“Family Ministry” is an interesting phrase with many facets: you can add different prepositions and come up with numerous different concepts. Three of these possible concepts include:
- Ministry to families
- Ministry within families
- Ministry by families
While these facets bear some consideration, one thing is clear: Families are a special collection of individuals that share a unique bond. Regardless of the facet, Family Ministry should embrace, encourage, and strengthen this family collective.
Unfortunately, Family Ministry often unfolds as “ministry to individuals that happen to be in families”. For example, children live in families…so children’s ministry is sometimes considered “Family Ministry”.
I would maintain that age-specific and gender-specific ministries are not necessarily Family Ministry, unless these are specifically aiming to impact families through the individuals participating.
This distinction is more than just semantic hair-splitting: if our concept of Family Ministry is to come up with specific programs for each type of individual who happens to be in a family we run the risk that we fail to do much for the “family” at all. In fact, our programs can actually work against the very nurture of the family we intend to facilitate.
Healthy Christian families have Jesus Christ at their center, and seek to honor his Lordship through interactions and activities both within the home and without. According to scripture and prominent figures like Martin Luther, the father is the head of the household and is responsible for caring for the family not only physically but also spiritually.
As a Christian dad, I appreciate and seek out help in meeting the spiritual needs of the members of my family. For example, I appreciate being able to send my children to Sunday School and Christian day school where they are taught about their Savior.
But my perspective is that in so doing I am really “outsourcing” some of my instruction and disciple-making work to others. This is not necessarily bad, and I intentionally chose to do so. But I must intrinsically understand that the responsibility belongs to me, and that I am ultimately responsible for ensuring that this “outsourced” care they receive is a) good and appropriate, and b) reinforced and augmented by what goes on in the rest of my family’s life.
If so-called “Family Ministry” serves to cause me to relinquish responsibility for my family to others–no matter how well-intentioned–this “Family Ministry” has done me and my family a disservice. If so-called “Family Ministry” leads me to feel like I should let the experts handle things while I ride along in the back seat, this “Family Ministry” is actually hindering my growth as a disciple, and is endangering the discipleship and spiritual well-being of my entire family and each member of it.
If any Family Ministry is going to succeed in edifying and deepening Christian discipleship within families, it is essential that:
- Jesus Christ is upheld as Lord and at the center of the family
- The father understands and lives out his role as head and spiritual leader
- The father be equipped to lead his family to a deeper relationship with Jesus and each family member
- The various supporting Family Ministry programs are seen as resources, not as ends to themselves
- The Family Ministry programs must emphasis life together as a family, not divisions along lines of age or gender
Is Family Ministry useful and important? Absolutely. Can Family Ministry play a key role in growth and discipleship within the church? Certainly. But we must take take care that misguided efforts do not result in programs that actually work against our desired outcomes.