Viable Family Ministry Models Part 2 of 4

This is the much delayed (many months, sorry) second post in a four part series discussing different models of family ministry. In our first post, we talked about how two scholars (Timothy Paul Jones and Denise Kjesbo) have defined family ministry. In this post, I’ll break down the elements Etchea’s mode. It is important to note that Etchea’s model was first develop when I was working with the National Center for Biblical Parenting as part of the 4-14 Family Initiative. Both agency have continued to develop their ideas of these concepts. NCBP contemplates them through the Four Concepts of Family Ministry.

Age-grade ministry

In the mid-1900s, because of new studies in educational theory, many churches began a movement toward age-graded learning. Teaching the Bible by age groups has provided a good way to help children understand the Bible and its principles. Certainly these age-based classes are an effective form of discipleship at the academic level. Unfortunately, this method alone is not the most effective means for reaching the heart, or maintaining a long-term faith. Knowledge is passed, but the faith does not always follow knowledge. One key to helping churches to move from age-graded to more family-friendly ministries is to introduce measures that break down the walls between generations. Another key is to develop measures that connect discipleship in the church with the home. In the end, the best age-graded ministries will be echoes of the work that parents do at home and will be highly relational. Further, the priority of age-graded ministry is to serve children whose parents will not or cannot pass the faith to them.

Educational

When we talk about the Education model, we are talking about the education of parents. This model of family ministry focuses on providing training and encouragement for parents, as parents and as married couples. The educational model focuses on the discipleship of the parents first, with the expectation that it will trickle down to the children. 

Often the educational and therapeutic models overlap. This may manifest itself in a philosophy that the church has an obligation to save the institution of the family from the pitfalls and degradation of this world. As discipleship, this falls short. In itself, the protection of the family is noble, but the gospel of reconciliation becomes lost and rescue becomes the message. While it is important to work within and through family structures we must remember that the work of the Church is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to new generations. When preaching family wholeness become too central to our work, the gospel looses it’s appropriate position in the center of our work. Teaching parents to be good moral educators in their homes and working to strengthen marriages is an important task of the church, but it is not the primary task of making disciples. The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. Making disciples is a matter of speaking the gospel, from one generation to the next.

The Intergenerational Church as a Family of Families

The family of families model works off of New Testament language that calls the church the Family of God. At the same time, the New Testament acknowledges the connectedness of the household. Intergenerational ministry highlights that a healthy family finds value in all members, and members in all communities. One value of the family of families model is that children learn from watching their parents interact with the faith community. Another value is that children make valuable relationships with people of all generations. A third value is that older generations are invigorated by youthful involvement. 

The danger of the intergenerational model comes when the interaction between generations devolves to taste and preference. It is difficult to get all generations together without one or more age groups feeling slighted and ignored, or even disrespected. The key is that before age groups are joined, the church needs to develop a culture that recognizes all members, young and old, as valuable to every other member. Growing relational connections between generations opens the door to older generations telling the story of Christ and the church to the younger generations in a universal way.

Home-Centered/Church-Supported

The home-centered/church-supported model is the goal and culmination of all the other family ministry models. Many will look at this model and think that it is a dissemination of all church authority. This isn’t true. The authority of the church must maintain as strong as ever if this model is to work. Home-centered discipleship is important because home is where children are. In a normal week, a child may attend from 1 to 3 hours of church ministry. That is a reasonable time to interact with a child at a certain level. In the same week, that child will be in the care of the family for more than 120 hours. The influence of the home will always be greater than the influence of the church just because of the vast difference in time. We need to train our parents and grandparents to make the most of this time, because every moment is a discipleship opportunity.

