Let’s start at the beginning…
In Genesis 12, God begins the process of fashioning a peculiar people, a people with a promise of descendants, land, and God’s presence. The only condition required of this people was faith.
Abraham was first. Then his son Isaac, then Jacob, and on and on from there. We know them as the Israelites, the group of fickle people that God had his hand on, and the unique people we read and tell stories about to our children from the Old Testament. God’s goal with this people was (and is) to show the world what He is like. His people were (and are) to represent Him in this fallen and broken world. And the only condition required to be a part of this people is faith.
In the Old Testament, this group of people was mainly of one people group, one nationality. But God’s heart was (and is) for His people to be a “light to the nations”, a group of spokespeople who display and tell the world who God is. Israel didn’t do a great job of proclaiming the name of God to the world.
In the New Testament, we find God sending His one and only Son, Jesus, to do for the world what Israel failed to do. He suffered for this world. Jesus emptied himself and died. He was the sacrificial offering. Jesus was the new and successful Adam.
Thus, faith in Jesus Christ means that you are a part of God’s redeemed people group, apart from nationality, dialect, or geographic location. This faith produces a life that is emptied of our old self and filled up with the Holy Spirit who guides our new self. “Christians”, little Christs, as they are known, is the renewed family of God.
One cannot even begin to engage with families in the mission of God in this world if we do not even know what the mission is: faith in Jesus Christ, to empty ourselves, and allow the Holy Spirit to fashion out of the empty vessel a people who look like God.
Ministry with families need to look like engaging with them in the mission of God.
First, before you do any kind of “family ministry” initiatives, you need to check yourself:
- Why do you want to create a “family ministry”? What does that mean?
- Are you engaging in the mission of God personally?
- Are you modeling to your own family what it means to be God’s kind of person in this world?
You cannot lead, authentically at least, any kind of family ministry initiative unless you are modeling it yourself.
Second, are you leading your family in the mission of God in this world?
Family ministers, children’s pastors, and church leaders have all kinds of ideas what families should be doing, but then those very same leaders don’t do those very same things with their family. It’s kind of difficult to lead with integrity if you can’t make it happen in your own family. Besides, we all learn what’s realistic and sustainable when we participate in those things ourselves. These “challenges” will need to be communicated and addressed with other families that jump into the mission of God in this world as well.
Third, the “programmatic” elements of how you do “family ministry” depends on the context of any given faith community. The goal isn’t just to get family members playing or in the same room together. However, the goal with any sort of initiative should be:
- To teach them what the mission is and how their family plays a role in what God is doing in the world (hopefully through them!).
- To engage families in the mission of God, to join and partner with what God is doing in their homes, workplace, community, friendships, etc.
- To equip them to actually read Scripture and pray together, to have faith conversations amidst the routine of life (which is where and how the Gospel is lived out in VERY practical ways), to attend a faith community together, etc.
“Family ministry” seems to be a hot conversation right now because children and youth ministry departments in faith communities realize the marginal amount of time they have in a programmatic setting to accomplish any sort of long-lasting, life-transforming, Spirit-led discipleship. We realize (rightly) that the greatest influence is in the family unit itself. So our answer is to begin engaging with the families to do the work of discipleship in students’ lives.
However, the problem we face with families is two-fold:
- If parents aren’t disciples themselves, the practices a church might encourage parents to do in the faith formation of their child will be hollow.
- We really love centralized programming. It’s clean. It’s neat. It’s measureable. However, if anyone has even tried to counsel a willing parent (let alone an unwilling parent) to change their behavior and patterns in the family system, you know what we are up against. Families don’t do good programs together.
Therefore, “family ministry” cannot be a programmed department. It’s too relational. It’s too fluid. It’s not predictable. And this is okay!
I wonder if “family ministry” doesn’t start with a church committed to preaching and modeling the Gospel: faith in Christ, dying to ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him. In my limited experience, when a man or a woman has a genuine conversion, their life radically begins to change. They begin to reorder their life, both personally and familially. Priorities change. The mission of life has changed. It used to be self-focused and now it is Christ-focused. Guess what happens in their engagement with their children? They crave both the grace and knowledge of God and they want to pass that on to their children. They want it!
Again, in my limited experience, I think a family (or an individual in the family) has to WANT to grow in God’s mission in this world, and can’t be forced or compelled to do so.
This is where ministering to the family has its relational and equipping place in the life of the church (the renewed people of God in this world).
And don’t ever forget WHY family ministry is important: because it is part of God’s redemptive plan with fallen human beings since the creation of the world. And the only requirement to this true humanity? FAITH.