It is a topic that is generating much interest these days. First the church realized that ministry to children was important, yet often neglected in the church. Children’s ministry became mainstream, not just a forgotten part of youth ministry.
Then someone read Deuteronomy 6 and realized that it was not the church’s place to be the primary influence in a child’s spiritual walk, it was the parents. Now the church sees parents as ill-equipped to teach their children and seek family ministry to help them. So has the church once again forgotten the importance of reaching children and are reaching mainly adults again?
Please note that these are my personal thoughts and many will disagree, or defend their view about family ministry. I am open to respectful dialogue. But to effectively have family ministry, one must first clearly define what a family is to have a target to aim. I challenge you to define the term “family”.
Does a family include pets? Pets are a considered part of a family. Any unit with a common interest is deemed a family. A close knit community association is a called a family, police, firemen, etc are a family. How do you define family? Who do you include? Often we think of the “perfect” biological family with a male and a female married with children. We may include blended families or families who adopt, but generally always with a mother and a father present, believers, and active in the church. Sadly, this is seldom the case. A friend of mine, Wayne Stocks did his best to come up with a definition for “family”. If you read his post about it, you will see that it is much more complex than one might realize.
Have you noticed that family ministry is almost exclusively connected to children’s ministry? Do you see a men’s and family ministry? A women’s and family ministry? Probably not. So why is it connected to children? Because children have parents, right? Children, must be part of a “family”, but they are not always a part of the family we envision.
Family ministry is taking the focus on reaching the next generation, and focusing again on adults. Personally, I relate to children much more than I relate to adults. My desire is to see children come to know Jesus. Do I do that exclusively of the parents? If the parents/guardians are not believers, then yes, if they are more involved in the child’s life then no, I include them as able.
Recently I have given a family books on apologetics geared for children to help them explain to their children the truth of God, Scripture, etc. I often refer Bibles to parents and grandparents for their children, even giving Bibles to them review before they purchase one. I have helped parents re-enforce a concept about God and life helping a child along their walk. Some may say that this is family ministry, but for me it is not. I am doing what I can to reach the child with the Gospel, serving alongside parents, supporting them as I am able. I am not offering marriage counseling. I am not teaching the father how to be a dad and husband, or the mother how to be a mom and a wife. My ministry is not to the family, but to the child.
Family services are often services geared to adults with activities for children to keep them busy or a short devotional thought. We neglect then children under the guise of family ministry.
Take home sheets are also a way to try to engage parents and encourage “family ministry”, but if the parents have not been taught their role, how will the one they placed their child with to care for (i.e. childcare) be able to teach them in the few moments they have when a parent picks up the child, if they even have a moment then. And haven’t children been given take home sheets for generations with minimal results of parental involvement?
You may say it is simply semantics, but I would say it is more. The church has gone from sharing the Gospel to being “family-friendly”.
It is all about relationships. You cannot build a relationship with a family, but you can build a relationship with members in the family and reach each one individually to help the whole, but not reach the whole to help the individuals. Does the family become better because we held a “family event”? No, the family becomes better because the dad draws closer to Jesus and sees how to be a better dad and husband. It is individual ministry and relationships, not family ministry, that accomplishes this transformation.
People focus on Deuteronomy 6 as a basis for family ministry, but what about Titus 2 where older women are to teach younger women? And young men are to be encouraged to live wisely? Yes, mothers should teach daughters, fathers teach sons, but also those more mature in the faith should teach the younger. If the older men in the church teach the younger men, whether youth, young adults or children, the things of God and their role in God’s family, and their role in their own earthly family, then aren’t we following God’s plan for discipleship in the family and in the church? Is that family ministry or ministry to the individual?
I encourage you to focus on people ministry, not family ministry. Family ministry is something done in the home and the church can encourage that. The church can offer opportunities for families to serve together, to grow together, to worship together; but family ministry takes place in the home, by the parent, guardian, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc teach the children the things of God and in some cases, the children teaching the adults.
My purpose is to build relationships with children, to lead them to Jesus, not to counsel a family about budgets, marriage, or other family matters.
I am a minister to children, not families…
That is why I believe that the church should stop trying to do family ministry.