Once upon a time, there was a season in the church year known as “Advent.” The word comes to us from the Latin for “coming.” The purpose of the season was to anticipate; the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting.
Interested in apologetics and family ministry?
If so, then you’re likely to be interested in this upcoming conference.
God willing, I will be part of an experience in January 2018 that will bring together apologetics and family ministry in a way that will equip you and your church’s staff for far more effective future ministry. Continue reading.
Around twenty-seven thousand people racked up nearly one hundred thousand views of this blog in 2016. If you were one of them, thank you! Since there are no advertisements on my site, I don’t profit from any of the content. And so, if you’ve profited from what I’ve written, please consider purchasing a book (or two or three!) that I’ve written.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what happened on my blog this year:Continue reading.
Advent is the season when we meditate on experiences of waiting and silence in the Scriptures. By coming to terms with the waiting that we see in Scripture, we prepare our souls for those moments when God seems silent in our own lives. One of the ways we prepare ourselves for this silence is by recognizing that, even when we struggle with the silence of God, we are not alone. In the silence, we find ourselves in the company of past prophets who glimpsed God’s glory but who died before they saw God’s plans fulfilled. “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance” (Hebrews 11:13).Continue reading.
I have never been a traditional college student.
I’ve earned three degrees but never once lived on a college or seminary campus, and I’ve worked forty hours a week or more while earning every one of my degrees. In the process, I’ve witnessed a momentous shift in higher education—a movement from on-campus education in fall and spring semesters to an increasingly-complex mixture of online and on-campus components scattered across every corner of the calendar. Now, I am privileged to lead the global campus at one of the largest seminaries in the world and to oversee the research of doctoral students in the field of online theological education.
My circuitous pathway to this position began with a badly bungled telephone call.
This post adapted and abridged from The God Who Goes Before You, by Michael S. Wilder and Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville: B&H, forthcoming).
A couple of years ago, an individual who thought he might be called to pastoral ministry informed me, “I love to teach, and I want to preach—but I can’t stand people.” He went on to describe his dream position: to provide a polished exposition of Scripture every Sunday morning, to decide the church’s vision and direction, but never to deal directly with the people in the congregation. It was a pleasant-sounding dream with one fatal flaw: No such position exists in the very Scriptures that he claimed he wanted to proclaim.
What this young man needed wasn’t merely an improvement in his people skills—though, frankly, he could have used that too. What he needed was to understand the difference between cattle and sheep.
A look at Sojourn Community Church
The following is part of an interview I did with Baptist Press related to my book and DVD-curriculum, Christian History Made Easy.
Professor Timothy Paul Jones acknowledges that plenty of people view the study of history as boring–full of drab facts and dates they’d rather forget.
But Jones says it shouldn’t be that way, and he’s written a book about Christian history–now in the form of a small-group DVD curriculum–that recounts 2,000 years of Christian faith with fascinating stories he believes are as entertaining as a good fiction book. Sure, the facts and dates are there, but they’re not the focus.
Jones’ goal is to help Christians understand and appreciate their faith more by filling in that huge two millennia gap between the apostles and, say, Billy Graham.
The book and curriculum are titled, perhaps appropriately, “Christian History Made Easy” (Rose Publishing). It’s a 12-week session that has been used by churches, homeschoolers and Christians schools. The curriculum intersperses a Jones lecture with animation, intended to make it more entertaining.
Christians, Jones says, need to know more about the history of their faith.
“What draws us together as believers is not only a shared Spirit and a common faith but also the shared story of how God has worked through past believers,” said Jones, professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. “If we aren’t aware how God worked in their lives, we are less likely to recognize the rhythms of God’s work in our lives; we are unable to distinguish which truths are vital to the faith; and, we are less able to articulate why we believe what we believe.
“The challenges that Christians face today are not that different from ones that Christians have faced before. Even if previous generations of Christians failed to face these challenges well, understanding how and why they responded as they did can help us to consider the challenges of our own generation with deeper humility and wisdom.”
