The Center for Faith & Culture—Olivet Nazarene University

Family Ministry

Family Ministry Reconsidered

The buzz word today is “family” ministry. Incorporating the word into the common language of the church has become routine and ordinary.  One can’t talk about ministry without talking about family ministry. The word can be found in magazines, curriculum, college classrooms, and even in ministry titles. I can remember about twelve or so years ago changing my title from Children’s Pastor to Pastor to Families with Children.  I wanted to be on the cutting edge of this new emphasis that recognized ministry to the whole family is much more glamorous than ministry to just children.  I believe my heart was in the right place and my intentions were to try to meet the needs of the entire family while still focusing on the children I had been called to serve.  I suppose it was a good start, but my understanding of what it meant to minister to the family was certainly lacking.  I think the same may be true today when many hear the phrase “family” ministry.

How did this all get started?  What brought us to the point that family ministry is the new focus?  Well, without writing a long treatise on the history of Christian education, allow me to share a Reader’s Digest version that I think will be helpful.  I believe two significant trains of thought came together at a similar time that led the church down this road.  The first train of thought involved recognition of developmental theory and the need to educate children at an age-appropriate level.  So the church decided to form the Sunday school for children, teens and adults that met their age-developmental needs.  While Sunday school has played an important role in the discipleship of children, teens and adults, we have also accepted and functioned under an educational model.  This model says what is most important is knowledge, which in many cases is taught absent of practical application.  So what is valued is whether or not one knows the information, and the more important focus on whether or not the information is changing lives is often ignored.

The second train of thought that has created a rather new focus upon family ministry is closely connected to the first.  Many in the church began to recognize that children were not getting much out of “adult” worship and important time was being wasted.  The only thing occurring during these services were kids playing games, drawing, climbing over and under the pews, while parents continued to be frustrated and often distracted from the service.  Well…age-segregation worked well for Sunday school, so maybe the answer is to have age-appropriate, age-segregated worship for children.  And that’s exactly what we did.

So here we are realizing that Sunday school and age-appropriate worship have been successful and are important, but also feeling that maybe we have lost something.  We are beginning to realize that from the time families enter the doors of the church until the time they exit those same doors, the family has been segregated while also proclaiming with a loud voice that families are important.

How have we resolved this problem, if indeed it is a problem?  We decided that we need to do more things with the family.  So we change our titles to family pastors, we have family worship services, we create events for the entire family, and we say we are a family-focused church.  If you will indulge me, allow me to ask another question.  Does changing our titles, placing the name “family” on our worship services, and having events for entire families make us a family-focused church?  I think most reading this article would answer, no, and then be frustrated because we want a family-focused church.  So, what does it really mean to be family-focused?

I think the word “family” causes us problems as we try to be family-focused.  For those of us who are “baby boomers” we tend to be a bit more traditional when we think of family; dad, mom, two kids, and picket fence.  You remember those days, don’t you?  Well, those days are gone.  Please do not hear me saying that the “traditional” family is not worth striving for, but also remember that we live in a very different world and family means so much more than it has in the past.  Maybe instead of thinking about the multiple families that make up our congregation and community, we should think of family as the community of faith that gathers together.  This family is made up of dads, moms, single adults, grandparents, children, teens, divorced, widowed, never married, and even, dare I say it, partners.  God has called us to be a community of faith, with all of our pimples, warts, and unpleasantries we would rather not mention.  This even includes the weird uncle that no one in the family speaks about.

Throughout Scripture we read of the importance of passing down the faith to the next generation.  I strongly doubt that what was being passed down was information at a level that each age group could understand.  Rather, the faith was passed down as life was being lived together; one learning from the other.  Stories were told and retold about how to live a faithful relationship with God.  People were modeling for others what that looked like so it became more than information for the sake of knowledge, but information that lead to faithfulness.  Perhaps a new understanding of “family” will help us to reconsider how we do ministry and impact the church of the future.

Come back next month for part two of this article.  Dr. Blanchette will be discussing practical tips for transforming one’s ministry to a family-focused ministry.    


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