The home-centered/church-supported model is not a programmatic model. It is a shift in culture, and a biblical shift. Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 4 contain the foundation for this model. In Deuteronomy 6 we see that children should be taught the law well, but that teaching is natural in everyday life. When church teachers creatively search for illustrations to demonstrate biblical principles, children face real-life situations that naturally develop teaching opportunities. It is wise for parents to lead the way in demonstrating the principles at the time of the events. Furthermore, Ephesian 4 makes it clear that the work of the leadership of the church is preparing those who do ministry. As parents are the ministers in this model, they are the ones that the church must support by helping them to develop their discipleship skills. 

As we move our churches toward a home-centered/church-supported model of family ministry, children see the faith of their parents in a natural light. They will witness a consistency between faith at church, faith at home, and faith lived out in the world. Home-centered/church-supported ministry is missional as it challenges people to be faithful in their natural interaction. This model of ministry moves faithful people out the door of the church and into their communities.

The therapeutic aspect of family ministry

Our four levels of family ministry do not include a specific level for counseling and therapeutic ministry. This goes against the grain of most academic family-ministry programs, which tend to focus on the psychology or culture of the family. Those disciplines are important for the family but are insufficient in their ability to make disciples, which is the goal of the church. Further, counseling and therapy tend to focus on the problems caused by sin. That is to say, if we address the problems that result from sin, then we will have stronger families. While this is true to a point, it does not match up well with biblical teaching. The problem is sin, and discipleship as led by the Holy Spirit is the best way to overcome sin so that it affects the family less.

It is important that churches care for the whole person and offer counseling when necessary. We suggest that churches thread wise biblical counseling throughout the ministries of their church. We suggest leaders study and understand the sociology of the family, and teach those points to the family so that they are aware. Finally, we suggest that leaders engage in the study of best psychological and sociological practices. Having that understanding, taken through a biblical grid, can for the first time, provide a language for families from outside the church to engage with the faith that we desire to pass along to our children, and to our neighbors, as well.

Christ must be the gospel of family ministry

There is a warning, or a concern, I have for the leaders of family ministry. It is a temptation that can overcome anyone, no matter what their ministry focus, but I see it constantly creeping into posts, books, and sermons about family ministry. We must be careful to keep Christ, and his message, as our gospel. We must, therefore avoid the temptation to make the family and preservation of the traditional family into our gospel. This warning is rooted in the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Judaizers in Philippians 3:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:1-11, NIV)

Too frequently we who lead the family ministry movement confuse the gospel of family with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When our goal becomes marriage, we mutilate the flesh with a new expectation that God is more present when man and woman come together. Instead, we should see marriage as normal, but not a necessary step in life, and one that may just as likely draw the couple away from Christ as draw them to him.

When our goal becomes parenting, we mutilate the process by which God works to draw us close to him. Once we have children, we must continue to live in Christ so that our children can see through our lives the work of Jesus Christ. However, we cannot make statements that lead to a conclusion that all good followers of Christ must raise children. Family cannot become a religious means to godliness.

Let’s take Paul’s warning to heart. The religious symbol of the day was circumcision. Circumcision was an excellent practice taught to the Israelites by God in the Old Testament as a sign of his covenant with the people he chose. It became corrupt when it began to be viewed as a religious rite. It became the means of wearing a mark of God instead of seeking God himself. It became absent of God in the end because it became a mark of personal and community pride, rather than a humble sign of God’s love for his people.

Likewise, family ministry can easily become a religious mark. We can easily create steps, systems, and techniques for being more whole through the family. Certainly, God makes his presence known through others who are close to us, but we cannot remove our focus from drawing closer to him as we build up the institution of the family. Our gospel cannot be that the family is the path to salvation.

Our goal in family ministry must be that Christ is our salvation. With that in mind, where we are a family we teach only that Christ is our salvation.

The church is the family

Untitled3-1Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at the Meetin House in Toronto Canada, is starting a new teaching series on what he calls the Modern Family. In the first sermon of that series, he uses Matthew 12:46-50 to make the point that the church is Jesus’ family.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

From there, Bruxy goes on to use Mark 10:28-31 to make the point that those who leave their family to follow Jesus receive a reward. Of course, most of us look to the reward of the next age (heaven), but Bruxy points out that the reward begins “in this age”. That is, one who leaves his or her family to follow Jesus will (probably when they are rejected by their family of origin) receives a much larger family here on earth. That means they receive, and are received, into the family of God.