Baptist Press (BP) talked to Jones about the importance of learning Christian history and his philosophy of teaching it. Following is a transcript:
Q: Why should the average Christian care about church history, particularly those Christians who believe the Bible is sufficient and church history has no authority?
A: It’s true that Christian history itself has no authority, but what we see in church history is how the Bible has been used in the life of the church, and by looking at how the Scriptures have been used in the life of the church and how the Spirit has worked through the Scriptures, that helps us to be wiser in how we respond today to issues that we face.
Even as we recognize scripture is our sole authority, church history is still really important because of the way we can see, in church history, how the Spirit has worked through the scriptures, among our brothers and sisters who came before us. We learn how they used it wisely and how they used it poorly. Both of those can help us to make wiser choices in how we use the Scriptures, how we proclaim the scriptures today.
Q: Do you think learning church history can impact our faith?
A: It helps us distinguish what is essential, what is non-essential, what matters. For example, in the Great Awakening, I think it would help us to recognize at this juncture in Baptist history how John Wesley, an Arminian, and George Whitefield, a Calvinist, worked together and were able to work in partnership with one another. That’s helpful and instructive for us today.
Click here for the rest of the interview.
Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written recently on various facets of parenting. He encourages parents to avoid three specific motivations: ambition, fear and pride. He concludes:
Parenting is the most enjoyable and exhilarating responsibility I know. I feel as though I am getting to create, invest, sculpt, build, and nurture all at once. It satisfies the pastor, entrepreneur, teacher, builder, evangelist, and leader within me. As I do this, I know my supererogative responsibility is to tend the heart, nurturing my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and teaching them to know, love, and live the gospel. To make sure their heart is right, I must first nurture my own, and that includes forsaking ambition, fear, and pride.
Click here for the entire article.
HT: Jason Allen
Have you ever wondered how to promote a family ministry model in your church? Perhaps you’re just curious about what family ministry is all about. Whether you’re ready to dive in or just testing the waters, RightNow Media and I have partnered together to provide a practical online course to help those who might be interested in the concept of family ministry but who feel overwhelmed when it comes to making it work. Here’s a short description:
The few hours kids spend in church each week are important in growing their faith, but the real work of discipleship happens at home. How can your church help equip parents in their role as the primary disciple makers of their children? In this four-part course, Timothy Paul Jones…shares some key components of a family ministry that will equip parents with the skills they need to develop the faith of their children.
Click here for more information!
Not long ago, I shared with Christianity.com some thoughts about how Christians can apply Paul’s teaching in their homes. Paul established a priority-changing paradigm for marriages and families in Ephesians 5 and 6. He invited parents to view their task not simply as behavioral management but as gospel proclamation, viewing their children not only as their children but also as potential brothers and sisters in Christ.
Check out the video below to learn more.
How Paul’s Teachings About the Family Apply Today
Chap Betts, executive director of The Apollos Project, provides a grace-saturated way to encourage your pastor and minister to his children. He states:
“Too many children of pastors are casualties in the spiritual battle. After seeing the inner workings of the church, many do not want anything to do with the Lord or his people. As a teenager, I almost walked away from my faith because of the hypocrisy and disunity I saw in my church. But in my conversation with this pastor, I was momentarily speechless as I realized how little I had thought about this important question. Why? Because the church that I had shepherded for 25 years had done an excellent job caring for my own children. Today they are 22, 20, 18, and 16, and have fond memories of our relationships there. What had my own church done that so few churches do well? What can churches learn?”
Betts goes on to give readers seven ways in which the church can foster a healthy environment of grace and growth for PK’s (pastor kids). Help your pastor be a better shepherd by helping him shepherd his children. Read more here.
Certain skills may be helpful in a child’s Christian formation—but, when it comes to parents discipling their children, the task is not primarily about the skills; it’s about a divinely-designed relationship. The church may remind me to engage spiritually with my daughters. Ministers, elders, or deacons might even equip my wife and me to disciple these three children more effectively. Yet no one possesses the proper qualifications to undertake this task in our place because no one else can lay claim to the title of our daughters’ father or mother.
