Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reflections on Family Ministry in the Church

These reflections come out of several years studying the family-integrated model of ministry, 5+ years of full-time youth ministry, and now 2+ years as a senior pastor. The key impetus for this post was reading Timothy Paul Jones' recent and well-written article: "Making Time for What Matters" (it might help you know where I am going to read his article first).

I've personally been thinking a lot about these concepts. The big issue is that the "problem" is so multi-layered that there is no quick fix. 

My first 3 reflections push against the family-integrated model:

First, the kind of model this guy wrote is the "ideal," and for most non-Christian families and baby Christians it will take years (think 5-10) before they can make a transition like this. Churches shouldn't expect families to jump on board with a plan like this right away. There needs to be a series of steps that get people there. If a church holds this model up as the minimum, the only people who will stay at the church will be fairly matured families. Thus, evangelism will get stunted.

Second, this ideal situation is not "the Gospel." The Gospel is the message of Christ's reconciling work on the Cross. Some churches/people I've read in the past year have made "good families" the goal of the Cross. This is not the goal of the cross. Though time management, setting priorities, redeeming the time, godly parenting, etc. are now more possible with the Spirit alive and at work, we must be careful to hold up any ideal that could be confused as Gospel.

Third, families cannot fully disciple their children. The local church is the necessary location where people are discipled. God has gifted the church with the gifts needed to bring people to maturity in Christ. No family has been endowed with all the spiritual gifts necessary to rear children to know, love, and serve the LORD. Yes, parents need to be engaging their children and obeying various commands in Scripture related to raising their children. And yet, the key responsibility I believe for parents is to be sure their families are fully-integrated into a church family. This is even more important for those who are baby Christians. They don't have the resources to help their children, but the church does. These parents need a place where they can grow, and a place where there kids can be fed before their parents can feed them spiritually. So too, these kids need to be exposed to those with the gift of teaching (many parents don't have this gift). These kids need to be exposed to those with the gift of mercy (many parents don't have this gift). These kids need to be exposed to gifts of giving, service, helps, etc.

Now, 3 ideas in favor of this concept:

First, my #1 responsibility as a father (not as a Christian) is to help my children fear and love the LORD God (Eph. 6:4). Their careers, success on the field or on the stage, or functioning "well" in society falls behind this #1 responsibility. The weekly calendar should be structured based first and foremost on this #1 responsibility. This means we will say no to lots of "good" things in order to focus time in God's Word, with God's people, and in service to the world (admittedly this is an abbreviated list).

Second, both kids and adults need to be exposed to all of God's people. Young and old need to interact together. Now, I don't mean all the time. But there needs to be venues, programs, informal gatherings, etc. that involve people of different ages, ethnicities, genders, etc. These settings will be a bit awkward at times, but God uses these awkward situations to teach us about the importance of loving those not like us. A church that has a million programs to keep people from having to interact with people not like them is going to have a tough time obeying lots of the commands about bearing with one another, loving the unlovely, etc.

Third, Satan is busy and he likes others to be busy too. One wise saint remarked that it isn't a good idea to follow the Enemy's example. Satan is prowling and working day in and day out. Let's not do the same. We need to rest. We need a weekly 24-hour Sabbath. Our family members (every one of them) need a break: a day with no competition, a day with no school work, a day with no expectation than simply to receive God's good gifts. We need to pray and play, rest and be refreshed. A day set aside as holy, a day for worship. I believe we will ultimately have a greater quality of life when we obey the Lord's commands to rest.

I hope it's apparent by the contrasting reflections that no church should quickly adopt any new method or overhaul existing methods and embrace another church's plan. Each church is different, with different people, different needs, and different resources. Each church needs to be who God has created them to be and who God has called them to be. Ministry will look different at each church, and we need to be careful to not quickly judge one church's ministry program.

Praise God the body of Christ shows up in various ways in various local churches.

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