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

This is what we call the missional family at Etchea. It is the church, and goes beyond the nuclear family to include all those who follow Jesus.

The issue I have is this: I don’t often see it happening. Do you? How good is your church at welcoming others into a real family? Are your church members brothers and sisters, and treated with that much love? Are the lonely and misfits invited for dinner, holidays, and companionship? Is there a process of mourning if one is to leave the fold, or is it just a choice they made that doesn’t really affect your church?

I fear, and have experienced, that too many churches are willing to force people out of their organizational churches because of disagreements about how things should be done, or just simply because they are not the kind of friends that seem right for us. Some times these people are forced out by a request to leave. Usually, they are forced out by being ignored.

By the way, I’m not talking here about evangelizing the world through welcoming unbelievers like family. I’m talking about a foundational aspect that must exist before a church can have a testimony in this world. This foundation is that it must survive as the family of God. There’s no magical how for being the family of God, no 10 steps to being a family. What you are to do is to accept the other believers in your midst as family. Do that, and you’ll be the family.

Parents, your faith is important

Christianity Today reports on a new study about parent, children and the resiliency of faith. The study was released in a book by University of Southern California researcher, Vern Bengtson. The book is called Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations.

Key take aways:

  1. Parents who consistently model the faith have more faithful children.
  2. Parents with positive relationships with the children, especially when the father is warm and affirming, are more likely to have faithful children.

The article also says that the hard-nosed approach of making children follow the parent’s religion did not pay off. Children need to experiment and ask questions so that they faith can become their own. This is a scary proposition for parents, but I’ve seen this point worked out in life. Too many demanding parents don’t understand why their children walk away. It’s because they never really felt called to Christ. They just learned to obey mom and dad while mom and dad were close.

Finally, the study shows a positive relationship with the older generation (i.e, grandparents) is helpful in drawing children to life long faith.

I haven’t read this book yet, but the article makes me want to move it up my list. This is way Etchea exists, because if we want to pass our faith on to the next generation, we need to do it by building positive relationship between the younger generation and older the others in the church.  We need healthy families and we need the church to act as a healthy family.

7 Reasons a children’s leader cannot create family ministry

The good news is that the family model of ministry is growing around the country. This means more churches are working to connect discipleship to the home and more people are finding the church to be a necessary family. I see this in many job posts. Churches are looking for family ministry pastors.

The bad news is, many (or even most) are doing it wrong.

If you look at a site like ChurchStaffing.com or Kidmin.org/jobs, it doesn’t take long to understand that most churches looking for a Family Ministry Pastor are really still looking for a children’s ministry director. Likely, they are encouraged by using the Orange curriculum or D6 philosophy, but for the most part the jobs still focus mostly on running a children’s ministry.

Here are 7 reasons a children’s leader cannot lead a church into family ministry model.

  1. A family model church must connect all generations, not just parents with kids.
  2. Children’s leaders are, sadly, still seen by most church members as specialists in children’s work, at best, and at worst they are seen as the least influential member of the leadership team.
  3. Children’s program leaders are always recruiting. Keeping a children’s program staffed is a full-time job. It is really hard to find time to enact a bigger vision as a children’s leader.
  4. Because children’s leaders are always recruiting, they often get a reputation of only calling when they need something. This means many people immediately put up their defenses when in conversation with a children’s leader.
  5. Children’s leaders are often the last one to be given time before the whole congregation. One reason is they’re too busy on Sunday morning to leave the children’s wing. For a second reason, refer to #2.
  6. When children’s directors start talking about family ministry, senior leaders often have an incomplete understanding of the family model of ministry. They see it as a departmental aspect of the church rather than a permeating vision. This is evident by the job listings. The family model isn’t just holding parent classes to teach parents to be better parents. When children’s leaders start pushing harder for a whole church family ministry, many senior leaders feel overwhelmed by the grandness of this vision.
  7. The family model of ministry has to be a corporate, whole-church movement. Only top leaders (the top leader) can build this vision.

