So, what are the defining characteristics of “family ministry” that take it from a label to a true ministry between the church and the home? It’s actually pretty hard to define. Chap Clark of Fuller Youth Institute has said “there is not now, nor is there every likely to be, an identifiable programmatic animal know as family ministry.” He may be right but there are some things that we can look for as we consider family ministry in the church. After talking to some fellow ministers, these 5 things stood out as markers of family ministry in a church.
- Focus – The fundamental theology of family ministry is that the home is intended by God to be the primary place of discipleship (Deut. 6:4-9) and that the church should partner with parents/caregivers to equip and support them as they raise their children in the faith. The focus of the church becomes centered on the home rather than the organization and the entire congregation joins in celebrating parents/caregivers as pastors to the next generation.
- Function – Unlike other church ministries, family ministry is not intended to be in its own “silo” with its own activities, programs and location within the church. Rather than being program-focused, family ministry “represents a fundamentally different way of doing church” (Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, editor of Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views). In other words, it’s more of a new way of approaching church as whole rather than adding something to the way things already are. Every area of the church participates and is involved in family ministry regardless of age, ministry, or worship service.
- Family as foundation– While this characteristic might seem obvious, it becomes less so when we pose the question, “What makes family family?” In modern society, less than 30% of homes house what we would call a traditional family (Dad, Mom, 2.5 kids, dog, minivan, white picket fence). Families today include single parent home, blended/divorced families, adoptive/foster families, and grandparents-as-parents. Family ministry consistently recognizes the family, no matter what it looks like, as the normative place for discipleship of children and supports and resources as needed. To read more on this, check out Pastor Matt Norman’s blog “Why HOME?“
- Formational – Family ministry has as its heart a commitment to passing the faith from one generation to another through the platform of the home supported by the church. Therefore, everything done in the context of family ministry will spring from that desire. Family activities, caregiver seminars, media resources, church programs and ministry to kids and youth will have at its root a role in growing that spiritually-formational home.
- Fun – That’s right, fun! This is my own thing. I don’t have research and studies to back me up on this but I’m just putting it out there that if family ministry is not fun, if it is a chore for the church, a duty for the parents, and a drudgery for the kids, then it has failed in its role. Family ministry should bring inspiration and joy to the entire church body and life and health to the home. Family ministry that works should have kids excited about talking to Mom and Dad about God, parents not dreading the life questions their kids will ask, and church members actively involved as mentors, cheerleaders, and supporters of the home. Celebration of spiritual growth should be normal and expected. Talking about seeing God throughout the day should be anticipated and encouraged. And the entire congregation should be involved in an ongoing conversation.
For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused 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.
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Great post and thanks for mentioning me. I do think that many churches make a major oversight as week seek to minister to families. For most it is not intentional, but if we are not being intentional about including families that are not what we would consider traditional, or Biblical, then we will miss out on great opportunities to minister to the communities we serve.
I agree wholeheartedly! It’s so important to know your community and the families there so you can effectively reach and meet needs. I did a survey of our area using census numbers and some facebook groups and discovered we have a large population of single mothers (17% of the local population). We are starting the process of looking for ways to engage and resources this unique culture and intentionally invite them into our ministry to families.