“Daddy,” my six-year-old leaned over and whispered in my ear, “should I change it to baseball? Because that’s what our family does”— and I was reminded that family discipleship can be far simpler than we sometimes think.
This research into the history of age-organized ministries in the church is based on an academic paper that I presented to the practical theology section of the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Providence, Rhode Island, on November 16, 2017.
This post is the second in a three-part series.
“At Midday, There Is to Be Catechism”: Weekly Classes for Children in Sixteenth-Century Geneva
John Calvin provided instructions for catechesis in the same section of the ecclesiastical ordinances in which he described the frequency and locations for weekly pastoral proclamations of Scripture. He directed that each Sunday “at midday, there is to be catechism, that is, instruction of little children, in all the three churches.” The individual responsible for this instruction in each congregation was to be the pastor.
These weekly catechetical classes were designed as a distinct and separate gathering for children, and children’s attendance was not optional. Continue reading.
This research into the history of age-organized ministries in the church is based on an academic paper that I presented to the practical theology section of the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Providence, Rhode Island, on November 16, 2017. This post is the first in a three-part series.
In recent years, a small but vocal cluster of church leaders has contended that age-organized programs and ministries in the church should be eliminated. These proponents of “family-integrated church” have called for churches to dismantle programs that practice systematic “age-segregated discipleship.” In churches that follow this model, the congregation has no youth ministers, children’s ministers, or nursery. “We do not divide families into component parts,” writes one proponent of family-integrated churches. “We don’t even do it in Bible study.” The support claimed for family-integrated ministry is typically twofold, contending both that age-organized ministries are unwarranted by Scripture and that ministries for children and youth are a recent innovation that represents the imposition of “individualistic philosophies” in the church.
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.
The Function of the Family in the Storyline of God
At the center of God’s story stands this singular act: In Jesus Christ, God personally intersected human history and redeemed humanity at a particular time in a particular place. Yet this central act of redemption does not stand alone. It is bordered by God’s good creation and humanity’s fall into sin on the one hand and by the consummation of God’s kingdom on the other. This story of (1) creation, (2) fall and law, (3) redemption, and (4) consummation is the story that Christians have repeated to one another and to the world ever since Jesus ascended and sent his Spirit to dwell in his first followers’ lives. This age-old plot-line should frame every aspect of our lives—including our ministries to families. Seen from the perspective of this fourfold storyline, here’s what becomes clear about family, family ministries, and diversity: From the beginning, the family has been a God-ordained means for the fulfillment of God’s purposes, but God’s plan for the family has always been to reach beyond the family to form a diverse community.Continue reading.
The first family ministry book I ever read was Family-Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. My first response was to reject family ministry as a preposterous idea in my particular context.
It took two years for the struggles of ministry and the work of the Holy Spirit to change my mind.
I delivered this paper on an expanded definition for family ministry in May 2017 at the HOUSE Conference in Australia, a conference sponsored by YouthWorks and themed around the intersection between family ministry and ecclesiology. This post is the third part of a three-part series.
A RENEWAL OF INTEREST IN INTERGENERATIONAL MINISTRY? YES AND NO
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, church leaders from a broad range of ecclesial backgrounds began to question the assumption that discipleship occurs most effectively when it is segmented generationally. In 1988, Roman Catholic educator James William White published an influential text calling for intergenerational religious education. Lutheran educator Ben Freudenburg called for youth ministries to provide three types of programming: home-centered, peer-centered, and intergenerational. Presbyterian youth minister Mark DeVries presented a “smorgasbord of ideas to equip parents and to create intentional intergenerational connections between youth and adults” in his book Family-Based Youth Ministry. The Search Institute even developed a survey to assess the intergenerational health of congregations. And yet, as the family ministry movement has grown, the parent-equipping component has tended to eclipse the forging of intergenerational connections, particularly in evangelical contexts. The intergenerational aspect of church-as-family has been overshadowed in practice by the dynamic of family-as-church.
Why is it that parent-equipping tends to eclipse intergenerational ministry in churches? Continue reading.
I delivered this paper proposing a revised definition for family ministry in May 2017 at the HOUSE Conference in Australia, a gathering sponsored by YouthWorks and themed around the intersection between family ministry and ecclesiology. This post is the second part of a three-part series articulating the need for a revised definition for family ministry.
3. HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR AN EXPANDED DEFINITION FOR FAMILY MINISTRY
If church-as-family ministry is so vital, why is it so difficult? Resistance to diversity in the body of Christ may be attributed in part to dynamics of sin and spiritual powers. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against … cosmic powers” (Ephesians 6:12). At the same time, spiritual powers work in the context of historical realities. Furthermore, resistance to the implementation of church-as-family ministry frequently develops not because of sin but because of unrecognized assumptions and sincere differences about how best to form people in the image of Christ.
When it comes to church-as-family ministry, many of these differing assumptions and opinions find their origins in attempts to engage in faithful discipleship in social contexts that had been reshaped by the Industrial Revolution. Continue reading.