Why, then, have so many parents—even Christian parents—abdicated their role in matters of salvation and spiritual growth?
Why do parents fail to see their children as potential or actual brothers and sisters in Christ?
And why is it so difficult for parents to begin the practices with their children that will enable them to see their lives in light of redemption and consummation?
:: Sin and Shrunken Story Lines ::
Of course, the primary reason for each of these shortcomings is that the fall of humanity affects every part of life—including family life. Sin perverts our capacity to perceive reality rightly. As a result, parents need guidance from God’s Word and God’s people to see who their children really are. Many parents aren’t discipling their children because they have never been discipled. They’ve never learned how the gospel applies in their everyday lives, including their parenting practices.
But there are also human means by which this distortion has developed over the past couple of centuries. One of these human means can be summarized in a single sentence: Churches have presented moms and dads with the impression that active participation in the discipleship of children is optional for parents.
No one has explicitly told parents that they shouldn’t guide their children in light of redemption and consummation. What many churches have done instead is to develop comprehensively-segmented programs for the evangelism and discipleship of children, all while rarely (if ever) even mentioning the role of parents in discipling their children.
In such congregations, processes related to redemption and consummation—including the function of disciple-making brothers and sisters in Christ—no longer seem to require the involvement of parents. The parental role in discipleship begins and ends when parents drop off their children at the church building. Parents, locked into the story line of creation and fall alone, do not discipline their children in ways that aim them toward the gospel. Instead, discipline disintegrates into mere management of external behaviors. The focus of parenting shifts away from the gospel and toward goals of personal happiness and material success.
The Christian formation of each generation takes place in age-focused groupings that isolate children and youth from other family members and generations. Youth groups serve as the disciple-making communities for middle-school and high-school students, while children’s programs play this role for elementary students.
The unspoken message in such churches has been that the task of discipleship is best left to trained professionals. Schoolteachers are perceived as the persons responsible to grow the children’s minds, coaches are employed to train children’s bodies, and specialized ministers at church ought to develop their souls. When it comes to schooling and coaching, such perspectives may or may not be particularly problematic.When it comes to Christian formation, however, this perspective faces an insurmountable snag: God specifically calls not only the community of faith but also the parents to engage personally in the Christian formation of children.
:: A Task Too Important to Be Passed to Professionals ::
This is one set of responsibilities that, from the perspective of Scripture, parents simply cannot surrender to someone else. When fathers and mothers hand over these tasks to the church, they lose sight of who their children really are. Parents see their sons and daughters as their children—but, in their practices of parenting, they miss the gospel-rich movements of redemption and consummation that are crucial to God’s story; in the process, they lose sight of who their children really are. The story line in Christian households has grown too small. The role of parents has been reduced to dealing with their children only in light of creation and fall. As a result, they fail to train their children as actual or potential brothers and sisters in Christ.
The real problem in all of this is not primarily about results or retention rates. The deeper problem has to do with an incomplete appropriation of the story of God—a story not only of creation and fall but also of gospel redemption and future consummation—in Christian families. When the whole story of God frames a family ministry, the result is not one more set of activities. The result is a gospel-centered, Scripture-grounded, Spirit-compelled partnership that equips fathers and mothers to participate personally in the discipleship of their children. Family ministry is essential—but family ministry must be far more than a colorful program that mingles two influences to increase the odds of getting better results. Such surface-level perspectives may improve a few passing symptoms, but they can never heal the underlying problem of a story line that is far too small.
