In many churches, this call for parents to engage has taken the title of “family ministry.” Of course, a call for parents to engage in their children’s Christian formation is not the only meaning that’s been ascribed to the phrase “family ministry.” “Unlike other areas of ministry focus,” Chap Clark has observed, “family ministry emerged without any sort of across-the-board consensus of just what it is. … Because of this lack of a common perception of family ministry, people responsible for family ministry in churches are often confused and frustrated.”
In some churches, family ministry implies “Family Life Education”—a program for counseling troubled families or teaching healthy families how to communicate more effectively. Other congregations see family ministry as a catch—all title to describe the separate programs that they offer for each member of the family. A few churches have no idea what they mean by family ministry—but the church down the street had a family ministry and it sounded like something that might attract more people, so these churches launched one too. Now, they’re wondering what to do with it.
No wonder, then, that a prominent youth leader sent out this plea a few years ago for a practical definition of family ministry:
If someone knows a simple definition of family-based youth ministry, please send it right away. I’ve read (and enjoyed) most of the books written on the subject. In fact, I can still remember reading … Family-Based Youth Ministry the very week it was published. … However, I’m still looking for that simple definition and practical handle.
So was I, for several years.
In the end, I developed my own definition of family ministry, based on a good bit of ministry experience, research, and discussions with churches all over the world. My definition is less about a particular program and more about how we use the programs that we already have. I don’t claim infallibility for my definition. At the same time, I do believe that it’s a good starting-point for most ministries. Here’s what I mean when I use the term “family ministry”: the process of intentionally and persistently coordinating a ministry‘s proclamation and practices so that parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as primary disciple-makers in their children‘s lives. This sort of equipping requires the coordinated effort of an entire ministry to equip parents to engage actively in the discipleship of their children.
Excerpted from The Family Ministry Field Guide (WPH, 2011). Used by permission. Click here for more information about The Family Ministry Field Guide.