Children’s ministry is an important part of our church and children’s leaders can be gifted leaders. However, if the children’s leaders cannot lead a church into family ministry, then who should be doing this work? Ideally, it will be the senior leadership of the church- the lead pastor or the elders. It could also be a second chair lead with a strong relationship to the senior leadership. Finally, the congregation can lead this movement by demanding more cross-generational ministries.

Connecting home and church: The take-home sheet from @thewellpa

Over the last month, we’ve begun introducing parent connection papers to help connect The Well‘s children classes with the home. The goal is to equip parents to have spiritual discussions with their children. There are three parts to these papers.

  1. The classroom connection. Information about what the children are learning.
  2. The community connection. This month we’re working on teaching parents and children about communion.
  3. The practical application/discussion. This is something that parents can talk about, usually at dinner time. Staying with the communion theme, this month we are talking about how dinner is like communion.
I’ve included this week’s offering as a sample for people to review. Download the pdf through the following link.

God uses Joseph plus Communion instructions

I posted more on this topic last week.

3 things you can do with kids that might serve them better than Sunday school

In many people’s minds, Sunday school or the Sunday morning children’s program is the standard for the spiritual development of children. When a child doesn’t like their class, parents are often greatly concerned. I’ve had many ask me to help persuade their child to give into the parent’s pleading and go to the class.

My response to the parent is that if your child is comfortable in the service with you, let them come. Children’s ministry is a good option for many children, but it isn’t the supreme way of discipling them. Here are 3 things that parents and churches can do to help children grow in their faith that are just as good, or better, than sending children to an age-graded church alternative program.

1. Take them with you to the worship service.

Children’s church and youth worship alternatives were started in the 1970s and 1980s, as developmental theory became the guiding rational for our spiritual development programs. Developmental theory comes from the world of education. Education (gaining knowledge of a subject matter) is a part of spiritual development, but it isn’t the whole, or even the main, aspect of spiritual formation. Along with understanding the Bible better, people grow as disciples when they (1) experience God’s hand moving through the church in action, (2) pray in a community, (3) see mature believers in action, and (4) when they humble themselves by giving up something special to them in order to benefit another person.

Many churches write these sorts of things into their children and youth curriculum, but they don’t have to come through those avenues. These things are happening already in the church, in worship service gatherings, and through opportunities to interact with different people within the church body.

2. Teach them to serve.

Faith is not a spectator event. Children learn a lot from watching their parents and others involved in spiritual exercise, but children will learn more by participation. Churches and parents should be looking for ways to get children involved – collecting offering, handing out bulletins, helping disabled people participate, pouring coffee, reading prayers, cleaning the building, or whatever other opportunities people can dream up. When children are an active part of the worship services, and they aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Older people will be blessed by their energy and involvement.

I do not encourage junior preachers. Children and youth many want to give testimonies from time to time, but preaching is a complicated art that come with excellent knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. There are many other places where a child can find their calling.

3. Allow them to participate in spiritual exercises with other spiritually mature adults.

If parents don’t think they can sit with their children for a worship service, there are others who can. Perhaps parents don’t feel that they are emotionally strong enough to sit next to a squirming child. Perhaps parents are active in the service and cannot keep a close eye on their child. These parents need not expect that they have to send their child to a separate class; these children can sit with someone else through the service. Many teens like sitting with younger children. Senior adults might like an opportunity to be close to youth too. There is no special training necessary, and the children will learn how broad the family of God can be.

Family ministry is ministry of grace

Family ministry is about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Family ministry is both a method and an example.

Through family ministry we proclaim to the next generation what Jesus has done, and what he is doing in developing his Kingdom.

