So they’ll let their light shine in such a way that people will see their good works and God will be revealed (Matthew 5:14-16). Why is God interested in the healthy life of families? Women are encouraged to build healthy families “so the Word of God may not be dishonored” (Titus 2:5). Overseers and deacons are admonished to be “good managers of their children and their own households” because if they can’t take care of their own families, how will they “take care of the church of God”? (1 Timothy 3:5). Wives and husbands are to be a picture of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). We in children’s ministry lament the fact that we have so little time with the children in our churches. They’re only with us a few hours a week. It’s difficult to make a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God, we think. Therefore, and this is the crux of family ministry, we need to multiply our ministry to children through their parents. As we disciple and train parents, their growth will significantly impact their children.
So, in everything we do at church, we keep our eyes on the goal of knowing and proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And we gear our programs to be most effective in accomplishing that. If we really want to create long-term growth in children, we’ll retool our ministries to involve parents and families. We’ll see our role in children’s ministry as equippers of the most effective disciplers of children-parents. Rather than planning “intergenerational” events that split up families, we’ll plan real intergenerational events that keep families learning, playing, serving, and worshiping together.
Family ministry looks different in every church. The key factor of a family ministry is not its programs, but rather its philosophy.
Ben Freudenberg, a youth minister and family ministry proponent, explains his philosophy of family ministry: “We need to change our paradigm. How can we have the home-and not just the church-be a center of faith? Homes have to be conscientious about sharing faith. Parents are the primary ministers of faith.”