I’m a couple of days late on getting this post up for the Family Ministry Blog Tour. (You can take a look at all the other posts on this tour here.) Life’s been crazy between being a dad taking care of kids on summer break, beginning research for my masters thesis (which has yet to take any coherent form), and working part time as part of the children’s ministry team at Menlo Park Presbyterian.
Figuring out what it means to minister to families has been something I’ve wrestled with since I stumbled upon a Children’s Ministry article in 2001 about a church in Atlanta that was doing a shared family experience. It talked about how this church was finding ways to intentionally partner with parents in the discipleship of their children. Following that, I had the opportunity to hear the family ministry director of the church at that time speak at a conference. While at that conference, I was able to grab lunch with that ministry leader and was challenged about my ideas and prejudices in children’s ministry.
Fast forward to the present… I’m still wrestling with what it means to minister to families! My views, thoughts, philosophies, understandings and practices continue to change. I’ve been in ministry as a volunteer and on staff. I’ve been in megachurches, small churches and churches in between. I’ve worked as a solo children’s minister and as part of a team. I’ve also served in various contexts in the United States and Canada. Family ministry has looked differently in each of the different places I’ve been.
I’m currently reading a book by Stephanie Coontz, a historian and family researcher, entitled “The Way We Never Were.” In it, Coontz details and debunks our fascination with the idea of a “traditional family” by shedding light on what families, especially American families, have looked like over the past 200 years. One of the themes in the book is that we will not be able to move forward and help families thrive if we continue to long “for a past that was never as idyllic or uncomplicated as we sometimes imagine” (p. xxviii). While Coontz is referring to helping families thrive socially, I believe the same issue is keeping us from helping families thrive spiritually.
As I survey the different discussions surrounding family ministry, I have heard many voices calling for a return to “gospel-centered” or “biblical” families. While these calls are well-intentioned, I don’t think they do much to help families enter into what Skye Jethani refers to as the “with-God” life. The reason for this is because those calls infer that there is an ideal style or model of family that exists or existed. Those calls berate families for falling short of this mythical ideal and, in turn, discourage parents who already feel deficient in how they are conducting the direction of their families.
Family has always been in a continual state of flux. (Note that I did not say that the Gospel has been in a state of flux.) There has never been a “golden age” of family life and there never will be; trying to point back to one is pointless. So, how do we move forward and frame what family ministry is?
First, we recognize the gospel story is a story… God’s Story. It is a story of hope, love and redemption that God began at creation, turned on its head with the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ and continues to write today.
Second, we recognize that the idea of family is a continually changing story. Families throughout history and locations will look different from each other, and each of those families is writing their own stories.
Third, we help families discover how to allow God to rewrite their stories rather than God simply being a recurring character or footnote in their stories.
This kind of family ministry is messy. This kind of family ministry doesn’t have all the answers. This kind of family ministry isn’t about replicating an ideal family type. This kind of family ministry empowers each family to uniquely become more like the family God wants them to be rather than the kind of family I think all families should be like.