The whole world watched as U.S. Women’s team member Carli Lloyd scored three goals within just 16 minutes to defeat Japan in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. This particular game would also be the last World Cup match for Abby Wambach who holds the record for most international scores with 184 goals. Wambach entered the game with just 10 minutes left in play. Lloyd voluntarily removed her captain’s armband to place it on Wambach’s arm, and cheers erupted. The transfer showed honor, care, and selflessness.
Cheers should also explode from the crowds when parents pass their faith along to their sons and daughters. What does family ministry look like and what can be done to build great players in the world of family ministry?
The church is “the stadium” where players assemble weekly, but just like in soccer or any other sport, unless practice and disciplines are developed apart from game time, the odds of a win are rather slim. What is the fundamental skill all aspiring soccer players must learn in order to become a competitor at the college or national level? The use of the “weak-side foot.” Watch Messi, Ronaldo, Beckham, Chastain, Wambach, or Lloyd as they dribble the soccer ball down the field at full speed. You’ll have a hard time discerning which is their dominant foot, because they’ve worked on passing, kicking, and dribbling with their weak-side foot to the point that it can no longer carry that title.
Church—the Strong-Side Foot
The dominant foot in discipleship—the church—might be reliable, but how much more could be done if the discipleship responsibility was shared? What can the church do to increase family ministry effectiveness? The first task is to change the culture of relying on the church to do everything. This shift starts with ministry leaders, and if possible from the pulpit. Each ministry leader can have a meeting with all those soccer moms (and dads) to build them up; tell them you want to help them, and then follow through with coaching.
At church, make sure you teach beyond just knowledge and comprehension. It is not enough for children today to just learn the stories of the Bible or memorize scripture; they need to know how scripture affects their actions, feelings, and attitudes. Teach parents to discuss the lessons at mealtimes and to carry the key theme through the week. Use a curriculum that makes this easy by teaching the same biblical themes to all ages (D6 2nd GEN, Gospel Project, Orange, Tru, and others all do this). When a parent is learning the same concept as their child in an age-appropriate way, they gain confidence and are more willing to discuss scripture with their kids. This is especially true for new Christ-following parents. Spend time with parents showing them how to use the curriculum tools and helps for the home. Do not assume they understand. They’re often scared to attempt this. Role-play between parent and ministry leader is an excellent coaching tool.
Find key benchmarks in a child’s life and help the parents take the lead in walking their child through this time—benchmarks that include tying one’s shoe, riding a bike, starting kindergarten, middle school on up to driving, and graduation. These milestones are launching pads for relationship connections by parents (and grandparents). Be available to help them navigate the experiences with their child. Meet with parents about how to prepare for these events. There are tremendous benchmark type resources from ParentMinistry.net, Milestones, and Faith Path that can help with this task through rites of passage.
Don’t try to replace the parent by holding all life-shaping events at church. Teach parents and grandparents how to shape their kids’ lives. The number one spiritual influence in a child’s life (for good or bad) is Mom and then Dad. Challenge the parents to get on board and help you teach and connect. They are your ministry multipliers.
Home—the Weak-Side Foot
Okay, you coach the parents at church. Just like a sports coach, you give them drills or items to do at home. What are some practical tips parents should know beyond the obvious win of a curriculum that works both at home and church? If the only time a child has a conversation with their parent is when they are in trouble or being “preached” to, the child will dread those moments. So teach parents to connect both for fun and teachable moments. Remind the parents that not every conversation has to be a sermon.
Most ministry leaders are either extroverts or adapted introverts who have learned to connect well in conversations. The Myers-Briggs personality assessment reveals that 51% of participants are introverts. Forbes suggests a similar study where they estimate one-third to one-half of the population are introverts. That means about half your parents do not know how to easily connect in conversations even with their own kids. Imagine the relationship development that could occur if you helped parents over this hurdle.
Explain the value of playtime, solving puzzles, reading together, and other opportunities to share space, words, and feelings. Try to have them shoot for together moments that allow conversations. Encourage parents to plan time for these connect moments, or they will always be too busy. Show the parents how to ask about their child’s “highs” and “lows” from their day, then give them permission to dig deeper into the answers. If their child felt disappointed, angry, excited, or scared, parents can coach them how to respond in action and attitude beyond the initial emotional upheaval.
Challenge parents to read Scripture daily and share a verse with their child at least twice a week. The sharing should be about what the parent learned and not what the parent wants the child to learn. Our children need to see us interacting and listening to our heavenly Father and how that discipline helps us make life decisions; otherwise, where will they learn to make such decisions?
Practice and Discipline
I coached soccer for 11 years, and I would say to my teams every season, “The difference between a good soccer player and a great soccer player is the use of your weak side foot.” After every practice, I asked the players to go home and kick the soccer ball at their trashcan placed about 15 yards from them. They were not to stop until they hit it 10 times in a row. That was easy for the dominant foot: three minutes and they were done.
But I also asked them to repeat this drill with their weak-side foot which often took 20+ minutes. Getting the parents to do their part at home takes a lot more energy than simply preparing your lesson for church (that’s your dominant side). Ask yourself if you can do less ministry by helping parents do more—at home and church. Ask your lead pastor to join you in the cause. This could be accomplished by providing a “lean in” time for parents and grandparents during the sermon or a handout in the program providing talking points for the home centered around the sermon or from their life group.
Regularly meet with parents of the children you teach, either one-on-one or in groups. Help them understand how to use any take-home piece that you send, whether paper or digital form. Let them practice in a group of parents or with you on how to use it. Teach them to ask open-ended, fun questions with their kids, and then how to listen and ask follow-up questions.
So let’s rephrase: The difference between a good church and a great church is the use of parents, your ministry multipliers.
Coach Everyone to be Generational Gladiators
Many soccer players optimistic of playing at the collegiate level or beyond fall short because of their weak side foot. While the church retains more teens moving up to the next level than the soccer world, we can still do better. Just as in every sport, there are some who will take all your inspiration and coaching advice and give it their all both at church and home. Others will show up and work hard only at church. We still coach everyone like potential champions. Parents and kids alike will emerge as generational gladiators when the home becomes as much of an emphasis as the church.
Free resources to help families:
DNA of D6 Church Health Assessment – D6Family.com/DNA
(This resource measures the health of your family ministry and identifies weak areas.)
D6Family app – Apple App Store or Android (offers hundreds of family fun questions)