Culture has spent much of the past century attacking the institution of the family. In many cases the church has acquiesced. But God is now raising a generation of leaders seeking to restore the power, vitality, and importance of the church-home partnership. What our Enemy has meant for evil, God will use for good. As increasing numbers of families continue to be fractured and fragmented, Christ-centered families will stand out more and more as outposts of light in neighbourhoods of darkness. (181)
In Perspectives on Family Ministry 3 Views, Pastors of three different churches in America share their perspective on Family Ministry models and how these models work within their own church. The book provides the background of what family ministry has looked like in the church over the years, and provides many scriptural references of family/parental responsibilities, which mainly lay with the father, as well as family discipleship. It also shows the family in today’s culture, and the struggles present both in the church and family life. These models work towards building strong faithful families to bring glory to the kingdom of God.
I enjoyed that this book was set up in such a way that after each model was presented, the other Pastors had the opportunity to respond to, or challenge the model, with one final response from the Pastor who presented the model, to round out the chapter. It was almost like a debate within a book, which added an extra dynamic. In being transparent, I will share that my passion for Family Ministries did make it hard to simply review the book and not critique the models presented, but I have tried my best to give you an unbiased glimpse into the book.
As I mentioned the book covers three views of Family Ministry, the first being Family-Integrated. Although what may seem radical to some, it is being effectively used in some churches across America according to Paul Renfro, Pastor of Discipleship. This model is one that I had difficulty not critiquing as I read more and more, and I do apologize, as it will likely come across as such. A Family-Integrated Church is one that:
Affirms that the biblical family is a scripturally ordered household of parents, children and sometimes others, forming the God-ordained building blocks of the church. (2 Tim 4:19). We…reject the church’s implementation of modern individualism by fragmenting the family through age-grade, peer-oriented, and special-interest classes, thus preventing rather than promoting family unity.
In a typical Sunday morning service you would see families (parents and children) worshipping together, parents training their children on how they should act in church, with churches offering parenting books on discipline as a training tool, and the use of a rod that is not intended to inflict injury but to cause a small amount of pain to teach and train the child. I will just leave it at that. An interesting perspective with this model is adolescence is for lack of a better term, a foreign concept. For boys around the age of 12, adolescent immaturity is not something expected or tolerated. Rather boys are trained and built up to prepare them for the discipleship that they will teach in their own home one day. This model focuses very much on the nuclear family. Some concerns mentioned by Brandon Shields and Jay Strother are; missed opportunity for evangelism in the community and world, potential negligence of non-intact families due to a large focus on the nuclear family, and the lack of partnership with the church at times.
The next model is Family-Based Ministry and is more so described as a philosophy versus a ministry. Family-Based Ministry shares the same viewpoint as the Family-Integrated model in that they believe that parents are responsible for the faith development and discipleship of their children, but these churches still have age-segmented ministry structures, that specifically include intergenerational and family-focused events within each ministry. Therefore, a church called to this model wouldn’t require a total restructuring of the church but just simply, “refocus existing age-appropriate groupings to partner intentionally with families in the discipleship process.” (99) This model differs from others that in that everything must be scripture driven but adapted to meet today’s culture ills, evangelism should shape every single ministry so that there is maximum Kingdom impact, and what Christian compassion looks like. Churches that use this model are “theologically and practically positioned for maximum gospel impact in today’s culture.” (120) Some challenges seen with this model is that there isn’t an appropriate level of importance in discipleship in the home, the potential to become ‘Sola Cultura’ (culture only) where the church structures itself in a way to meet cultural needs only, and a lack of training parents to be the primary teachers of discipleship to their children.
The third model is the Family-Equipping model, which is quite similar to the Family-Based model and is referred to as the ‘younger brother.’ by Shields. Churches who use the Family-Equipping model believe children are not only the church of tomorrow, but are also vital to the church today. Churches who use this model co-champion with parents and work together with them throughout ALL ministries in their church to ensure that parents are equipped and held accountable for the discipleship of their children. The church does retain age-organized ministries, but the idea is to restructure the church, each ministry, and congregation to partner with parents, as they are also seen as primary disciple-makers. Deuteronomy 6:7 is the foundation of a specific ministry plan for parents and children. Some challenges expressed by Renfro and Shields are; how do parents find time to disciple their children if they are segregated at church and in ministries, is there a lack of teaching for the men who are the primary disciple-makers in the home, and the lack of focus on missions and evangelism.
The models described in this book differ from one extreme to another and disagreements are clearly noted among Renfro, Shields and Strother, as to why the family ministry model that is at the core of their churches are so-called ‘better than the other,’ although each is backed with valid reasoning. Although they each clearly differ, it is easy to see common threads emerge throughout the text. All of these models agree that for the sake of the next generation the power, vitality and importance of the church and home must be restored and it is easily noted that family ministry is one of great importance in the church today and it makes the case that every church is called to some form of family ministry. Another common thread, as it is what God has called us to, is that families, specifically men are responsible for being the primary disciple-makers to their children. Scriptures such as Proverbs 6:22, Ephesians 6:4, and Deuteronomy 11:19 give clear instruction to parents of their responsibility to their children. Raising children in faith is too significant of a task to ‘hire someone else to do it’, and shouldn’t be left to those such as Sunday School Teachers, Youth Leaders, etc. After all, they only spend on average 40 hours a year with your children. However, churches and ministries are there to equip, support, encourage and partner with parents.
One may think my recommendation to read this book may be a biased one because of my work in Family Ministries, however; I can say with fair certainty that anyone who picks up this book cannot help but be fired up for family ministry after reading it.