An excerpt from my recent book, co-edited with Dr. John David Trentham, Practical Family Ministry
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!
Chap Bettis, executive director of The Apollos Project, previously wrote on ways in which church members can participate in the task of helping pastors shepherd their children. In a recent post, he directly engages pastors and offers practical ways to help them guard their children from church burnout and instill in them a love for the gospel and the church. He concludes with these thoughts:
“Pastors, someday your young children will be adults. From what they see at home, would they say you love Jesus? Would they say you love them? ‘By this all people (including these children) will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35). God has called you to shepherd his flock. Your children are part of that flock. They are watching you and listening to you at home. Use that influence well.”
What Bettis writes, every pastor with children needs to read. One line from this article sums it up: “Passing the gospel to your children is vitally important—more important than being at every church meeting.” I invite you to read and absorb the seven ministry-altering practices he offers. Click here for more.
With the dawning of imperial favor in the early fourth century and the crumbling of the Roman Empire in the fifth, the primary locus of Christian practice drifted from homes to dedicated institutional structures. Especially in the early Middle Ages, there appears to have been a loss of the ancient model for discipleship in families. Generations grew less literate, and training in Christian traditions increasingly became the domain of professional clergy in ecclesiastical institutions. In the latter centuries of the medieval era, church leaders called anew on clergy as well as fathers and mothers to embrace more active roles in the Christian training of children; this training consisted primarily of memorizing prayers, creeds, and the Commandments. Prayer primers and catechetical books even became available to assist parents. However, feudal responsibilities frequently removed fathers from their families for long periods of time, especially in noble households. Even when children did learn commandments, creeds, catechisms, and prayers in their homes, the instructors were often mothers or perhaps godparents rather than fathers. Recognizing this movement away from previous practices, sixteenth-century leaders of the Reformation called fathers to recommence their role as primary faith-trainers in their children’s lives. According to Martin Luther,
If we would re-instate Christianity in its former glory, we must improve and elevate the children, as it was done in the days of old. … It is the chief duty of the father of a family, to bestow more, greater, more constant care upon the soul of his child than upon his body—for this is his own flesh, but the child’s soul is a precious jewel, which God has entrusted to his keeping.
Such a model for family ministry did not, however, exclude the possibility of age-organized classes for the discipleship of children, at least among the English Reformers. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer required pastors to spend one half-hour on Sunday afternoons, at least once every six weeks, instructing children in the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. By 1552, this had become a weekly pastoral responsibility.
Interested in more about models of family ministry? Click here.
This model for family ministry not only began before Paul’s generation but also persisted far beyond the lifetimes of the first followers of Jesus. Didache and Letter of Barnabas provide summaries of Christian practices that date to the first and second centuries A.D. Both of these writings include an identical command for parents—a command that was evidently well-known and oft-repeated in early churches: “You shall train [your son and your daughter] in the fear of God from their youth up.” In a letter to Christians in Philippi, the second-century church leader Polycarp specifically held husbands responsible to partner with their wives “to train their children in the fear of God.” Another early Christian leader, Clement of Rome, urged parents to pursue the privilege of sharing with their children “the instruction that is in Christ.” Church father John Chrysostom described how children should become “athletes for Christ.” And how, according to Chrysostom, were children to be coached toward such athleticism?
To each of you fathers and mothers, I speak: Just as we see artists fashioning their paintings and statues with great precision, so we must care for these wondrous statues of ours. … Like the creators of statues, give all your leisure time to fashioning these wondrous statues of God. As you remove what is unhelpful and add what is lacking, inspect them day by day, to see with which good qualities nature has supplied them so that you can increase these qualities, and to see which faults so that you can eradicate them. (John Chrysostom, De Inani Gloria, ed. Anne-Marie Malingrey [Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1972] § 22).
Throughout the earliest centuries of Christianity, households remained central to Christian practices, and parents were expected to play a primary and personal role in the formation of their children’s faith. A primary parental role did not, however, require every event of spiritual formation to occur in nuclear or even extended family units. In churches of the third century A.D.—perhaps even earlier—all the generations worshiped together, but men, women, and young people sat separately. Furthermore, this perspective on the discipleship of children did not diminish the responsibility of Christians to care for children who had no parents. The church in general and elders in particular were held responsible to care for abandoned children and orphans.
Would you like to read more on models of family ministry? Click here.