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.