Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tapping the Brakes on the "Family Based Ministry" Movement

I believe in family.

There's no doubt churches including children's ministries and student ministries should invest in equipping and shepherding parents. In fact, at my home church, Irving Bible, we just started "Parenting at IBC" with the hope we can serve and equip parents of all aged kids. It's important to me.

The question I would like to ask is this, should the nuclear family be the primary focus of our next generations ministries? If so why?

Yesterday I sat in a family based ministry one day gathering. It was assumed that ministry should be family focused and family centered. It was assumed that all our time, energy and focus should be family based.  So many questions came to my mind.

Today I did some web surfing to see if I could discover how some are defining and describing family based ministry. Here are some statements I read.

"We know from reading the scriptures that families are important to God because our Creator built the first family before he constructed his own church".

Of course families are important to God but really?  Does that mean God values plants and animals before people because he made them first in creation?  Did Jesus actually prioritize the family by saying, "I will build my nuclear family, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it"?

"Although there may be a few youth outings each year where most parents are not present, most youth outings will be the family outings where all of the family is invited"

Maybe that should be flipped.  It's cool and valuable to have parents engaged in outings with their kids, but what about the kids who have parents who aren't ready to step foot in the church?  Awkward.

"Family Based Youth Ministry is grounded upon the Biblical conviction that parents are the primary disciplers of their children"

Why is this assumed? Is this true for every church ministry in America?  There's really a "Biblical conviction" about this?

Sure, family based ministry is effective and needed in some churches but with several books about family based ministry, various conferences and curriculums it simply seems many view this ministry strategy as right for all people and all places.

Why does the ministry pendulum have to be so extreme?  Why is it that children and youth ministries are totally separate from the rest of the church OR we must say that our primary focus is the nuclear family?  Is there a healthy balance in the middle?  

As I'm pulling embryonic thoughts together I would like to share some reasons I think we must tap the brakes on this "family based model" thinking. Instead of assuming family based ministry is right for all situations, here are some thoughts to consider.

1) The Bible doesn't teach that parents are the primary disciplers of their kids.

Of course Godly parents have the greatest opportunity to disciple their children, but do we really have to say the church is secondary?  Perhaps we should think of it as opportunity instead of priority.

There are a couple of passages that seem to be the "go to" in this area.

I've heard it over and over again, Deuteronomy 6 is the Biblical foundation of family based ministry. Here's the problem, Deuteronomy 6 was not written just to the parents, it's written to the covenant people of God. Of course parents were a part of that, but not the only part.  Not to mention that family in that context was very different from what we experience today.

When we read Deuteronomy 6 through our 21st century western eyes and see, "teach it to their children" somehow we forget the first part of the passage. It says "Hear O Israel" not "Hear O Mom and Dad".

And of course there is Ephesians 6:4 which specifically mentions the role of the Father to bring up his children in the training and instruction of the Lord.  It's an important verse for parents to think through and heed, but it in no way says gives the parents the primary voice.

In the early years of a kid's life parents have the strongest voice but to use these verses as proof texts to focus all of next generations ministry on parents is questionable Biblically.

In reality scripture does not give a greater responsibility to the family than the church. As families are a part of the church one could argue the church is the primary discipler of people. The church is called to disciple all that are a part of the church family not just parents.

Do parents need to understand their crucial role in spiritual formation?  Yes, but as a part of the greater covenant family.

In the scripture there's no primary or secondary discipleship, there's just discipleship.  

2) Family based does not fit all ministry contexts.

Family for most of us in upper / middle class white churches experience family as a mom, dad and 2 1/2 kids (I've always felt sorry for the 1/2 kid). That's not what many next gen ministries look like, especially student ministries.

Youth group should be a place where students should be accepted where they are. Hopefully unchurched students from unchurched families are showing up to experience authentic loving community. Hopefully that community includes students and loving ADULTS who love Jesus.

Maybe we have a chance to get to know the parents of unchurched students maybe we don't, but if our ministry is primarily family based and parent focused where do unchurched kids fit in? What about churches where a majority of the students come from unchurched homes?

In the New Testament, "family" rarely refers to the nuclear family, it almost always refers to the spiritual family or the church.  In fact it seems that when Jesus mentions moms and brothers and sisters he seems to say the spiritual connection may be stronger than the physical one.

There are a lot of ministry contexts where it's not practical to spend all our time and energy reaching out to parents.  Yes, make the effort, but if God has placed a group of kids in front of us let's be obedient to his call to disciple the ones right in front of us.

3) Family based ministry seems to neglect evangelism

Maybe I have this wrong, but this ministry strategy seems to emphasize a "circle the wagons" type strategy.  We'll minister to the parents and trust them to disciple their kids.  It feels like an "inside the walls" focus.

Where does the missional component fit into this strategy?  Children and student ministries should always have the component of reaching out to those children and youth who are unchurched and inviting them into the covenant family.

