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.
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.
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.
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.