I delivered this paper proposing a revised definition for family ministry in May 2017 at the HOUSE Conference in Australia, a gathering sponsored by YouthWorks College and themed around the intersection between family ministry and ecclesiology. This post on a revised definition for family ministry is the first part of a three-part series.
1. A DEFINITION FOR FAMILY MINISTRY
In 2009, I developed a definition of “family ministry.” A few years later, I recognized that my definition for family ministry was incomplete. This paper serves as my retractatio of that original definition—not in the sense of a “retraction” or “rejection” but in the sense that Augustine of Hippo once used the term, a “re-treatment” in light of later reflection.
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.
Parents in your ministry don’t have time to disciple their children—or, at least, that’s the way many of them feel when they look at their weekly to-do lists. According to comprehensive surveys and interviews with hundreds of parents, half of all church-involved parents have simply resigned themselves to the notion that their families are too busy to engage in consistent practices of family discipleship.
So what were the factors that prevented these parents from having the time for intentional spiritual formation in their households?
For a significant minority of parents, it was children’s sports and school activities that trumped time together as a family when it came to scheduling priorities. Nearly one-third of parents agreed that they were willing “to do whatever it takes” for their children to succeed in certain sports or school activities.
And what if the resulting schedule was so hectic that it prevented the family from eating even a single meal together during the week?
As long as the payoff at the end included academic or athletic successes for their child, these parents suntested that they were willing to pay the price.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting down with Ron Hunter—founder and director of the D6 Conference—to talk about my passion for training parents to equip their children to defend what they believe. Joel Teague joined in the discussion as well and described his experiences as a missionary in a secularized context. The result was a forty-minute conversation on the D6 Podcast that summarizes much of what we’ve learned about family ministry over the past couple of decades.Continue reading.
Every year, I look forward to attending and speaking at the premier family ministry conference in the United States, coming up September 21-23 this year in Louisville. The conference is known as D6—short for “Deuteronomy 6”—and I’ll be speaking twice at the D6 Conference this year. Here are the two topics that I’ll be addressing:Continue reading.
How can God’s story reshape the way you parent your children?
That’s the question that I’ll be answering at an upcoming parenting conference in the city of St. Louis!Continue reading.
When asked to provide a step-by-step process for implementing family ministry, Mark DeVries jokingly provided this progression: “Try something. Fail. Try something else. Fail again. Try something else. Stumble on one thing that works. Repeat what works. Try something else … you get the idea.” I appreciate Mark’s honesty and good humor, and there’s certainly an extent to which this progression rightly describes the way ministry happens! At the same time, most of us in family ministry could use a few more specific definitions and processes as we formulate plans for family ministry in our churches.Continue reading.
Chore charts. Report cards. Standardized tests. Athletic banquets. Kids are inundated with messages about their performance. Because performance—work and reward—is one of the basic structures of our lives, kids often grow up thinking, “I am what I am because of what I do . . . or because of what I’ve failed to do.” How different this message sounds from the biblical message of redemption by grace!
PROOF Pirates introduces kids to God’s amazing grace through a fun-to-read pirate story about a boy named Jesse whose parents send him on a scavenger hunt. Continue reading.
You may have noticed that I have a new book out that I co-edited with my colleague Dr. John David Trentham. In Practical Family Ministry, we’ve brought together several practitioners to provide you with a plethora of practical ideas to strengthen your church’s family ministry.
Sometimes, I’m hesitant to ask you to purchase a book that I’ve written or edited. That’s because you and I both know that I have a fiscal interest in the sales of my books. Every time you buy a book I’ve written, at least a little money eventually trickles down to me.
But not this time.
No one who edited or contributed to Practical Family Ministry will make anything off this book. That’s because the contributors and I worked with Nappaland Literary Agency and Randall House Publications to direct every cent of royalty proceeds to support orphan care through Bethany Christian Services.
When you purchase a copy of Practical Family Ministry, all royalty proceeds go directly to orphan care. Since I make nothing from this book, I will, without hesitation, beg you to buy it—so, right now, I am!
By purchasing this book, you are supporting efforts to end abortion by caring for the physical and spiritual needs of women who are facing unplanned pregnancies.
Why Practical Family Ministry?
So why did we write this book in the first place?
The purpose of this book was to provide a wide range of new approaches and patterns for each of your church’s ministries. Each of the chapters was authored by someone who is actively doing what they describe in their chapter. These ideas are structured around what I believe to be the two key dynamics in faith-at-home ministry: family-as-church and church-as-family. Let’s take a look together at each of these two dynamics.
Family-as-Church: Helping Every Family to Become Like a Little Church
The goal of the family-as-church dynamic is to equip parents to disciple their children in the context of their daily lives together. What this means is that Christian households become living microcosms of the larger community of faith as families learn and live God’s Word together. Great Awakening pastor Jonathan Edwards described the Christian household as “a little church” and declared “the head of the family has more advantage in his little community to promote religion than ministers have in the congregation.” The thought that parents must be primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives did not, however, originate in the Great Awakening! This expectation is woven throughout the pages of Scripture (see, for example, Exodus 12:25-28; Deuteronomy 6:6-7; 11:1-12; Psalm 78:1-7; Ephesians 6:4).
