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.
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.
Do you have a desire to implement family ministry practices in your church? Are you looking to be trained in the ways of family ministry? Do you have two days to spare? Join me in January on the tree-lined campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY for a training event which will guide you through the basics of family ministry. We’ll discuss the biblical and historical foundations for family ministry. You’ll hear from other leaders in the field of family ministry and learn how to equip parents to disciple their children in the home. It’ll be two days of teaching, fellowship and equipping that you won’t want to miss!
Click here for more information on this exciting opportunity!
Are children necessary in a Christian family? In a recent article Dr. David Schrock, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, Indiana says,
“In truth, the Great Commission must begin with our own families. In Christ, be fruitful and multiply takes on greater significance—we are to make disciples of those outside our families and we are to have children whom we can disciple. Refusing to raise children for the sake of personal giftedness is not a display of godliness. It is a refusal to participate in God’s plan of creating image-bearers who worship him.”
Dr. Schrock has some challenging thoughts regarding why Christian families must not neglect the responsibility of raising children, whether born to us or through adoption. Read the entire article here.