I’ve been putting off writing this book review for a month. Not because I’ve been dreading it. Certainly not; to the contrary, this was perhaps one of the best books I’ve read for churches that are transitioning into family ministry. If anything, the reason I’ve hesitated is because I’m not sure I can do it justice. So, if what I say below doesn’t entice you to GO. GET THIS BOOK. READ IT. then feel free to ignore what I say and just do as I do (Go. Get the book. Read it!) .
Author Phil Bell starts out the book sharing a bit of his own testimony and experience in family ministry. As he shares, he answers some of the questions I know that many of us have when it comes to how family ministry looks and feels within a church setting. Questions like, “What is family ministry?” and “What if parents don’t want to partner with me?” and “But how can I give parents practical help?” If you are in children’s or family ministry, you’ve probably asked at least one of these questions. This book can give you some amazing answers.
Phil begins with a look at where family ministry starts – at home. And not just any home – your home. Without this foundation in place, the ministry that happens lacks content. “The way you invest in your own family will significantly affect the fruit of your ministry” (p. 25). Throughout the book, Phil reminds us to keep an eye on our home and how our ministry activity is affecting our family.
From that point, each chapter of the book unfolds a cohesive and practical plan for implementing family ministry in your church. He covers everything from creating a team, casting vision, resourcing and equipping parents, implementing a strategy and identifying a network of partners. A few highlights that stood out to me…
Chapter 5 – Communicate strategically
Phil introduces us to his concept of “promotion dilution” which is basically the bombardment of parents by hundreds to thousands of messages every week from a variety of sources until it all becomes a diluted blur. In church it happens when we attempt to promote too many events and programs at a given time. He shares, “In our charge to promote everything we’re doing, nothing really gets highlighted.”
This really hit home for me both as a parent and a minister! So how do you get your message through the blur? The book offers so many ideas on how to get heard but the one that stuck out to me? “Say multiple things in multiple ways.” Don’t expect your singular email or your solitary text to reach parents. If you want to be heard, use multiple avenues to say what you want to say in different ways. After reading this, I actually decided to start doing short training videos week for my volunteers and found I reached a much larger audience and had a lot more interaction than all my emails, texts and Facebook messages.
Chapter 7- Equip Disengage Parents
This is a tough one. How are you supposed to help parents disciple their kids at home if the parents you serve are disengaged and completely unconnected to you? Instead of skirting the issue, Phil addresses this concern straight on. He offers a lot of great hints and tips about how to help the conversation you start at church to continue at home, but the key is in his summary, “The biggest hurdle to equipping parents is getting them to show up, and to clear that hurdle we have to put their – not our – needs first.”
This is exceptional advice and something that as ministers its sometimes hard to remember when we are juggling meetings, volunteer schedules, and room decor. But taking the time to really find out where the parents of our kids are coming from can actually make the journey from church to home a reality rather than just a hope.
Chapter 11 – Building a Network of Partners
If the above seems a bit overwhelming, take heart, the final chapter of the book reminds us that we are not alone. With amazing preciseness, Phil helps us identify people in our community and our church that can help us create a web of support for the families and parents in our church.
I found this final chapter to be the perfect way to tie up this book. All of the advice and ideas make the most sense in practical ministry when they are done within community. As a minister, it is sometimes easy to feel like I’m alone in sharing with and ministering to parents in discipleship and faith formation at home. But Phil points out, “Many of the parents you and I minister to are working as hard as they can to give their kids the best they can. But they’re also feeling as though they’re going it alone.” Building community is the answer for both of us.
This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that felt like it was written to me. I feel like I was being poured into by a minister and friend and I know it will end up being a go-to resource for years to come. Get your highlighters ready, grab your copy, and join me in exploring this thing we call “family ministry.”
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For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.