Sometimes, when a ministry makes much of Jesus and the gospel, the results do include numeric gains or stellar retention rates. Seven weeks after Jesus erupted alive from a garden tomb, three thousand women and men confessed Jesus as the risen Lord, and the congregation still kept growing (Acts 2:41–47). Before long, well over five thousand names could be found on the church rolls (Acts 4:4). Even after two church members dropped dead while trying to bamboozle the apostle Peter, new believers still swarmed into the community (Acts 5:1–14). The earliest Christians rightly thanked God and recognized this growth as a glorious and wonderful outpouring of God’s grace (Acts 2:47). And yet, gospel-centered proclamation of Jesus Christ doesn’t always result in visible growth.
Sometimes, it’s possible to make much of Jesus with negligible results, at least as far as any human eye can see. The same Word of God that yields manifold fruit in one heart may be rejected as repulsive in another (Luke 8:4–18). The results of proclaiming God’s truth could even include outcomes that seem negative from the perspective of retention rates (1 John 2:19). Furthermore, it is possible to attract and even to retain a multitude of followers for all the wrong reasons (2 Peter 2:1–2).
Yes, growth is part of God’s good design for his cosmos (Genesis 1:11–12; 2:9) and for his church (1 Corinthians 3:6–7; Ephesians 2:21; 4:15–16; Colossians 2:18–19; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). And yes, the proclamation of God’s Word does result in growth and in the fulfillment of God’s purposes (Isaiah 55:10–11), but this growth may take place in ways that are difficult to quantify in ratios of attrition and retention. Growth often unfolds less like a series of figures on a ledger sheet and more like seeds sprouting in the soil or like yeast seeping through a lump of dough (Luke 13:18–21). Godly growth is sometimes slow, often hidden, and frequently frustrates our dreams and designs. But it is always centered on Jesus and the gospel.
:: The Impact of Gospel-Motivated Ministry ::
All of this has profound implications for why and how a church ministers to families. If the congregation’s motive for forming a family ministry is to find a programmatic panacea to solve a perceived problem of losing young adults, the strategy will have failed before family ministry even begins—even if every church member applauds the new program as a resounding success. Such a congregation has bought into the soul-draining delusion that growth depends not on the Word of God but on implementing the right programs to respond to each problem.
This sort of family ministry results, at first, in a rapid flurry of family-friendly activities. Then, as soon as new problems and new programs come along, the family events fade into the background as the newest quick-fix takes center stage. Such patterns reflect much of the pragmatic consumerism of Western culture and little of gospel-centered community. According to the apostle Paul, the pagans of past cultures “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (Romans 1:23). In our own way, we too trade the glory of God for the short-lived pleasures of lesser gods. Whereas the pagans exchanged divine glory for images of terrestrial beauty, we tend to substitute one more curriculum, one more series of steps to success, one more problem-solving program that eclipses the gospel.
Gospel-motivated family ministry is not a program to fix a congregation’s retention problems. It cannot be reduced to a series of conferences or activities or seminars. The kind of family ministry is a movement that equips Christian households to function as outposts of God’s kingdom mission in the world. Families become contexts where Christian community is consistently practiced with the goal of sharing the good news of God’s victory far beyond our families. The gospel is rehearsed in families and reinforced at church so that God’s truth can be revealed to the world.
For more on gospel-motivated family ministry, try this resource.
So what does it mean to build a family ministry model for your church? And how can we be certain our model is biblical?
Taking a moment to consider the meaning of a “model” in other fields of study may be helpful here. In other fields of study, a model must meet three criteria:
(1) A model is based on an original object or idea (Abbildung);
(2) the model must include only relevant properties from the original (Verkürzung); and
(3) the model must be transferable to other contexts (Pragmatismus).
When it comes to models for church ministry, what this means is that the models must have been implemented in some other congregation—if they have not been implemented anywhere, they are merely ideas, not models; they must include specific properties or patterns that are applicable in other congregations; and these patterns must be transferable into other contexts.
In one sense, no one in the biblical world or throughout most of church history was talking about “models for family ministry.” Then again, no one was talking about models for adult ministry, student ministry, or any other ministry either. Thinking in terms of this type of model is not necessarily incorrect, but it is certainly a product of modern Western ways of thinking.
