What is the role of the family in the local church?

Family churchAs we’ve been visiting churches in the Cincinnati area the past few months, we’ve seen how several churches tackle the “family ministry” thing and how the implications of that are expressed in many other areas of the church. (By the way, we’re excited to finally settle in a place that values family in some pretty refreshing and unique ways!)

It seems like a lot of churches approach family ministry as tweaks or a new spin on their existing programs, but it’s obvious that what a church truly believe about family influences much more than programs. It’s apparent in how they recruit volunteer help, what they expects from members, and even how they conduct worship services.

A big question I’ve been thinking about lately is this:

What is the role of the family in the local church? And is that different from the role we typically have them fill?

When I asked this on Facebook yesterday, I surprisingly got almost no responses.

The only person who responded actually is a friend, Matt Reeve. He pointed out that churches are basically taking one of three approaches to family ministry:

1. The Family-Integrated Ministry model is characterized by its removal of age segmented activities with all families, infants to parents, worshipping together.

2. The Family-Based Ministry model maintains the age segmented programs and activities of most churches, yet intentionally provides curriculum, activities, and events designed to draw the generations together.

3. The Family-Equipping Ministry model may retain youth ministry and the Sunday School hour, but every activity and function of the church is focused on championing the parents as the primary disciple-makers in the children’s lives, while at the same time the parents recognize and embrace the church as an active partner in the process.

What’s interesting to me is that each one of these models actually reveal something about what that model believes about the role of the family in the local church.

As youth workers, I feel like we need to back off of all the “how to” family ministry integration we’re pursuing and answer a more fundamental question, “What is the role of the family in the local church?” After we have a clearer understanding of what it is we believe about family and the role a family should play in the church, only then can decide the practical implications of how to appropriately integrate the family unit into the church’s ministry.

QUESTION: What do you think each family ministry model says about the role of the family in the local church?

Posted on August 15, 2012

  • FIM—family is what defines our church
    FBM—families are a small representation of the church
    FEM—families are groups that need to be equipped to do the work of the ministry within their own family but youg people also benefit from those with spiritual gifts that their parents dont posess ie..fathers bringing up kids in the instruction of the Lord but the need for kids to hear from and be taught by an evangelist or counselled by someone with a mercy gift.

    • Good synopsis! Families obviously play a different role in each of those. Do you think one model honors the family better than another?

      • I think the hard question is which one honors God’s Word the most. I could make the argument that Colossians 4:16 makes the case that Paul’s letters were read to the entire church and if young people make up the church then they must have been there to hear it right alongside their parents. And along the same vein of thinking, what good would it do adults to hear Ephesians 6 read to them saying, “children obey your parents”. So there MUST be times where Scripture is read and taught while all generations are sitting in the same room. I could also make the case that “equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry” is what those who have the gifts listed in Eph 4:11,12 are supposed to be about. it then becomes a question about what “ministry” really is. If it is ministry for fathers to be bringing their kids up in the training and instruction of the Lord as Eph 6 also says, then they need church teachers who are equipping them to do just that.

        I honestly believe there can be a mix. I do not think anything can replace the importance of a Christian father and i do think that kids need to regularly see their parents in a community of other believers singing, giving, praying, being prayed for, opening a Bible, taking notes, an doing all the “one another” stuff.

        So should kids sit with their parents in a church service often, if not each week? I say yes.

        Can a church who has never integrated generations, make that a goal and begin to change some things? Absolutely!!

        Can a church begin to teach and put some onus on families and fathers to disciple their kids more intentionally? No Doubt about it.

        Can any generation of people be in a group with their own generation and continue to grow as disciples? YES.

        I believe that each church has to begin to write down what they believe about the family biblically. And once they have that, they can begin to figure out how to equip each person to perform each role. If programming needs to change based on what you believe, then by all means we need to change some programming, but what we do always follows what we believe whether it is intentional or not.

        We also have to consider the kids who don’t have a “christian” family or whose parents don’t even attend church.

        I lean in my heart towards the third choice of equipping parents, but I do think bits and pieces of each “model” are valuable.

        • Great response, Brett. I agree we really need to identify what we believe about family and the role it’s supposed to play in the church and in God’s Kingdom. We’d probably agree that the family is a picture of something greater, something we often overlook in the church from a ministry perspective. What we believe about family is more important than how we minister to families because what we believe about them will influence everything else.

          If the family is a picture established by God to reflect something else, then there could be implications that the church isn’t primarily intended to serve the family, but implications that the family is supposed to serve the church.

          As you indicated, it all comes down to your theological belief of the family and of the church.

          • Doing a quick look at the word family I found Titus 1:10,11 where Paul says that families are especially led astray by false teachers…at least in Crete. John MacArthur’s commentary on Titus conveys the thought that teaching in larger groups is somewhat preferable because in a smaller group or family, the likelihood of someone in that family or group being grounded enough to spot false doctrine decreases. The implication then is that families, and I would say the head of household, need to be keenly aware of the need for doctrinal integrity, they need to seek out sound biblical teaching, the church needs to aid in that teaching, and then the children need to be taught. That father or whoever is the head of household is then has the responsibility to teach younger fathers the same things.

            I don’t think I have ever really seen that verse before or thought of it in that way.

            That could be one theological outcome for the family which benefits both family and church.

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