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 family model and the angry pastor

The reason many clergy are depressed is that they are angry. And the reason that they are angry is that they are consistently victimized by dysfunctional bullies who wield power inside the church.

The preceding quote is from Thomas Bandy’s blog post, Clergy Anger & the Urgency of a True Spiritual Life. Having been a pastor and working with many pastors since, I am firmly convinced that this wouldn’t happen nearly as often if the US church would give up it’s consumer model of ministry. Pastors need to let go of their expectations of being Super Pastors with big followings and important publication. Board (better called, Elders) need to realize that their job isn’t to make the church successful but to assure that good discipleship is happening. Church members need to see their leaders as brothers and sisters with a huge responsibility. Not a responsibility to please the people, but a responsibility to say and do what the people need in order to grow spiritually.

Until this happens, we’ll have bullies in churches and angry, depressed leaders.

If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. – 1 Timothy 4:6-10

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 or, 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.

For Nurturing Children and Churches: Why Safe is Not Always Better

Parents are tasked with protecting their children. Church leaders, likewise, are responsible for protecting their church.

In both of these cases, protecting does not mean taking the safe way all the time.

Parents should put their kids in child seats. That’s safe and that’s protecting them.

Parents should not jump into every situation that can get their children into trouble. That seems safe in the short run, but in the long run, children parented in such a way will never learn to be creative or innovative. They won’t learn to fight to get themselves out of difficult places. They won’t learn to stand on their own feet.

Children need to experience unsafe challenges.

Church leaders need to allow conflict to rise in their churches. They need to learn to allow the people to work out their difficult situations. They even need to allow their people to consider heretical ideas. By allowing these things rather than taking the safe way, church leaders will have stronger churches who are more convinced of their purpose and beliefs.

If church leaders jump into every issue, their church members will be weak and reliant on leaders. This is dangerous for the church.

Church leadership is a lot like parenting. Parenting is a lot like leading.

12 really practical ways you can mix generations without scrapping age-directed ministry

God established the Church as a family. Families are mixes of people from every generation. Unfortunately, few churches demonstrate this. The age-graded model of ministry works well as a faith factory, a way of getting everyone something that relates immediately to their needs. Faith factories work to process people, but several studies, including the work done at Fuller Youth Institute, show that generations need one another. The age-graded approach has value in spiritual development: children learn things at their level; adults process issues that are not sharable in mixed age groups; and new comers can attend churches without feeling that their attention needs to be split.

The Missional Family model of discipleship doesn’t demand the end of age group ministries, but it does require new ways of mixing ages, inside and outside of those ministries.

Here are12 examples of ways churches can mix their ages without ending their current age-directed ministries:

  1. Create a mentor program that goes beyond the youth group or children’s club. Introduce older adults into those relationships. Mentors are an important part of the Loving Community discussing in our post on the missional family discipleship.
  2. Reform your small group ministry to include families. Children don’t have to attend the “boring parts”, but they should be greeted, prayed for, and cared for by the group as a whole.
  3. Instead of affinity-based small groups, develop groups that cross generations. 
  4. Include teens in small groups. Not all will feel comfortable joining, but some will. Others will learn that it isn’t “weird” over time. We have other ideas about small groups in a previous post.
  5. Have youth/seniors nights. The youth group can design and run an evening at the church for the senior’s ministry.
  6. Put discipleship under one umbrella. Maintain a children’s program, youth program, and adult programs, but have one leadership team that oversees them all.
  7. Develop a family worship Sunday that occurs on the 5th Sunday of the month. Some churches may choose to worship together more often, but an easy way to begin welcoming children and youth into “adult” worship may be on the quarterly occurrence of the 5th Sunday of the month. Churches need not make these Sundays juvenile in their structure, but can work to include all generations. I would also work extra hard to include seniors in some way. Avoid preaching on “the little children” in these weeks. Those sermons aren’t really applicable for little children other than to feel important.
  8. Close any youth classes that distract from being a part of common worship. By age 12, most children should be able to participate with the whole church. 
  9. Preach sermons that make sense to a child. Seminary level sermons don’t really connect to most adults, if we’re being honest. These sermons can include abstract concepts and big words, but they should not be centered on difficult concepts. Terms should be well defined.
  10. Make a point of the value of seniors working with children. No one is too old to be used by the Holy Spirit. Rewrite job descriptions to help seniors find a place to serve.
  11. Acknowledge regularly that the church is a family, and all people of ages and stages of life have a place in the church.
  12. Value your singles. Remind them the Apostle Paul said that being single can create a unique availability to serve in the Kingdom work. We offer more ideas about including singles in this post.
Contact us and ask for a consultation if you would like to hear more practical ideas tailored to your church. 