At the same time, specific practices and expectations did characterize these congregations, and many practices and expectations are transferable even to congregations today. Furthermore, even though first-century churches may not have explicitly discussed family ministry models, it is possible to identify clear expectations in Scripture that relate to the role of the family in Christian formation. Chief among these expectations was the assumption that the Christian formation of children was not a responsibility for the church alone. It was the result of a partnership in which parents took a primary role. Central to first-century Christians’ “family ministry model” was the expectation that parents would engage actively in the discipleship of their households.
In some of the earliest Christian writings, the apostle Paul specifically commanded Christian fathers to nurture their offspring “in the discipline [paideia] and instruction [nouthesia] that comes from the Lord” without frustrating or discouraging them (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21).
Paideia (“discipline”) suggests more than using correctives and consequences to prevent a child from engaging in inappropriate behaviors—although that is certainly implied in the term. It also includes intentional and deliberate patterns of training and educating the child in the ways of God.
Nouthesia (“instruction”) implies calling to mind what is right, good, and true in the day-by-day experiences of life. If a model for family ministry is to be biblical, one essential characteristic of the model must be a prioritized capacity to equip parents, particularly fathers, to engage actively and personally in the discipleship of their children in both planned and spontaneous ways.
Given that Paul provided similar instructions in two separate contexts, this characteristic is clearly not only practical but also reducible and transferable.
These expectations were not unique to Paul, however. When Paul penned these words, he was drawing from a legacy that had shaped the Jewish people for centuries—a legacy of songs, statutes, and ceremonies that explicitly recognized the primacy of parents in the formation of children’s faith. The primary pathway to passing on the truth that “the LORD is one” was by parents engraving this truth in their children’s hearts (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). One purpose of the ancient Passover was to retell the story of Israel’s redemption to the children (Exodus 13:14-22). Even the psalmists of Israel called fathers to train their children in the stories and statutes of Israel’s God (Psalm 44:1; 78:1-8). As such, even though Scripture may not present a distinct model for family ministry in the modern sense, a clear biblical model does exist: Parents are called to personal engagement as primary faith-trainers in their children’s lives. This occurred both in the day-by-day events of life and through intentional training in the contexts of family patterns and practices, festivals and rituals.
How can your ministry equip parents with the resources they need? In the first place, help parents to see that if they are believers in Jesus Christ, God has already equipped them with his Spirit, his Word, and the community of faith (John 16:12–14; Eph. 4:11–16; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; Heb. 13:21). Through these gifts from God, it is possible for the gospel to reshape every part of life, including practices of parenting. In whatever problem parents may face, the gospel is foundational to the answer. If the gospel is not foundational to the answer, either we don’t understand the problem, or we don’t understand the full implications of the gospel.
At the same time, the wisdom of God’s people is sometimes expressed through written or recorded resources that point us toward the gospel in every part of life. The point of providing parents with such resources is not to supplement the gospel; the gospel needs no supplement (Gal. 1:6–12). The point of these resources is to draw from God’s work and wisdom in the lives of others to apply the gospel in the lives of parents and children.
With that purpose in mind, develop a brief list of gospel-rich resources that will be helpful to parents in your church. Organize the list by categories with only a couple of books, articles, or podcasts in each category. Too many resources will overwhelm parents. Resources might be organized under headings such as “Tools for Beginning Faith-Talks In Your Home,” “Celebrating Rites of Passage in Your Home,” “How to Have Healthy Conversations with Your Child,” “How to Lead Your Child to Christ,” “Ideas for Being a Family-in-Faith for Spiritual Orphans,” and so on. Make the resource lists available in the church lobby, tuck them into resource packets for Sunday school teachers, post them on the bulletin board, blog about them on the church website, or develop a men’s or women’s reading group that reads and reviews the books for the church newsletter. Update the lists at least yearly.
