A big picture perspective
Recently, at an event at our church, I lost sight of my son. I had been moving quickly and thought all my kids were trailing behind me, but, turning around, I realized I was missing one. After a few minutes of looking, I spotted him. He was up in the balcony, leaning precariously over the edge looking for me. He caught my eye and grinned. It had worked! He’d found me! Why had he gone up there? Because he had gotten separated from me and hadn’t been able to see through everything happening around him. He knew that the higher view would give him a better look, a big picture perspective.
Perspective is important. There is value to having someone in place who sees the big picture. It’s the reason there are offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators, special teams coaches, but still one head coach who is responsible for the big picture and is calling the different plays. It’s the reason that, even with a team of incredible teachers, a school will have a principal that coordinates the teaching goals for each grade. It is the reason that, even though they are the ones paying the bills every week, couples look to a financial planner to help them address their long-term spending and savings goals.
There is value in having someone in place to drive key players toward the same end goal. It is important to have someone committed to keeping a team aligned and heading in the same direction.
It is for this reason that many churches are shifting their approach to serving families and children. In older models of ministry, the pastors or leaders of the various age groups tended to focus in on the needs of their distinct age group. There was a youth pastor and a children’s pastor and maybe even a family counseling pastor. They all had their own goals, plans, and calendars. This would result in the leadership pulling in different directions, implementing different strategies, using different language, and moving toward separate ends. It was easy for parents to feel confused or even stressed by competing visions and events. Kids were lost in transitions between age groups as they grew.
More recently, churches have been asking great questions about how to develop a comprehensive approach to minister to families for the long haul. What if we had a plan to partner with parents through each phase of a child’s growth and development? What might it look like to care for a family from birth through graduation with one comprehensive strategy?
At the church where I serve, we host an event where we share with new parents the different ways we want to partner with them as their child grows. As a part of the evening, we describe our commitment to partnering with their family as their child navigates the transition between age groups. We paint a picture of the milestones, moments, and challenges through which we want to support them. This is one of my favorite ministry moments, because even the most hesitant or skeptical parents sit up in their seat and lean in, their attention captured by the realization that we really have a plan to support them as their child grows all the way into adulthood.
As an increasing number of churches realize the importance of identifying an individual committed to developing a discipleship strategy from cradle to graduation, there are many questions about what that role might encompass.
Importance of Specialists
This is not to diminish the importance of age group leaders and pastors. There is a very important role for specialists to be experts of their age group. They know the specifics about what young people that particular age need, the challenges they are overcoming, the things they value most. But while age-group committed pastors and leaders are the experts for the kids in their age group, it is the family ministry pastor who shares the big picture with parents. Parents walk with their child through each unique season. They have hopes and desires that go beyond the time their child will spend in preschool, elementary, or youth group. They are concerned with the development of their child at every season and every phase. A family ministry pastor is in the best position to keep the parents at the center of the conversation.
So, what is the role of the NextGen or Family Ministry Pastor?
Guardian of the Ministry Culture
The NextGen or Family Ministry Pastor is committed to being the champion of the Next Generation. One of the most valuable parts of a leader coordinating all the age groups is that someone is committed to serve as protector of the culture of your family ministry. They are the guardian of your ministry DNA. He/she will define and protect an overarching purpose and strategy so that all age groups are working toward a common goal. He/she will prevent you from silo tendencies where each age group is only working toward their own priorities. That person will protect and advocate for the needs of families in large church decision-making moments.
Protector of Alignment
The NextGen or Family Ministry Pastor will fight for strategic alignment. Competing interests within the family ministry at your church puts stress on parents and can create confusion. The efforts seem random and calendar becomes crowded. A NextGen Pastor inspires staff and volunteers to avoid age-group silos by leading the team to work together for the same purpose and end result. They need to be collectively responsible for the same objective. They will value the importance of having key players in the same room on a regular basis to cast vision, set goals, develop strategy, and wrestle with roadblocks and hurdles.
So, how do you know if your family ministry is aligned? Here are some indicators to determine whether your ministry is strategically aligned at this point.
- Does everyone on the family ministry team sit around the same table regularly?
- Do the calendars and budgets complement or do they compete?
- Is there a clear, designated leader?
- Have you clarified the win for parents at each stage?
- Do you have an easy and clear transition between age groups?
Leader of Leaders
The NextGen or Family Ministry Pastor must be able to lead a team of leaders. Just because an individual is gifted at working with kids does not necessarily mean they have what it takes to lead as a NextGen Pastor. A NextGen Pastor must lead up to champion family ministry to senior leadership and cast vision down to all members of the team. They need to have a heart for leadership development and also the skills to supervise and manage people.
Responsible for a Pro-Family Culture
The Family Ministry Pastor is really a minister to the whole family. They are responsible to create a pro-family culture. At National Community Church, where I serve as Family Ministry Director, we do not host any event that is not focused, at its core, on partnering with parents. It is my top priority to think of them during the decision-making process, to advocate for them, and to innovate new ways to support them.
Committed to Transitions
One of the most important reasons to have a pastor leading with a cradle to graduation perspective is to ensure a big picture commitment to transitions. It is during transitions between age groups that churches have the greatest risk for kids to slip out the backdoor of the ministry. It is also the greatest opportunity to capture and engage new families in a new way. A family ministry pastor will champion the entry, transition, and exit strategies for a family ministry.
Focused on Parents
While age-group committed pastors and leaders are the experts for the kids in their age group, it is the family ministry pastor who shares the big picture with parents. A family ministry pastor is the best advocate to keep the parents at the center of the conversation.
If you have a NextGen or family ministry pastor who is new to the role or you are hoping to move in that direction, here are some steps you can take to make your NextGen pastor successful.
Ensure the NextGen pastor has a seat at the table of church decision-makers.
A Family Ministry Pastor cannot properly advocate on behalf of families or create a strategy to make families a priority at your church unless they are invited into the decision-making process.
Ensure the Family Ministry Pastor is equipped and enabled to manage teams.
They should be capable and empowered. Management and strategy skill should be an important part of hiring. Senior leadership must communicate the importance of the role, grant authority in decision-making, and give substantial room to lead. A family ministry pastor should have the freedom to hire and fire and to build their team so they might align toward a big picture vision.
Encourage the Family Ministry Pastor to make shared language a priority. Articulating the culture and DNA of the ministry requires a common language across age-group ministries. It is shared language that will align age groups toward a common end and bring teams into understanding of shared priorities. It also offers parents much needed clarity.
Give the Family Ministry Pastor the support to meet regularly with their team leaders. At first, age group leaders might be resistant to gather together with other pastors and leaders. But it is only by being in the same room regularly that a team can come together around a common vision and overcome challenges with the wisdom that comes from a wide lens.
Big picture leadership requires wisdom that comes from a wide lens, a balcony-level perspective. When families see that your church is committed to their child at every phase and stage and have a strategic plan to maximize their investment, they will feel confident to partner with you!
Nina Schmidgall serves as Director of Family Ministry at National Community Church in Washington DC. She has overseen the family ministry department since 2001, growing it to 8 locations. Nina and her husband, Joel, live on Capitol Hill with their 3 kids: Eloise, Ezekiel, and Lorenza. When allowed time off for good behavior, Nina enjoys dance, cooking, and bargain shopping.