I stepped off the stage after facilitating one of David C Cook’s Family Ministry Conversations and a kind Australian gentleman asked me an interesting question: “Do you think we’re meant to do ministry to families, with families, or through families?” It was a great question. At first I wondered if this man already had a well-thought-out answer to this well-thought-out question, but he didn’t—and, at the time, neither did I.
Later, I thought back and tried to remember why I first got involved in vocational ministry: Did I want to minister to others, with others, or did I envision the potential of ministering through others? Could I see a future for those I served that moved past their dependence on me as a leader?
Can you remember why you first got into ministry? Have those reasons or goals changed? I imagine you first entered ministry with a deep desire to do ministry by ministering to young people as you teach them, mentor them, disciple them, and have fun with them. But at some point, you recognized you weren’t doing this alone—that you couldn’t do it alone. As you moved up the leadership ladder, you may have realized the potential for greater influence as you ministered to your fellow leaders. And then came the ultimate awakening. You realized that the biggest influences on the children and students are their families, so you added them to your ministry.
Your fellow leaders and parents need a safe space to be ministered to as well, and we can’t forget this. Because they’ve already assumed leadership roles, we sometimes rush them into leader meetings or parent trainings, assuming they’re fine—they don’t need to be ministered to—as we merely equip them with the ministry how-to’s. But leaders and parents are just as broken as anyone else. As they experience transformational grace, they’re more likely to spill over and model authentic vulnerability and transformation to those they lead.
Pulling an “Adam and Eve”
When I was a student, I wondered if the point of attending youth ministry was to week after week bring my embarrassingly ugly sin out in the open and expect God to minister to me. I trusted Jesus to meet my sin with forgiveness, but being ministered to weekly at youth group felt like an awfully vicious pattern: come drenched in sin and ugliness, humbly and courageously confess my sins to God and others, and then find restoration with the cross in focus yet again. And again.
It seemed much more enticing to pull an “Adam and Eve” and hide. I found it was a lot easier to choose homework instead of youth group half the time, because being ministered to is as tiring for the recipient as it is for the minister, and I didn’t want to be a burden.
Is ministering to people the goal? Is that church? Is that what our families have experienced? Do they have a vision beyond a churchy car wash, bringing their mess to be temporarily cleaned up until next week? There had to be more.
Guess what? There is.
As you expand your responsibilities and minister to children or students, leaders, and parents, you can expand your reach vastly as you ask another question: Why do we minister to them?
Joining the Mission of Redemption
We minister to them so we can minister with them. As you pour into the lives of your students, leaders, and parents, if you let them, they can begin to join you in the work of the ministry. You bring them in on it. As we approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, He ministers to us in our times of need (Heb. 4:12–14), and as He does, He equips us with His presence to do the work of ministry with Him. Our ministries can work the same way God does. We’re not only ministered to by His Spirit, but we are also called to minister with God.
For years, I’ve heard leaders complain about families being passive recipients in church; now I see a clear next step. Leaders can provide opportunities for those “not standing on a stage vocationally” to minister with them, so they don’t fall into the malaise of church consumerism—simply coming to get a spiritual high and then leaving it in the building. Leaders need to share the ministries. As they do, they’ll be in awe and wonder of God’s movements within those ministries.
Students need opportunities to minister with leaders in a safe environment where they can honestly and vulnerably share their faith and in doing so, own it. Without it, our ministries may end up as just another service they consume, like Spotify or Netflix. Students fall back into a consumerist posture when they don’t know any other way. The result is they remain stagnate.
Live by Faith
Certainly, not every time we ask others to enter into ministry with us will something profound happen. Perhaps we will see the fruit, and perhaps we won’t. The God we serve is capable of life transformation. Whether we see it or not is secondary. Our faith comes into play again as we continue to put it into practice regardless of the outcomes our eyes can see.
Parents, too, need opportunities to partner with the church. Parents not only need reminders that they’re the primary children’s or youth pastors, but they also need invitational entry points within the church ministry. By including parents on ministry trips, asking for them to help create vision statements, and inviting them to invest in the lives of the volunteer leaders, parents move from passive recipients of the church’s ministry to co-laborers with the church in God’s ministry.
As you minister with each member of a family, you inspire, equip, and support them to become vessels that God ministers through. With God’s abundant grace running through their lives, we’ll get to see the overflow into the lives of their friends, families, and coworkers when they minister beyond the walls of the church.
One of the difficulties in empowering family as primary is, “What do you do about the spiritually orphaned child?” We cannot assume that every parent of our children and students is pursuing a relationship with Jesus. As we create an environment for children and students to be ministered to and then give them opportunities to practice ministry with us, we’ll have opportunities through them to reach their parents. Family is still primary for the passing on of faith! There’s nothing more convincing of Christianity than experiencing a spiritually dead person raised to life … especially within your household … especially when the one transformed is a kid.
In light of this, let me offer this simple way of thinking about your ministry: you minister to families and leaders and create environments where you can minister with them (all of them) in hopes of ministering through them into the places and people you could never reach yourself.
This is something we can see happen—people surrendering their lives to Jesus outside the walls of our churches. It’s hardly something we came up with. God never blesses us with vision or transformation merely for ourselves. He doesn’t just save us from our sins; He saves us for a purpose. This purpose, this mission, this job, requires power, and we can receive that power as God’s ministry bends and tempers us into the likeness of Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence, He commissions us to make disciples and redeem the world back to Himself through us.
What’s more, as you keep these goals in mind, you will end up being ministered to by your community. This labor of love often comes back to you like a boomerang of blessing.
So, my dear ministry leaders, don’t minimize your ministry or neglect the opportunities before you. You do so much more than minister to children and students; you envision more for them and their families. Realize it, run with it, and rejoice in it. You’re not alone.