I grew up in church. My “home church” really was a second home to me. I recall gratefully the dedicated teaching of God’s Word and the undeniable sense of community. But I don’t recall any family ministry there.
Oh sure, there were the fellowship dinners and Christmas programs and softball games. It was all definitely family friendly and a big part of that sense of community. But none of it was designed to reach into my family and change what was happening in our home. In other words, family friendly didn’t equal family ministry. And activity definitely didn’t equal intentionality.
Home: Where Family Ministry Really Happens
However we define family ministry, it must mean more than just adding family events to already full church calendars and way overloaded family schedules. Let us not confuse family-friendly activities with ministry intentionality!
Please understand, I am grateful that family ministry in any form has emerged as a legitimate, even essential, area of ministry focus. This thrilling development has been the answer to my decade-long prayer as I’ve served Awana®. For years I’ve considered how our ministry might influence churches toward equipping parents as primary spiritual leaders at home.
Yet, I am also thankful that Mark Holmen, Rob Rienow and others have informed my own understanding of family ministry by calling for an “embedded” model (my term, not theirs). Essentially, this means that family ministry must:
- Start with the church’s senior leaders and cascade outward
- Weave throughout the church’s entire ministry lineup vs. being a “silo”
- Not be measured primarily by activity at church, but by the actual equipping of parents and strengthening of families in spiritual matters.
We all know from Deuteronomy 6 that home is where the spiritual action really happens. God designed it that way! A truly successful family ministry model will be known by the change it produces in people’s hearts and habits at home.
Right Tool, Wrong Room
I am not a handyman kind of guy. My wife knows that if the job requires more than a paintbrush, the plunger, or my trusty reversible screwdriver, she’d probably better call the neighbor or wait for her dad to come visit.
In the same way, there are a number of familiar tools that we use in children’s ministry. They are good tools, and we use them effectively in the setting for which they were developed … the right tool in the right room.
But families are different. Families are not rooms full of kids who come out for a special activity we do once a week. Families are living life in motion, and family ministry must jump into that flow to make an impact in real time. Family ministry is a different “room” than children’s ministry.
Yet as we develop family ministry, do we instinctively reach for our familiar children’s ministry tools? They’re the right tools, but are they right for this new room?
- When we bring our event-planning creativity to family ministry, we do a good thing. Many families, sadly, need an outside prompt to spend time enjoying each other’s company. But we must be more than activity coordinators if we are to challenge families toward discipleship at home.
- When we bring our curriculum-writing experience to family ministry, we do a good thing. Many (most?) families are unsure of how to engage the Bible together at home. But even in this important aspect, we must do more than simply “give fish” to parents – we must “teach them to fish.” This starts by challenging them to get into God’s Word for themselves.
I am concerned that we not, as a matter of ignorance or convenience, simply grab our children’s ministry practices and apply them to family ministry. In many cases, they’re great tools, but in the wrong room. Since the possibilities of building faith at home are demonstrably greater than in any church ministry environment, we must prayerfully consider our family ministry tools.
I could try to drive a nail using my trusty screwdriver, but I would struggle to do the job, if I ever did it at all. And I would definitely be an unwise steward of my time and opportunity as I did so.
The Best Tool
Scripture is sufficient. It guides us in matters of faith and practice. It must guide our ministry strategies as well. There is no question that in Scripture, God establishes one tool as the best strategy for ministry impact. That one tool is … Scripture! Not events, not activities, not media, not discussion questions, not even curriculum – but Scripture itself!
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Notice what Paul says to Timothy. Timothy’s adult life and ministry were to be a continuation of the truths he had known from childhood, from Scripture. Simple, isn’t it? Scripture doesn’t need help. It is sufficient to complete and thoroughly equip the believer for every good work God calls him or her to do.
Best Practices for Using the Best Tool
If Scripture itself is the best tool for family ministry, what’s the best way to use that tool with families? Yes, events and curriculum, and a host of other methods that our generous God enables us to creatively develop, can be effective. But they are only effective to the degree that they faithfully convey God’s Word in all its power and lead families to engage it directly.
I believe that Scripture memory is, without question, the best practice for engaging God’s Word.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word. With all my heart I have sought Thee; do not let me wander from Thy commandments. Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee. Blessed art Thou, O Lord; teach me Thy statutes. With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will mediate on Thy precepts, and regard Thy ways. I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not forget Thy word.” Psalm 119:9-16
Memorizing Scripture has many practical benefits:
- Immediate help in times of trial or temptation
- Ready resource for sharing faith with others
- Ability to meditate on God’s Word while driving or working with your hands.
Who among us would not want the families in our churches to experience these benefits as individual families? And then come together to share them as the community of faith?
If you have much ministry experience at all, you have to be thinking, “But I can barely get families to put my kidmin events on their calendars and make them a priority. How in the world will I get them to memorize Scripture together? I mean, I agree in principle, but …”
You’re right. This is a tough one.
Why? Well, like any revolutionary notion, it will demand great courage from those who lead and a sacrifice of the status quo for those who follow.
Yet we know from Psalm 119 that God’s truth is most able to do its work when hidden in our hearts, ready for meditation and application. Then, these authentically discovered truths are designed to pass directly, verbatim, from parent to child, one generation to the next, in the laboratory of real life.
“Listen, O my people, to my instruction; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children; that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Psalm 78:1-7).
I’ve never forgotten the first time I saw a family stand and share a Scripture passage they had memorized. I was struck by the powerful picture of unity and mutual encouragement as parents and children together declared the greatness and glory of God. May it be so in our own homes and in each home touched by our ministries!