It may be that some youth or children’s events can’t be shifted to train or involve parents directly. If that’s the case, use those events as opportunities to equip parents with resources that recognize their households as primary contexts for discipling their children. For example, if you’re the youth minister, you might provide parents with a monthly resource list and some faith-walk suggestions that connect with what you’re teaching each week in youth group. A children’s director might develop a quarterly list of catechism questions and a recommended book that coordinates with the themes that children are exploring in Sunday school. In every instance, your goal is to equip parents with a resource that helps them to rehearse at home the truths that children or youth are learning at church.
Do not hand these printed resources to youth or children with the hope that the resources will miraculously make it to mom and dad. I too was a captive of this quixotic hope for many years. Then, I became a parent and discovered that such resources rarely survive the trip home. Placed in the hands of children, most resources end up crumpled and laid to rest beneath the car seat amid Happy Meal toys, secondhand suckers, and stray pieces of cereal. There they remain for months or years until a parent finally cleans under the seat, typically the night before the old car is traded for a new one—a time when family discipleship isn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind.
Providing children with papers to clutter the car is not the same as equipping parents with the resources they need to engage in cosmic combat; handouts for children falls more in the category of killing trees for Jesus. Whether through a well-produced handout or a well-promoted webpage, get the resource directly to the parents. Each time you make contact with the parent, include words of encouragement that recognize the parent’s God-given role as a primary disciple-maker in a child’s life.
If family-equipping happened to be merely about changing an organization, I could stop at this point and say, “Congratulations! Once you’ve made certain that every activity for youth or children trains, involves, or equips parents, you have completed all the levels. Pat yourself on the back and move on to some other program.”
But family-equipping doesn’t work that way.
Family-equipping is not a series of steps to success. It is not a programmatic panacea for your church’s problems. It is a process that works its way over time into every aspect of your ministry. And so, synchronizing your ministry is not the ending—far from it! It is the beginning of a bigger and better story for your ministry. This story is bigger because it calls parents to see their children in light of God’s great story-line of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. It is better because the goal is not simply healthier families for the church, bigger events for the community, or better ethics for the world. The goal is Jesus, the center is the gospel, and the family is a means for revealing the gospel now and for passing the gospel from one generation to the next.
Family ministry is not a series of activities. Family-equipping ministry in particular flows out of an identity that begins in the homes of ministry leaders. But this doesn’t mean that equipping families should become the identity that drives our ministry. Jesus alone is our identity, and his gospel is our story. Anything more or less is idolatry.
This gospel-centered identity calls us to see every person as an orphan because of humanity’s fall and as a potential brother or sister because of Christ’s redemption. That is, at least in part, why Jesus blessed children indiscriminately and called his people to care for “the least of these.” That’s why Jesus called for outcasts to be invited to a banquet where they knew they didn’t belong (Matt. 19:13–15; 25:31–46; Luke 14:12–24). Jesus saw every person’s deepest need in the shadow of the fall and every person’s grandest possibility in the light of the gospel. The essence of family-equipping ministry is the implementation of this gospel-centered identity first in our homes and then beyond our homes. The gospel is to be rehearsed in our homes and reinforced in our churches so that it can be revealed with integrity to the world.
Particularly for the ministry leader, the home is a divinely designed context for rehearsing the gospel. The Christian household is, in the words of Martin Luther, “a school for character”—but this school, like every other school, is a temporary training ground, not the final goal. Because the home is not the final goal, family ministry remains incomplete until it results in the proclamation of the gospel beyond our families. Family ministry that never reaches beyond our households is like a regimen of spring training that never results in a real baseball game.
The problem for a significant proportion of pastors and ministry leaders is that they see their churches and even their communities in light of people’s need for the gospel, but they fail to see their own families from this same perspective. They see the needs of those who are far, but they don’t see the same needs in those who are nearest to them.