3 Reasons to Stop Using the Word Volunteer in Church Ministry

Volunteer: a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.

Volunteers are great. Having worked in children and family ministries all of my career, I respect those who serve consistently.

However, I think we need to get rid of volunteers. At least, we need to do away with using the term volunteer when we talk about them.

I have 3 reasons to stop using the word volunteer in our church.

1. The word doesn’t really mean anything.

If a volunteer means a person who freely serves (and it does), then everyone in a church is a volunteer. There is no one compelled against their will. What we usually mean by volunteer is that they are not the paid staff. The implication is often that the “volunteer” is doing the paid staff a favor by helping in the ministry. This is false, and harmful to the discipleship process. All people should grow in their ministry, and, more importantly, their ministry is an act of worship to God. If it becomes a favor to any person then worship is lost.

2. The professional/volunteer divide is unfair to the volunteer.

If volunteers are considered unprofessionals, and paid staff are professionals, then there is an expectation that volunteers don’t have as much value or ability  as the professionals. In this case, the unpaid person is seen as second rate, and the work they do, which is often the most relational work of the church, is treated as less important than the “big” stuff accomplished by the paid staff.

Ministry value cannot be rated by the money paid to the person doing the ministering. Because ministry is Kingdom work, the US dollar should not be used as a rating system to demonstrate the value of Kingdom work. Unpaid servants are every bit as valuable as those supported by the church.

3. The professional/volunteer divide is unfair to the professional.

As the church has created professional staff, they have used money often to control them. I once heard a church leader, who I otherwise respect, say that we should pay all leaders, because if we don’t like their work we can fire them and the money they  lose will mean something to them. From a purely human standpoint, this makes some sense. But from a Kingdom/discipleship perspective it doesn’t make sense at all.

Churches should pay staff to free them, not to hold them in bondage. When a church supports a staff member the goal should be to remove the financial barrier they would carry without church support, so that they can dedicate their lives to church work.

If the church member isn’t doing the work they need to do, the church should view this as an issue of discipleship. Firing a family member is never good discipleship. Carrots (money) and sticks (financial retribution) are forms of behaviorism. Behaviorism is an excellent way to train a dog or a mule, but has been shown to be harmful to the spirit of a person.

Creating a volunteer/paid staff designation breaks down a church’s ability to make disciples. If the church’s first task is making disciples, this divide is contrary to our institutional goal.

What should churches do instead of using the volunteer designation? Move to language indicating that every member is a minister (Eph. 4:11-12). Stop designating between the differences. Develop a team approach to ministry where people are treated the same, whether financially supported by the church or not. Stop holding staff meetings in the middle of the working day. Hold meetings at the times each team member could participate. Use tools like Google Hangouts to make that work so that people won’t lose as much family time. Keep those meetings brief with only one or two clearly identified goals.

Finally, raise leaders up from the folks who view their service as Kingdom work. Those who view their participation as volunteerism should be gently led to understand differently. In the end, a church should teach that doing church ministry may be of one’s free will, but Kingdom people are compelled to serve the King.

Why is this important for the family model of ministry? Because if we treat some people as paid staff and others as volunteers, we will have violated the kind of love and commitment to one another that a family requires. It is in this discrepancy that many church feel that some work and other receive benefits. The family model of ministry requires all people to contribute while all members are treated as valuable as in a family.

Practical ideas for making the church non-consumable

A few days ago I was talking with a friend who has a family ministry and reads my blog. He said he likes the concepts that I’ve been sharing on my blog but is struggling to understand how to apply them. Since we were talking about my post “How to recognize when your church is being consumed,” I’ll use that post as an example. I’m going to write two possible solutions for each question. The first solution is for those in top positions of leadership (senior pastors and elders/board members) and the second for staff members who are limited in the changes they can enact (this may include volunteers).

Before we go on I must also say that these are only the best solutions that come to mind for the situations I’m describing. Context will always dictate the best practices, so use these as a guide and contact us if you need help working out better solutions for your concerns.

Q: What do you do when your church staff is viewed solely as hired hands for managing programs to serve the will of the people?

For leaders: Rewrite job descriptions with the goal of decreasing the importance of numeric growth and program development. Clarify the roles so that each pastor and staff member is a lead disciple maker called to do the difficult work of helping people overcome sinful habits and to find rest in the work of the cross.

