The Fallacy of Either/Or Ministry

“It’s the parent’s job to disciple their kids!”

“It’s the children’s pastor’s/youth pastor’s responsibility to teach kids about Jesus!”

“It’s the church’s role to be the context for discipleship.”

So often, the statements above are used in either/or arguments regarding Next Gen ministry. Books have been written comparing and contrasting the roles. Countless discussions have taken place online and in-person. Biblical, theological, and historical foundations have been presented. Developmental psychology, physiological milestones and cognitive abilities all consulted and taken into account.

What generally ends up happening is that people come to the same conclusion: All are needed but not all are equal.

Just like knobs on a sound board, people end up emphasizing one over another, which impacts how ministry is approached in their context.

  • If parents are the primary place of discipleship, there’s an emphasis on family ministry, parent ministry, home ministry, and the like.
  • If the primary place of discipleship is the church, Sunday school curriculum, youth programming, various age specific ministries and opportunities are emphasized and attendance and experience become markers of success.
  • If the primary place of discipleship is the faith community (think people, not program or building), the focus is more intergenerational with multi-generational opportunities, less age-specific programming, and more out-of-the-building relationships and contexts with pastoral staff playing a supportive role.

It is likely that you’ve seen one or more of these scenarios played out as in churches you’ve attended, visited, or served in.

Each approach has its opportunities and challenges. Each one meets a need and each one can stimulate spiritual growth.

The concern lies when only one of these areas is utilized for generational discipleship. 

It’s like trying to teach someone how to ride a bike but instead of giving them two wheels, a bike seat and handlebars, you only gave them one thing at a time. Yes, you could ride with only wheels but it’s gonna be a lot harder that if you had the whole bike.

I’m not a fan of the word “balance.”  Achieving balance seems like an unreachable goal for most of us and it just leads us to a feeling of ongoing defeat and failure. But I am a fan of the idea of “both/and; a ministry context that acknowledges the positive outcomes of each method and works to achieve a cohesive, unified approach to the work of discipleship.

Pause for a second and consider your own ministry context or church experience. Who carries the bulk of the discipleship load?  Does reality match messaging?

  • For instance, if a church messages that parents/caregivers at home are the primary means/place of discipleship, but only offer weekly age-specific programming with no support, nurture or equipping of parents, the reality is the church believes it is the central means by which discipleship happens. 
  • Or if a church states that it desires to be intergenerational and includes children in the worship service but never creates a space for children, youth, and parents to be connected with other members in meaningful ways like prayer partnership, shared learning experiences, or topical classes or studies (versus age specific), it is still placing the bulk of the discipleship load on the parent’s shoulders without sharing the responsibility.

The truth is, just like it is so often, is that we need all three working together in a cohesive manner in order for discipleship to take place.

The discipleship culture in churches needs to shift from “It’s so-and-so’s responsibility” to “It’s our responsibility.” 

The children’s/youth pastor cannot succeed without the whole community of the church linking arms with parents and children in a community of discipleship.

The parents cannot succeed without the prayers, support, and tools needed to remain relevant and untiring in the work of discipleship at home.

And the church cannot succeed in developing networks of mentorship, relationship and connection between generations if programming is consistently segregated by age and life experience.

Dr. Richard Ross, author of Youth Ministry that Lasts a Lifetime, after a substantial time spent researching youth group graduates who remain in the faith and connected with church, offered this recommendation to churches that he calls “Ministry in Thirds.”

1. A third of time and resources to accelerating the spiritual impact in teenagers’ homes

2. A third immersing every teenager in the full life and ministry of the congregation

3. A third leading what churches traditionally have considered youth ministry, targeted to the youth group

According to Ross, “Balancing these three elements may well lead to much higher percentages of teenagers loving God, loving people, and making disciples for a lifetime.”

This is an ongoing conversation that needs to be had in churches. Unless we know where we stand, we can’t know where we need to be going. Take some time and consider your own ministry context or church experience?  How might the resources listed above need to be reorganized in order to develop a holistic experience of lifelong generational discipleship? The outcome is worth whatever work it might take to engage all three discipleship arenas.


Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?

ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes.

Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings. There are now TWO options for attending the webinar:

Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.

Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.

Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.

Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.

Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!

Anyone registered for all four sessions will receive a FREE half-hour coaching session/follow-up specific to your ministry needs.

To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/reconnect-a-webinar-for-generational-connections-tickets-121384392987. Questions? Feel free to email me at christina.m.embree@gmail.com. Can’t wait to journey with you!


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.

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