4) Intergenerational ministry NOT family based ministry seems to fit the Biblical model and most cultural contexts

The family of God is a beautiful mixture of ages, maturities and stories. It seems that God's design is for a diverse people to live life together and encourage one another while being on mission.  I love the idea of all kinds of adults speaking into the lives of youth and children, not primarily their parents.

As a father, sometimes I'm the one most equipped to speak truth into the lives of my kids.  As my kids became older other adults were better positioned to share truth.  They quickly became the primary disciplers of my children.

To this day I appreciate the natural partnership the church has had with my family.  Sometimes the best thing I can do is get out of the way and allow the body of Christ to play a major role in discipling my kids.  My relationship with the church has provided a way for my children to hear truth in stereo;  me speaking truth in one ear and other caring adults speaking truth in the other.

In closing let me say that as a father of 4 I've never felt I should totally leave it to the church to disciple my kids, I need to do that. But as a youth pastor I've never felt I should leave it to the parents to disciple kids, as the church, I'm called to do that.

You see, it's a partnership.  It's not about separating kids from adults OR doing everything with and for parents.  Do I long for parents to be equipped and do a better job? Yes.  Am I going to leave it to parents and neglect my role as a pastor in discipling kids, no way.


  1. While I "get" the romance of the family-based ministry, I'm not sure that the romance "works." See, part of the Biblical mandate to raise a child in the way they should go involves the child having to figure that "way" out...and so much of that is preparing a child to leave the nest as a strong, independent person.

    The drawbacks I see involve a "sheltering" mentality as well as a lack of emphasis on the role of "community" in the growth of an independent faith. In my view, you're correct that there's a balance that needs to be achieved, and sincere drawbacks if the pendulum swings too far in either direction.

  2. Great thoughts and truth David. The "dance" between every area of youth ministry and families is at times, awkward at best. When we see the importance of both facilitating conversation around training, encouraging and equipping parents (both emotionally and spiritually) as well as their youth, we begin to make proactive steps in the right direction of working with parents creating a unified effort in strengthening a students Journey with Christ.

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. As a church helping all adults whether they're parents are not disciple kids is where we need to head. Of course parents have a unique role in that, but not the only role.

  4. Think you're onto some good stuff here. "Family-based" works great for churches full of "healthy" families, but hopefully our churches have lots of kids and people in them from families that aren't so healthy too. Of course much of the pressure in youth ministry is to take care of the kids from the good families in the church. But I agree that kids we should be reaching out to, whose parents often aren't in church at all, will get easily missed.
    We are going to a church here with a huge refugee population. The youth group is very multi-ethnic (refugees from Nepal, Burma and parts of Africa). But many of the kids' parents don't come to church and/or don't speak English. How's family-based going to work then? I continue to be more and more won over by thinking communally and not just individually in terms of spiritual growth. And I think individual nuclear families actually are much closer to the individualistic mindsight our culture is prone to than a true community mindset. Our concept of family is not the commonly held view of family in the history of God's people or even in the majority of God's people worldwide today.

  5. Hace, great points. You're right, most youth ministries are about making sure the kids of church families want to come to church. Dude, so excited you're able to impact those kids!

  6. I have read so much about why people think that family-based ministries aren't "all they're cracked up to be". But it tends to come from people who are heavily invested in age-segregated ministries. If I read this article right, you spent one day hanging out with a family-based ministry and then spent time surfing the web to get some more info. Then you offered some critiques based on what you read and the what you perceive as flaws in the model. I appreciate your position and your love for the Lord and for the many different types of people who make up your congregation. But I would suggest that you actually talk to someone who is neck deep in this type of ministry model before you dismiss it. I think too many people say out loud..what about this ? and what about that? but they don't actually ask someone who has dealt with those issues. They ask the question and assume there is no (good) answer. And so they dismiss the issue, without doing some really serious research. I just think it's an unfair way of handling the matter.

  7. Hey Chris, thanks so much for your comments. To be honest I've been exposed to and thought through family based since 2005. In our ministry we're very committed to intergenerational ministry and discovering what that means for our students. We are not age-segregated, in fact we don't allow any high school programming during "big church" so they can participate with a multigenerational worship. Trained adult leaders investing in the lives of students is the foundation of our ministry.

    I'm curious, of the 4 concerns I'm thinking through, how would you respond?

    Again, thanks for you comments.

  8. Great thoughts! I always go to the story of Jesus in the temple. He was there learning from people other than his parents!
    Interestingly enough, I have a small role in this documentary that endorses the family movement: http://www.dividedthemovie.com/
    It was taken out of context and misinterpreted, but I consider it an accomplishment to be a part of "one of the most controversial films of the year."

    1. Evan, not going to make a mountain out of a molehill but Jesus wasn't learning. He was teaching.

    2. Here is what it says: "After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions."

  9. Ah, great thought on Jesus learning from others. Not to mention his parents didn't even know where he was on the way home. It seems they trusted the community they were involved in.