Through family ministry we demonstrate love, grace, and forgiveness as we have received from Jesus Christ.

Family ministry is aspirational. There are no churches doing it perfectly. There are no families who can be held as the repeatable model.

There are examples of things that churches and families can try, but just because it works for one situation doesn’t mean with will transfer to another. Churches and family are complex systems that differ even when they look similar.

Family ministry needs to be explored and ideas tried with the expectation that many things will fail. Failure may be the best opportunity to practice family ministry as the family (the church and the home) practices grace.

Grace is practiced through forgiveness: offering love in place of anger.

Forgiveness isn’t ignoring wrong doing. It isn’t pretending that wrongdoing hasn’t happened. Forgiveness is acknowledging hurt but imputing righteousness instead of anger on another. This is love—that one would care enough about another, and care more about the well being of the family and the church, that they could let go of their personal pain and demonstrate a caring spirit for those who have disrupted their lives.

Family ministry is about parents crediting goodness to their children. It’s about sisters attributing goodness to their brothers. It’s about church members imputing goodness to their leaders, and the leaders crediting their members with goodness.

Family ministry is about parents forgiving their kids. It’s about brothers forgiving their sisters. It’s about church members forgiving one another. It’s about the body of Christ acting as Christ demonstrated, by going to the cross as an offering of grace for the forgiveness all sins.

Family ministry is living grace in community. Family ministry is ministry of grace.

Servant leadership is about serving

There’s a nice discussion about servant leadership on the Jesus Creed blog. It’s about Brian Harris’ book The Tortoise Usually Wins: Biblical Reflections on Quiet Leadership for Reluctant Leaders, which I would like to read, but haven’t yet.

The discussion on the blog focuses on two types of leaders: the Imposer and the Nurturer.

The Imposer is a person of charisma and one who, in many ways, becomes his or her cause.

The second of these much generalized categories of leaders is the Nurturer or the servant leader. The Nurturer “mediates and midwives the ways of God to others.”

I would argue that the leader in the family model of ministry should prefer the nurturing style. I’ve heard people refer to the Apostle Paul as a CEO kind of leader, but he seems to value his nurturing abilities all the more.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8

Leadership is about parenting people to maturity. Parenting is nurturing. I’ve know imposing parents in my time in ministry, but I can tell you that their children often struggle because of the lack of nurturing.

I haven’t read Brian Harris’ book, but it’s on my wish list. I just need to find a copy now.

Missional Family’s top 5 posts

Etchea’s Missional Family blog is young, but looking back at our first 6 months, these are the top 5 post by number of hits.

#5—Four observations on the missional movement and their children

(April 16, 2013) In response to some new relationship I made at MissioAlliance, I reflect on the maturing of the missional movement with respect to the growth of family ministry.

#4—3 Reasons to Stop Using the Word Volunteer in Church Ministry

(May 7, 2013) It’s going to be hard to work around the term volunteer, but we muse that the idea of volunteerism has drawbacks particularly as it adds to the professional/lay ministry mindset.

#3—Unbranding your children’s and youth ministries

(April 18, 2013) It seems second nature now days, but naming ministries has drawbacks. Particularly, as it adds to the separation between our youth and the church. This post has raised many eyebrows.

#2—Two models of family ministry

(March 19, 2013) Model 1 is the traditional family ministry with classes for each member of the family and home studies for the families. Model 2 is the cross-generational missional family model. This post redefined Etchea and missional family has become our model.

#1—5 Ways to tell the difference between Traditional Family Ministry Churches and Missional Family Churches

(March 28, 2013) Following up the Two Models post, this post seemed to bring clarity to the differences and it seemed to resinate with many contemplating family ministry. The post had 100 reader in the first 24 hours online. That’s not a lot by some bloggers measure, but it’s viral by our standard.

Thanks for reading. I hope we continue to help churches and leaders to understand the nature of family ministry.