Pastoral Perspectives

Developing a Family Ministry

Recently, I attended the D6 Family Conference and begin to ask myself “Is our church unintentionally hurting families?” If not, our church maybe hurting families without even intending to. The phrase “family ministry” is typically used by many churches today to represent the one, centralised effort to serve families with the gospel. This sounds obvious, but old methods of serving families essentially prioritised church involvement. Family ministry recognises that parents are ultimately responsible for the spiritual guidance of their children, regardless of where they are on their own faith journey. The church’s role is to support them in that effort.

Great Awakening pastor Jonathan Edwards described the Christian household as “a little church” and declared that “the head of the family has more advantage in his little community to promote religion than ministers have in the congregation.” The assumption that believing parents should train their children in God’s precepts is woven throughout the pages of Scripture (see, for example, Exodus 12:25–28; Deuteronomy 6:6-7; 11:1–12; Psalm 78:1-7; Ephesians 6:4).

In Deuteronomy 6, as well as in other biblical passages, it is clear that God designed the family as the crucible in which the reality of the person of the living God is to be both taught (through formal education) and caught (by the example of the parents’ lives).

What is the role of the church in building strong marriages and families? One vital life sign of a healthy church is the health of its marriages and families. If truth doesn’t work inside of the home, why are we surprised it doesn’t work outside of the home? If we can’t help two people to function biblically in their marriage, how can we expect those same two people plus their children to function biblically as a family? How can we expect them to come to church on Sunday morning with hundreds of other families and magically function as the Body that God has designed? If it’s not happening with individual couples and families, it’s virtually impossible that it will happen when the corporate body meets.

Parents need to be trained to equip their children to defend their faith in an increasingly hostile world. Resources for children on apologetics are only beginning to be widely produced. Nearly all of these resources for teenagers are designed to be taught at church, not at home. With the rapid growth of cultural inclusiveness that increasingly demands not merely the toleration but the celebration of diverse religious beliefs and sexual orientations, children must be able to defend their faith—and the persons who are in the best position to equip children are their parents. Their parents are, after all, the ones who spend time with them day-by-day and who usually hear their questions first. That’s why our churches should be turning our efforts toward the development of apologetics strategies and content to train parents to equip their children to defend the Christian faith.

Yet, in many churches, church leaders have not equipped or even acknowledged parents as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives. Packed rosters of age-segmented activities coupled with silence regarding parents’ responsibility to disciple their children have contributed to the unspoken assumption that the Christian training of children is best left to professional ministers and the Sunday school. As a result, Christian parents desperately need focused guidance to know how to follow God’s design.

Obviously there are challenges faced by family ministry today. Dr. Paul Hiebert, while analyzing his Mennonite background, stated that one generation of the Mennonite people believed the Gospel, the next assumed the gospel, and the following generation denied the Gospel.  This makes us think of the family.  The first generation believed that it was their responsibility to teach their children, the next assumed the responsibility but passed the work off to someone else, and now the current generation is, in large part, denying their role in the process.  One of the most difficult challenges in family ministry is teaching parents that they are the means of cultivating Christ into the lives of their children. Parents are very serious when it comes to training their children in the academics and aesthetics (evidenced by the number of enrichment classes they send their children to). Where discipling their children are concerned, they have given up ownership of this vital parental role. Of course the church will continue to teach their children, but more importantly, we want to equip and train the parents to do the hard work of the ministry within their homes.

Family is the foundation of the church, not vice versa. If husbands, wives, children and siblings are living in a home whose members don’t embrace the faith in their daily lives, no amount of church or Sunday school will break the bonds of a disintegrated family. If we want to raise faithful families and grow future leaders, we must start in the home. That is where true discipleship starts. Parents do not underestimate the influence you have over your children. There is never a guarantee that children will do exactly as you teach, but you have the greatest opportunity for discipleship because you live the day to day with your children. You have countless moments to walk alongside them and share faith with them. Disciple making is serious business. It can’t be left to the church or chance. A Christian family doesn’t magically appear because we wish it into existence. Parents must be serious about the task of passing on their faith, about living the way God calls them to live in front of their children and others, all day, every day.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat

August 19, 2018