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What’s missing from family-based ministry

What's missin from family ministryThis morning I wrote at MinistryFamily.com about some of the realizations I’m coming to about how my personal spiritual growth influences that of my children. It really is a sobering reality for me.

It also seems to be a critical element that often seems to be missing from the conversations I hear regarding a family-based approach to youth ministry: pastors and church leaders are mostly talking about it, not always intentionally living it. The conversation seems to revolve around getting our church members to do something, which is obviously important, but let’s remember that we can’t effectively lead a movement in our churches that we are not first living ourselves.

Furthermore, we can’t impress Deuteronomy 6 on our children until we first impress it upon ourselves. Otherwise, our kids rebel against it because it feels forced. It has to be modeled and flow from our own hearts for it to real to them. If our own faith is visible in every area of our life, Lord willing, when our kids graduate from high school, they will not also graduate from the church. Hopefully they remain committed to the church because they’ve received from us a faith that’s strong.

What kids are modeling

As Kenda Dean’s shows in, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church,” the teenagers who have a weak faith did not get that weak faith by rejecting the faith of the church, but by almost perfectly accepting the weak faith of those at home and in the church. It’s not that teenagers have rebelled against what they’ve seen, it’s that they almost perfectly mirror what they have seen.

The invisible elements of our faith, like passion and sincerity, can’t be faked. They play such a critical role in the spiritual formation of children and teenagers. They have the ability to become contagious! That’s when faith is caught, not taught, as cliche as that sounds.

They need a new model

We really have to care about what’s going on in the heart of the moms and dads in our churches. Not just say we care about it, but care enough to make the necessary radical shifts in our own families and ministries. If the parents in our churches are passionately sold out to the Lord, that is going to mess with their teenagers in huge ways! They’ll see it in their parents’ lives, not just hear it talked about as a compartment of their lives.

But kids don’t only need to see that Jesus is real to their parents — they need to see that He’s real to us as youth workers, as well. And their parents need to see a model of what godly parenting looks like.

Challenging for church workers

For those of us who work in the church, it can be difficult being a spiritual leader at home. We spend all day praying with people, studying the Bible, and talking about faith matters. By the time we get home, we just want to chill with the remote control and a good TV show. We’re tired. We want to shift gears.

But we can’t effectively lead parents in our church if we’re not first leading our own kids spiritually at home. We can only talk about, that’s it. To state the obvious, it’s impossible to live out for others something we’re not living out.

My personal challenges

While at the D6 Conference a month or so ago, I was challenged by a couple things I heard from Mark Holman. They are:

  • What are the 1 or 2 things I need to do at home to be a more faith at home focused individual?
  • What are one or two things you can do to engage parents at your church? Start with baby steps.
  • What are one or two things your church can do to engage parents?

In response to the first question, I’m trying to be more intentional about reading Bible stories with my kids every day. Zeke is only 1 year old, but Hannah is 2 years old and can understand pretty much everything we say, so she’s totally ready. She’s even started to memorize some of the old Sunday School songs we sing together, so I know she’s ready to start memorizing scripture, too.

I also try to pray with my wife, Dana, twice a week. And I don’t mean just meal-time prayers, but asking her how I can pray for her and then doing so. So far it usually happens while we’re in bed falling asleep at night, but it’s a start.

In response to the other questions, Mark Holman pointed out that the order of these is important. We can’t jump straight to, “How do I get my church to do something?” We have to start with ourselves.

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QUESTION: How would you answer those three questions for yourself and your ministry? Comment below and share!

Posted on November 9, 2011

  • Children always make you want to do better. I've learned that every day so far.

  • I was surprised at the turnout we had at a one-hour session a couple of Sundays ago on "How to Study the Bible With Your Teenager." I felt like we needed to do it, but I wasn't sure if it would just be one of those low-attendance seminars (so, I avoided calling it a seminar, which I think helped). One person I talked to said that one reason parents actually wanted to come was a simple email I sent to all parents sharing my own struggles I have as a parent leading my two daughters spiritually. I think when our attitude is, "Hey, this is something we all need to do, it's hard, but we can do it together" rather than "You need to do this or your a bad parent," parents are more willing to let youth workers come alongside them.