For church staff members: You will be judged by the job description you work under, so serve well in that role. With the programs you run, create environments where honest relationships can form. Disciple those in your care and show them how to do the same with others. Let the testimonies of those you work with be a sign to naysayers about the best use of ministry time and resources. Most of all, be patient. People will come on board little by little.

Q: What do you do when those in your ministry have the habit of referring to the church as something that happens at a certain time and in a specific location?

For leaders: Stop doing it yourself first. I don’t believe I’m out on a limb when I assume you refer to your building as the church- “See you at church on Sunday.” I will catch myself repeating that phrase and I’m working to change my vocabulary.

Instead, talk frequently in public environments about the church in the world. Give examples of folks from your church doing the church’s work off campus and on their own initiative. Some may complain that you, the hired gun, should be doing this work, but that’s alright. People will learn to accept this new direction over time.

Finally, appoint someone to be the calendar cop. The calendar cop will constantly review all that is going on in the facilities, and all the formal programs. This person responsible for speaking up whenever the calendar begins to work against the relational needs of people. The calendar cop should be a systems thinker who can understand the complexity of many programs and competing visions.

For church staff members: Deprogram when you can. For example, disband your formal small groups. Instead, train mentors to gather small groups of people they can guide. Train those mentors well and be an example.

Also, spend as much time as you can outside of the office, but this doesn’t mean at home. Do your work in coffee shops. Pick regular places so you grow to know the staff there. Serve your neighbors. Volunteer with community groups. Coach local sports teams. Tutor at your local schools.

Q: What do you do when attendance trends become more important than individuals?

For both leaders and staff: Review each member, or regular ministry participant, who has left your ministry, whether they completely left your church or have drifted from previous commitments. Call each of them but don’t ask them to come back; that would be disingenuous at this point. Instead, ask them these two questions: (1) Why did you leave? (2) Are you finding someone to disciple you in your new church or situation? Love them and care for them.

Likewise, when a new person joins your ministry, meet with them. Ask them about their journey. Ask them if they have someone who they can personally ask spiritual questions. Help them to meet some potential mentors and friends in the church.

Applying principles of the missional family always depends on your context and the people involved. If you would like help with your specific situation, contact Etchea Coaching. Check out our partnership, too.


Christian maturity won’t come when you “get more” from your church

Carey Nieuwhof has a great post called Why We Need a Different Kind of ‘Maturity’ in the Church. In this post he points to the issue of people church hopping because they don’t think their current church is helping them to mature. The problem is that people will never mature when they are seeking what is best for them. Christian maturity is self sacrifice (Rom. 1). Christians grow when they have a family that helps them work through their issues so that they can give to others.

Of course, if the family refuses to help their people grow in this Kingdom way, some may find a different church more helpful. Sadly, I’ve found few people who church hop because they want a family who is going to get into their issues more.

Nieuwhof lists these five marks as better measures of maturity:

  1. A passion for application.
  2. Humility.
  3. A servant’s heart.
  4. A love for unchurched people.
  5. A deep investment in the Kingdom of God.

Growing to maturity is a long, vulnerable process. People need a community of grace to help them mature. People need a family that cares for them. A communities need to grow together.


Two things we should learn from 1 Timothy 3:4-5

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?

There are two quick lessons we can take from this qualification for the leadership of our church

First, the church is a family or else what one did in the family wouldn’t really matter. It seems more important that a leader be good in the home than in the business world. The family is built on love and trust, while the business strives for increased profits.

Second, if a potential leader has troubled, disrespectful kids, a church should at least slow down and ask good questions that help it to discern whether there is a problem with this person relationally? This is an opportunity to disciple the leader so they can lead well as they are ready.

Unbranding your children’s and youth ministries

CrossTrainers, King’s Kidz, Area 56. Often churches like to name their ministries for children and youth. Names provide a cute way of bringing the groups together and giving a common identity. But should churches give ministries their own brands?

While these brand names may bring a sense of excitement to the individual ministry, this practice has at least one significant drawback. As soon as a church gives a label to an age group program, it has cleaved that program from the rest of the church. To call your youth group CrossTrainers will make for some nice t-shirts (with the T forming a cross, of course), but it also sends signals to the youth that they need their own separate church, they don’t belong to the church. Youth groups have a powerful purpose, but they don’t need an identity separate from the rest of the body. Work to help teens and children to understand that their identity is in Jesus Christ, not the clever brand.

Here’s another reason to unbrand your ministries. When you list the 5 and 6 grade group, visitors won’t be confused. They are when you talk about “Unleashed.”

Read more about models of family ministry.