Yet, in many churches, church leaders have not equipped or even acknowledged parents as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives. Packed rosters of age-segmented activities coupled with silence regarding parents responsibility to disciple their children have contributed to the unspoken assumption that the Christian training of children is best left to professional ministers. As a result, Christian parents desperately need focused guidance to know how to follow God’s design. Family-as-church ministry contributes to this reorientation by training parents to function as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives. The first five chapters of this book are focused on family-as-church equipping.
Church-as-Family: The Dynamic of Helping the Church Interact More Like a Family
The goal of church-as-family is to help God’s people relate to one another more like a family. What this means is that the church nurtures members within a rich matrix of multi-generational relationships. Children and teenagers whose parents aren’t believers find their lives intertwined with mature men and women who become spiritual parents and grandparents. Married couples mentor singles. New parents learn child rearing from empty nesters. The entire congregation works together to meet the needs of widows and orphans (James 1:27). Church-as-family ministry clearly recognizes that, inasmuch as I am a follower of Jesus, my family includes anyone who does the will of my heavenly Father (Mark 3:35).
In church-as-family ministry, the church draws people together in a multi-generational family reunion—except that the purpose of this reunion is far greater than enduring a picnic with people we can’t stand for the sake of pleasing our earthly parents. That is why the Holy Spirit of God, speaking through the words of Scripture, specifically calls for close multi-generational connections among God’s people (Titus 2:1-5). Jesus has bonded believers together by breaking the barriers between them on the basis of His own blood (Ephesians 2:14-15). As a result, those who rub shoulders in the shadow of the cross should be precisely the people that the world would never dream of mingling together—including brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers from many different ethnicities and generations and socioeconomic strata.
These are not issues of preference or convenience. They are issues of faithfulness to God’s design for His people, and they are rooted in the gospel itself. The last five chapters in this book focus on church-as-family ministry.
The Challenge of Faith-at-Home Ministry
So which of these two dynamics should your congregation embrace?
Church-as-family or family-as-church?
The answer, of course, is both.
This twofold approach is the foundation for comprehensive faith-at-home ministry—ministry that coordinates the God-ordained function of the Christian household with the church’s role as a Christian’s first family. Alone, either dynamic becomes unhealthy. Together, these two dynamics help the church to leave behind the segmented programmatic approaches that segregate the generations and fail to equip parents to disciple their children.
Church-as-family and family-as-church are radically counter-cultural dynamics. Particularly in Western culture, people cluster together according to peer groups and personal interests, so church-as-family doesn’t happen easily or naturally. Parents tend to turn over the shaping of their children’s souls to trained professionals, so family-as-church doesn’t come easily either. But efficiency and ease are not the goal of gospel-motivated ministry. Conformity to the character of Jesus Christ—the one through whom the first family was formed in Eden and the one who is bringing together a new family even now on the basis of His own blood—is our goal, our purpose, and our ultimate objective.
 For historical exploration of “church as family,” see Joseph Hellerman, The Ancient Church as Family (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001). I first heard the term in a lecture by Chap Clark.
 Jonathan Edwards, “Living to Christ,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1720-1723: Volume 10: The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. W.H. Kimnach (New Haven: Yale University, 1992), 577.
 Nearly seventy percent of parents in evangelical churches stated that no leader in their church had made any contact with them in the past year regarding how parents might be involved in their children’s Christian formation. In another survey, conducted by Barna Research Group, 81% of churched parents placed themselves in a similar category. See Timothy Paul Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide (Indianapolis: Wesleyan, 2011), chapter 8, and, “Parents Accept Responsibility for Their Child’s Spiritual Development But Struggle With Effectiveness,” Barna Research Group, accessed December 13, 2010, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/ article/5-barna-update/120-parents-accept-responsibility-for-their-childs-spiritual-development-but-struggle-with-effectiveness.
 Bryan Nelson, “The Problem with Family Ministry,” in Trained in the Fear of God, ed. Randy Stinson (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2011). For the term “church as first family,” see Rodney Clapp, Families at the Crossroads (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), chapter 4.
The animated feature The Incredibles is a favorite movie in our household—and one of our favorite scenes is the family meal early in the film.
Dinner at the Parr household has deteriorated into pandemonium. The infant squeals in delight at the chaos as two siblings engage in super-powered combat. A frazzled mom strains unsuccessfully to restore order.
And what about Bob Parr, father and former “Mr. Incredible”? He stands to the side, physically present, relationally absent, utterly uncertain as to what to do.
Finally, his wife flings a frantic plea in his direction: “Bob! It’s time to engage! Don’t just stand there. Do something!” The problem is, Mr. Incredible has no clue how to engage the situation wisely, and his engagement results in greater chaos.
D6 launched its first family ministry conference in 2009. Six years later, the D6 Conference has developed into a global community of leaders who are forming the future of family ministry. I’ve been privileged to partner with D6 since 2010, championing an environment where the church and home work together to shape the next generation. Take a look at this video and celebrate the story that God is writing in homes and in churches around the world through the work of D6.