The student minister spends six months mapping out every detail of a weeklong youth camp. The volunteer in middle-school ministry meets early every Monday morning to pray with a half-dozen sixth-graders about their week at school. The pastor is present at every community outreach event, and everyone praises his clear vision for the church’s future. Yet the student minister can’t seem to carve out a half-hour each week to talk with his family about living in light of the gospel. The middle-school prayer leader hasn’t prayed with her husband in more than a decade. And, outside of keeping the children in church and hoping none of them does anything that causes a public scandal, neither the pastor nor the pastor’s spouse has any clear vision for his children’s spiritual formation.
In most cases, the root of these patterns is not deliberate rebellion against God. It is a misplaced perspective that fails to see the home as the ministry leader’s first context for ministry. As a result, ministry leaders try to do ministry in their churches and communities without first becoming ministers in their own households.
Interested in attending a family ministry training event with me in January? Click here for more details.
Need help in shepherding your family? Click here.
Without thinking too hard, you could probably tell me exactly who they are. In many smaller and mid-sized ministries, you wouldn’t even need two hands to tally them. What we’re talking about are the parents who will actually be present at a typical youth or children’s event. What about all the other parents? Well, like you, I tried to let them know that they were welcome to come to the event. But the moment their children exited the minivan and the doors latched, their vehicles careened out of the parking lot and didn’t return until the event was over.
If that’s what you’ve experienced in your ministry, I understand why you may be a bit skeptical about our next suggestion—but stay with me for just a moment, if you don’t mind. One possibility for synchronizing a ministry event with the lives of families is to involve parents in the event.
Notice that I did not say simply to invite parents to the event—that’s what many of us have tried many times before with minimal success. What I am talking about here is involving parents in the event. When we invite parents to an event, what we’re letting parents know is that we want them to be present to support what we’ve planned—and there are times when such invitations may need to happen. Involving parents is very different from inviting them, though. When we involve parents, we design the experience so that the presence of the parents is necessary for the event to work.
Here are three quick recommendations for involving parents, followed by four specific ideas:
* Involving parents is likely to require some training. Otherwise, some dads and moms may try to parent everyone in the youth or children’s ministry, while others may focus so strongly on their own children that their involvement isn’t helpful to anyone else.
* Communicate clearly to the parents beforehand what they need to do to make their involvement effective.
* Be prepared to debrief all parents after the event. If some parents’ interactions weren’t particularly helpful, pull them aside later and speak to them with gentleness and grace. Regardless of their inadequacies, these parents have still been divinely designated as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.
And what sorts of events might function well with this degree of parental involvement?
* Maybe a youth mission trip where parents lead as crew chiefs and where, each morning, parents gather to learn how to lead a family faith-talk over a particular biblical text. Then they lead that faith-talk with their family members that evening. That way, parents are involved and trained to disciple their families.
* What about redesigning preschool ministry for a purpose larger than providing free baby-sitting during worship celebrations? What if the purpose of the church’s nursery became the training of every child to participate in whole-church worship celebrations by the time the child turns six? And what if parents became involved in this process once per month, sitting with their child during a miniature worship service? After all, parents are the people who will be overseeing their child in “big church.” Why not give parents the opportunity to practice before that time?
* What about reworking your small groups for youth and children so that a parent leads an opening devotional each week?
* What about metamorphosing the previous generation’s weekend youth retreats to become legacy milestone events where parents and families-in-faith celebrate rites of passage with teenagers?
Now, what about those children whose parents aren’t yet believers in Jesus? That’s why having what I’ve called “families-in-faith” is so important in a family-equipping faith-community! Whenever an event requires the involvement of parents, families-in-faith are moms, dads, and older adults who joyfully embrace the task of serving as parents for children and youth whose families are not present.
John Pond is pastor of students at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee recently provided some engaging thoughts on the value of youth ministers working with parents. He offers four practical things youth ministers can start doing to communicate and work with parents. He encourages youth ministers to 1) communicate regularly, 2) pray with parents, 3) spend time with parents and 4) create a pro-family calendar. These wonderful suggestions are supplemented with additional details about how to accomplish these tasks. John makes the stakes clear:
The youth minister and parent are each other’s best allies when they work together. If we want our students to persevere with faith after high school, having joy in Christ and not in sin, parents and youth ministers have to support and encourage each other. Discipleship starts to go deep in the teenage years, and the whole church must cooperate. What’s at stake? Only the future family of the church.
