The tools your church needs for effective family ministry
How can your ministry equip parents with the resources they need?
In the first place, help parents to see that if they are believers in Jesus Christ, God has already equipped them with his Spirit, his Word and the community of faith (John 16:12–14; Eph 4:11–16; 2 Tim 3:16–17; Heb. 13:21). Through these gifts from God, it is possible for the gospel to reshape every part of life, including practices of parenting. In whatever problem parents may face, the gospel is foundational to the answer. If the gospel is not foundational to the answer, either we don’t understand the problem, or we don’t understand the full implications of the gospel.
At the same time, the wisdom of God’s people is sometimes expressed through written or recorded resources that point us toward the gospel in every part of life. The point of providing parents with such resources is not to supplement the gospel; the gospel needs no supplement (Gal 1:6–12). The point of these resources is to draw from God’s work and wisdom in the lives of others to apply the gospel in the lives of parents and children.
With that purpose in mind, develop a brief list of gospel-rich resources that will be helpful to parents in your church. Organize the list by categories with only a couple of books, articles or podcasts in each category. Too many resources will overwhelm parents. Resources might be organized under headings such as:
- Tools for Beginning Faith-Talks In Your Home
- Celebrating Rites of Passage in Your Home
- How to Have Healthy Conversations with Your Child
- How to Lead Your Child to Christ
- Ideas for Being a Family-in-Faith for Spiritual Orphans
Make the resource lists available in the church lobby, tuck them into resource packets for Sunday school teachers, post them on the bulletin board, blog about them on the church website, or develop a men’s or women’s reading group that reads and reviews the books for the church newsletter. Update the lists at least yearly.
It may be that some youth or children’s events can’t be shifted to train or involve parents directly. If that’s the case, use those events as opportunities to equip parents with resources that recognize their households as primary contexts for discipling their children. For example, if you’re the youth minister, you might provide parents with a monthly resource list and some faith-walk suggestions that connect with what you’re teaching each week in youth group. A children’s director might develop a quarterly list of catechism questions and a recommended book that coordinates with the themes that children are exploring in Sunday school. In every instance, your goal is to equip parents with a resource that helps them to rehearse at home the truths that children or youth are learning at church.
Do not hand these printed resources to youth or children with the hope that the resources will miraculously make it to mom and dad. I too was a captive of this quixotic hope for many years. Then, I became a parent and discovered that such resources rarely survive the trip home. Placed in the hands of children, most resources end up crumpled and laid to rest beneath the car seat amid Happy Meal toys, secondhand suckers and stray pieces of cereal. There they remain for months or years until a parent finally cleans under the seat, typically the night before the old car is traded for a new one — a time when family discipleship isn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind.
Providing children with papers to clutter the car is not the same as equipping parents with the resources they need to engage in cosmic combat; handouts for children falls more in the category of killing trees for Jesus. Whether through a well-produced handout or a well-promoted web page, get the resource directly to the parents. Each time you make contact with the parent, include words of encouragement that recognize the parent’s God-given role as a primary disciple-maker in a child’s life.
If family-equipping happened to be merely about changing an organization, I could stop at this point and say, “Congratulations! Once you’ve made certain that every activity for youth or children trains, involves, or equips parents, you have completed all the levels. Pat yourself on the back and move on to some other program.”
But family-equipping doesn’t work that way.
Family-equipping is not a series of steps to success. It is not a programmatic panacea for your church’s problems. It is a process that works its way over time into every aspect of your ministry. And so, synchronizing your ministry is not the ending — far from it! It is the beginning of a bigger and better story for your ministry. This story is bigger because it calls parents to see their children in light of God’s great story-line of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. It is better because the goal is not simply healthier families for the church, bigger events for the community or better ethics for the world. The goal is Jesus, the center is the gospel and the family is a means for revealing the gospel now and for passing the gospel from one generation to the next.
Dr. Jones serves as professor of leadership and church ministry at Southern Seminary. He is also the associate vice president for online learning and editor of The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry at Southern. Dr. Jones has authored or contributed to more than a dozen books, including, most recently Family Ministry Field Guide along with Conspiracies and the Cross, Perspectives on Family Ministry and Christian History Made Easy.