You’ve heard the vision for family ministry: God calls parents to be the primary spiritual trainers of their children. Passing faith to the next generation should be centered in the home with the support of the church, not the other way around. Many church leaders have asked me this question, “Does this mean we should fire our youth and children’s ministry pastors?”
Answer – No. But if you want to move your church toward the children’s and youth ministry model of the early church, your NextGen pastor’s job description will need to be transformed.
I’m aware that the vision and changes I am proposing below are radical and may seem overwhelming. Be patient. Take one step at a time. It may take years for your team to lead change in your church culture.
Imagine sitting down with your senior pastor. He wants to share with you a dynamic new vision for your role. Here is what he says.
The most important thing in this new role is you live like a Christian at home. We’re counting on you to spend personal and private time with God, studying His Word, and in prayer. Your relationship with your spouse needs to be your highest earthly priority. Your next spiritual priority must be the discipleship of your children. We need you to lead family worship in your home. You will not be able to lead the church in things you are not practicing yourself. Spiritually leading your family is a foundation and prerequisite to serving as a leader in the local church. We are here to love you, encourage you, and keep you accountable to this, your most important Kingdom ministry.
Train the trainer
God has called parents to be the primary spiritual trainers of their children at home. If you’re going to minister to children and youth, you need to spend time with parents. Have lunch with them. Have coffee with them. Talk with them before and after church. Invite them over to your home. Accept invitations when you are invited to their homes. God has given you a gift and expertise in communicating biblical truth to young people! We need you to give all of that expertise to the parents and grandparents in our church, so they can be as effective as possible in shepherding their children.
In regard to the curriculum you’re using, I want you to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and be sure it is teaching biblical doctrine, simply and clearly. Then, instead of putting that curriculum in the hands of volunteers to teach the youth, I want you to put it into the hands of parents. To do this, you may need a team of volunteers, and they need to join you in this key mission to “train the trainer.”
Bring them together
Include parents in everything you do. Youth retreats become family retreats. Youth mission trips become family mission trips. Awana nights are not just for kids, but parents too. Small groups in homes become family groups in homes. Right now most parents just drop their kids off for you to minister to them while a few stay around as volunteers. We need you to turn that around! We want you to develop a ministry where the default setting is that families come together. Then we will be equipped and prepared to care for the students who do not have Christian families, because they will not just connect with peers, but with entire families from our church. When new kids come, your mission is to connect them with a godly family in the church.
Now, instead of splitting everyone up by age and putting them in different Christian education rooms, we need you to partner with other pastors and fill those rooms with people of all ages—parents, grandparents, singles, and their children of all ages. A key part of your pastoral role is to link arms with all the pastors so all ages come together for worship and discipleship.
Get out of here
Our community is filled with children and teens who are lost and they come from families who are lost. This is a matter of the utmost importance and urgency. We need you to set the example for other believers and the Christian families in the church. Do you remember what they called “Sunday school” in the 1800s? Christians and Christian families went out into the neediest parts of the community, not to run a local church program, but to bring Christian love and share the Gospel. Invite other Christians to join you in coaching a sports team through the park district or YMCA. Pull families together to serve and build relationships at the food bank. Volunteer to help with after-school tutor programs and pray God will enable you to build relationships with unsaved families. Equip the saints in our church for this vital ministry!
Unsaved students and their families aren’t here in the church building. If you’re going to lead the families of our church to reach them, you have to get out of here.
If we’re going to reverse the generational spiritual decline in our nation, we must return to the methodsGod has given us in the Bible for the evangelism and discipleship of the next generation. The early church leaders practiced their faith at home, trained parents to disciple their kids, kept families together, and went out into the community to reach the lost.
Dr. Rob Rienow’s most important ministry is loving his wife, Amy, and partnering with her to lead their six children to love God. He is a pastor, church planter, author, and founder of Visionary Family Ministries. Would you like to dig deeper into a Bible-driven vision for reaching the next generation for Christ? Continue the journey in Dr. Rienow’s new book, Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom—Uniting Church and Family in the Great Commission. visionaryfam.com, @visionaryfam