    In our own family, Jennifer and I do our devotions and prayer at breakfast, usually after the kiddos are done. Sometimes they stay and join, sometimes they don't, but they see that prayer and reading the Bible is important to their mom and dad. In addition, I've grown to love AWANA, even though I thought it was a bit hokey before I became a dad. Every Monday after lunch, my oldest and I sit down for a short Bible lesson together. It's helped me grow so much as a parent.

    • That's awesome, Benjer! Your advice about how to pitch stuff like "seminars" is great. I hadn't really thought about that before. Approaching it humbly and sharing from your life experience is much better than, "I'm the expert because snagged some notes off the Internet that I'd like to share with you." No one actually says that, but sometimes that may be what parents hear. Good stuff. Thanks for the comment!

  • David

    I think 1 or 2 things at home is taking advantage of those moments where you can tell your children about God and His love for us. I was walking in my backyard with my oldest (4 yrs) daughter and just said "Do you know God loves you? He gave us all these trees and grass." Both my daughters love their picture Bible and want to read truths (I want them to know its more than a story). Find that time to read and talk.

    Engaing parents! As the youth pastor and kids min guy also I am looking for ways to do that!! I believe we need to work to change mindsets that parents have THE responsibility to TEACH and INSTRUCT their children. Church programs are wonderful tools but the bulk should come from home. 1 thing I am trying to do is put Deut 6:4-9 on EVERYTHING we send out or give to parents. Thats our first step, presenting the mandate in Scripture. Hopefully, they read it!

    We are also looking to start a parent class of some sort, to help parents embrace the biblical model. Its an opportunity to help equip parents.

    • I really like that idea of putting Deut 6 on everything! That's great! A subtle, yet critical reminder that no one can really argue with when it's straight from the Bible. :)

  • Tim, you should really get connected with The Orange Conference and their ministry. It's been awesome for our church to continue focusing more on connecting the church and family. We are doing more and more to equip our parents to be the spiritual leaders in their families. As a church, that should be our main goal — helping families glorify God together. Our parents are slowly starting to get it too, and it's fantastic to see those changes! They are reading the Bible more together, they are praying more together, and they are planning service projects together. This goes for parents/kids of all ages. We are seeing God move in awesome ways from preschool through high school. Family-based ministry is where it's at!

    • I actually know someone at Orange and they started advertising here on LISM this month (see the sidebar). I'm familiar with their philosophy, but I really need to get around to reading Reggie's book. It sounds like good stuff! Glad it's serving your church well!

  • Sean

    Some good points here. One thing I’d like to give some thought to:

    The author said…”For those of us who work in the church, it can be difficult being a spiritual leader at home. We spend all day praying with people, studying the Bible, and talking about faith matters. By the time we get home, we just want to chill with the remote control and a good TV show. We’re tired. We want to shift gears.

    This is very true. It is a downfall of professional pastoring, of which it would be good to question if it is even biblical…

    In the past year I took a voluntary cut from full-time down to part-time and started my own business. I sensed a need to be “one of the people” and to be in the world just like they are every day. That has been a really amazing journey for our family (wife and 5 kids). The kids have seen the journey that we’ve taken by faith and it has caused them to lean on Christ more. I also meet a much more spiritually diverse group of people throughout the day. When I get home our family often prays for the people God put in my path that day. This is much more satisfying than being the professional spiritual dude over the church. I believe that is the way God designed it. We’ve just gotten off track.

    Your thoughts?

    • I think what you’re doing is great! I’m not sure I’d say it’s more biblical than being a full-time pastor, but it certainly sounds like it’s what God has for you. It’s great to hear your heart in this and that you’re actually taking steps to address it.

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