The Time is Now for Family Ministry
By Beth Frank
Beth Frank loves Jesus, her hubs, three girls, and thinking creatively. She and her husband, Ryan, publish KidzMatter Magazine and reside in Converse, Indiana.
As children’s and family ministers, we have been called to one of the greatest callings of our generation: to stand, and stand firm, for families. I believe that at no other time in history has the biblical model for the family been under attack more than it is today. In our postmodern culture, the very DNA of the family unit is changing.
But as the church, we have Jesus, the Truth, and know the standard to which we've been called. To say that we have a tough job is an understatement. But if God has called us, then He will equip us, as Jeremiah 1:9 says, “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, 'I have put my words in your mouth'" (NIV).
You were born into this generation to be a champion for families, and God has appointed you “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14, NIV). Looking back over my own life, I can see how this truth has been at work in my calling. Here's a brief history of who I am and what has shaped my unique philosophy of family ministry.
I grew up in a Baptist pastor’s home. My father was on staff at a church where, at the time of my birth, my grandpa had been the senior pastor for more than 20 years. My dad is the senior pastor of the church I attend, and both my husband and I have served under his ministry.
My life from birth has literally been family ministry. It's also been church ministry. My heart has always been and always will be for ministry leaders and churches. Living in a pastor’s home has given me a unique perspective and empathy for those in full-time service; however, as with all things, you get the good with the bad. Being up-close and behind-the-scenes in ministry gives you a very real, warts-and-all idea of human nature, ministry life and the not-so-glossy parts of church life today in the U.S.
I am naturally an out-of-the-box thinker and was encouraged from an early age by my pastor-granddad to think this way. Challenging the status quo and questioning why we do what we do has always been fascinating to me.
Well, as you can imagine, that line of questioning was cute and enjoyed by adults when I was an elementary-age student, but it started to wear thin with my parents as I entered my teenage years. By that time I was questioning everything and where I fit in the mix.
During my college years I struggled deeply with the traditions of the church that seemed to be sacred but were not effective. I questioned why change seemed to be so slow, or seen as impossible. It was in college, though, that my faith became my own and I started to really grow as a Christian. As a result, it tempered my frustration with traditions.
Fast-forward to today. As a mother of three girls, I am again thinking of the church. However, this time I am trying to see it through their eyes and identify what I am unintentionally teaching them by the traditions and rituals I don’t necessarily embrace but nonetheless participate in.
TIME FOR SOME TOUGH QUESTONS
In the last decade much has been written, discussed, taught, posted and tweeted about what family ministry in today’s church should look like. It’s almost as if, in some of our minds, family ministry in the church didn’t exist until the early 2000s. What was the church doing before then? Why was it successful or unsuccessful? What do we, as today’s leaders, need to stand for to ensure that we minister to this generation of families in the most beneficial way possible? Tough questions for sure, but we have to ask them because the life and health of today’s families stand in the balance.
Families are at the core of everything we do as children's and family pastors. You cannot effectively reach and engage children without parents, and vice versa. As we know, the spiritual development of children happens most effectively in a spiritually healthy home. Contemporary leaders agree that this is mostly the parents' responsibility. But, what is our responsibility, as children’s and family ministers; and what can we do to help today’s fragile families in their biggest challenge and greatest job—raising strong kingdom-builders?
Here’s what radical, life-changing family ministry in today’s church looks like to me.
1. AGENTS OF CHANGE.
Over the years I've met and chatted with so many amazing children’s pastors. Along the way I started to be able to recognize those pastors whose hearts were given to having a dynamic family ministry at their churches. This recognition process began to be almost comical to me because the conversations all started to sound the same. These pastors would first give me the soapbox speech about the importance of family ministry, then confide that they'd been preaching on it for years, and then start telling me about the steps they'd taken to launch a family ministry in their church. Most would then talk about the programs and ministries they had to cancel so they could better serve the family as a unit.
As agents of change, these pastors all had discovered that sometimes hard decisions have to be made. Each of those family-ministry proponents initiated change by first quitting something. They were after relevant, effective programs, not popular ones.
2. TIME IS SACRED (LET'S NOT WASTE IT).
As “church people” we know that over time our programs and traditions can become ridiculously sacred. If something was hugely successful in the 1980s and 1990s, chances are it has been repeated since then, year after year, even though the kids, families and cultures being ministered to have dramatically changed. Holding to ritualistic traditions and then becoming stagnant is something we always have to guard against.
We should be asking: Is what we are doing even effective? Is it relevant? Does it strengthen the families in my church and community? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then the ministry or program has become a tradition, and we’re wasting valuable ministry time on it and asking our families to waste their valuable family time on it as well. There is too much at stake to keep repeating yesterday’s programs on today’s kids! Time is limited and sacred!
3. EFFECTIVE FAMILY MINISTRY.
We also need to stop copying what is wildly successful in other churches. Each church has a unique DNA. What is a great program in the neighborhoods of South Central L.A. is probably not going to translate in the cornfield communities of Indiana. If you stop and think about this fact, though, it’s exciting! Why? Because God called you to be exactly where you are! You are already equipped by Him for the unique culture that you serve.
He has and will give you a vision for the families in your church. Move forward with a commitment to effective, intentional ministry for your church, families, and the unique ministry culture God has placed you in, where He has called you.
When we think of family ministry today, there isn't a magic formula or a perfect method that fits all churches and ministries. Work to develop your own set of core values and evaluate your ministry through those values. Pray for laser-like focus and wisdom to be effective and intentional at all your ministry does. Make effectiveness more important than tradition. May we rise up for such a time as this to do family ministry in a way that impacts and builds strong families that love and serve Jesus for generations to come!
THE NON-NEGOTIABLES OF FAMILY MINISTRY
As you evaluate the family ministry at your church for effectiveness and relevance, you will need to develop your “non-negotiables.” These reflect what you believe needs to be at the core of absolutely everything you do. I'll help you get started by telling you what I hold dear as non-negotiables for family ministry today.
1. WORSHIPPING GOD.
This seems to be obvious, but as champions for families we can sometimes get caught up in promoting family time more than family-worship time. Any family time we promote should in some way be about loving, knowing, serving, and worshiping God. Everything should always begin and end with Jesus!
2. BEING DEDICATED TO SCRIPTURE.
More than just knowing them, we are passionate about teaching them to this generation. As we know the Scripture and teach it, we also stand on the Bible as the ultimate absolute for everything in life. We proclaim it every day in every way by the way we live and the way we love.
3. BEING ETERNALLY FOCUSED.
Colossians 3:1-4 says, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is....Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (NASB). If I am doing life and ministry focused on what’s to come, then it will focus my energies on what is truly important—building God’s kingdom on Earth.
4. LOVING OTHERS!
It’s basic—but not always easy. Love Jesus, love kids, love parents, even love the leadership God has placed over you. To be effectively reaching the families in your church and community you need to know them intimately, and this cannot be done without love. Just love Jesus and let the rest go (see Rom. 8:28).