What would happen if youth ministers worked with parents? Check out the rest of this article and find.
(HT: The Gospel Coalition)
Although the concepts behind family ministry are far from new, church-based family ministry has turned trendy in some circles over the past few years. After decades on the back burner of congregational life, family ministry has suddenly become a hot topic. Type “family ministry” into a search engine, and you computer is likely to crank out more than twenty-five million results in fewer than ten seconds. Conference after conference claims to provide congregations with the missing key that will enable the church’s staff to launch a lasting family ministry.
As a pastor and as a father, this renewed focus on family ministry is at once encouraging and frightening. It’s encouraging because many Christians seem to be regaining a biblical perspective on God’s vision for the role of parents. For too many years, churches and parents have encouraged paid professionals to take the primary role in the discipleship of children. This, even as research continues to reveal that—although other significant adults are also important—parents remain the most influential people in children’s spiritual, social, and behavioral development.
Why, then, does this new emphasis on family ministry also concern me? Simply this: In many cases, churches are focusing on family ministry as a reaction to dismal retention statistics. It has been repeatedly reported over the past few years that somewhere between 65% and 94% of churched youth drop out of church before their sophomore year of college. As a result, many congregations are shifting their ministry models not because of convictions that have grown from a seedbed of sustained scriptural and theological reflection. Instead, what motivates them is the supposed crisis of abysmal retention rates—a crisis that they plan to solve by launching a series of family ministry programs. Their focus on family ministry is a pragmatic reaction rooted in a desire for numbers with no standard by which to judge the results other than an increasing number of warm bodies.
In contrast, the goal of such congregations should be to develop a theologically-grounded, Scripturally-compelled perspective on family ministry and then to make Spirit-guided transitions in every ministry to move wisely toward this ministry model. Such shifts may increase the numbers that appear in the spreadsheet columns that summarize your congregation’s buildings, budgets, and bodies. Then again, these changes could have a negligible or even a negative effect on those numbers! But the spreadsheet numbers aren’t the point. From the perspective of the contributors to this text, biblical faithfulness in ministry to families is the goal.
Even if numeric gains were the goal, there is every reason to question the infamous statistics that point to overwhelming numbers of youth dropping out of church. For example, the highest of these percentages was drawn from an informal averaging of youth ministers’ “gut feelings” about retention rates in their ministries—not exactly reliable research methodology! Even the most robust survey mixed participants in ways that may have polluted the research results. Perhaps most significant of all is the simple fact that, even at their best, statistical outcomes are subject to change as new information comes to light. As a result, such numbers simply cannot provide sufficiently stable foundations or motivations for widespread change among the churches of God.
So in the end, family ministry is not the answer; family ministry will not fix your church’s problems; and, family ministry will not transform people’s lives.
The Gospel is what changes people—not programs or practices; not models or methods; but solely and only the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every local church should be concerned first about how the Gospel is portrayed, presented, and practiced in the congregation. This includes considering how local congregations teach on the subjects of marriage and parenting and how they encourage and minister to families. Healthy families are not, however, the goal. To place anything as the church’s goal besides the glory of God experienced through the Gospel is to create an idol, and the idol of family ministry is no less loathsome to God than the orgiastic shrines of Canaan or the pantheon of ancient Rome. The believing household is a target for the enemy, but Christian families are not the answer to humanity’s problems. The Gospel is the answer. Our households are not targeted because Christian families are flawless families. Our households are targeted because they are God-ordained contexts where cross-centered, Gospel-empowered living can be constantly rehearsed and practiced. Through these day-by-day rehearsals of the Gospel, children and parents alike are trained in the fear of God.
Interested in attending a family ministry training event with me in January? Click here for more details.
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This excerpt comes from Trained in the Fear of God. Click here for more information.