    Thanks Evan - and controversial is your middle name.

  10. I originally responded on my pc last night, I'm going to try and do this on my smartphone today. Where to begin? First, i appreciate the fact that you don't do HS programs during "big church", but if you still have nursery and sunday school and a plethora of childrens programs, it would still be considered an age-segregated church. I also appreciate the fact that you are offering classes on parenting, as I think this is something crucial that many churches ignore.
    I don't belong to a family-integregated church, so i don't know if i will be able to answer all your questions adequately. I would recommend talking to someone like Voddie Baucham. However, right off the bat, i would have to disagree with your assertion that parents aren't to be the primary disciplers in their children 's lives. Not only do you have those "go to" verses in Deut. And Eph. ( and deut. 6:6 speaks about telling your children when you sit in your house and walk by the way and lie down at night....logistically speaking - who else has the opportunity to do that?) But the first relational commandment is to honor father and mother..and it is stressed again in the NT. The book of Proverbs is in the narrative of a father sharing wisdom with his son. There were also other laws regarding family responsibility ..a father was to make sure his daughter was pure for marriage or she would be stoned outside his doorstep. My point is parents have a Tremendous responsibility to disciple their children and children are responsible to honor them and follow their teaching.
    That being said, I'm not saying parents are the SOLE source of discipleship. Of course others will have a role in pouring into their lives...pastors, elders, and other trusted adults. But i think the Bible is very clear that parents ought to be the Primary source.
    As far as ministry contexts go, where there are broken families, I can't speak to much to that, because of lack of experience ....but there are those out there who are dealing with it. However your comment about the awkwardness of unchurched kids being around whole families is off the mark. We live in a society filled with divorce ...and people will say it's for the sake of the kids, and yet those kids are longing for united families. Why not let them see good examples of loving families (who i am sure would lovingly reach out to them and be a source of encouragement) why do we feel the need to hide them from such exposure? These families can be salt and light and show them that there is a better way and they can do things differently when they have their own family.
    Concerning evangelism, I think that's another unfair assumption that we cant or don't evangelize. My family has been street witnessing, visited nursing homes and shut-ins, and helped out at soup kitchens. We've also opened our homes to people in times of need. Some is evangelism, some fellowship, some just encouragement. And we didn't need a church program to do it. Families can reach out their neighbors and invite to dinners and BBQs. So i would have to disagree with that concern as well.
    I should mention I'm a father of 4the children myself-all girls..ages 5-11. Four years ago, we started homeschooling and it really started a personal revival for us and began to change how we look at so many things we once took for granted. I realize not everyone will be able to HS or fully realize a family based ministry ....but for those who can, I really think it is the best option for many reasons and it should be encouraged because it makes families that much stronger and able to reach out to those around them and be more effective. I think i touched on most of your concerns as best as i can, but again, i don't belong to a family-integrated church, but as a homeschooler i see the many advantages and strengthes such a ministry can offer.

  11. I'm thankful for a youth ministry that became my family. Without a youth pastor who largely ignored the kids with family to come to the high school and meet kids like me, I would not have encountered a life-changing relationship with Jesus in high school.

    If that youth group had been built around the family, do you think I would have been there? Heck no!

    That's where the move towards family-based ministry falls short. The mandate of youth ministry has never been to chase after and entertain the church kids. We need to teach great families in the church to push back from the youth pastor and say, "You know what? My kids aren't your target audience. Go and reach the lost!"

    I love your pushback and heart David. Help us keep focused on the right stuff.

  12. I am amazed at the lack of discussion in the Christian community these days. It seems to me that if some "rock star" minister says something forcefully enough with "conviction" everyone just follows along.

    Thank you, David for promoting discussion. I am with Adam: I love your pushback and heart.

  13. David, I always appreciate a fresh look and don't want to assume my way is the best way. I'm the Children and Families Pastor at our church and we have really embraced and have been intentional over the past year to re-educate our families. Our church is made up of many different kinds of families, some inner-city, some middle class, some incredibly wealthy, some whole and some completely broken.

    I teach our child dedication classes a few times a year and one message I try to communicate all the time is that parents cannot sub-contract the spiritual formation of their kids to the church. In the end, I agree with you, it's not one or the other, it is a both/and. I am trying to reach out to parents/families who go to church every Sunday but there is absolutely NOTHING spiritual happening in the home. I think this is the case with many Christian families today.

    I value the importance of the church community and its input into the lives of my three kids, but I know that God is calling me to be the PRIMARY spiritual former in the lives of my kids, not the ONLY spiritual former. The church has responsibility as well. The role of the church is to inspire, equip and support the family, but also to disciple as well.

    I am also Jewish and reciting Deuteronomy 6, the Shema, has been a part of my life every Shabbat (Saturday) since I was a young kid. I've grown up a Messianic Jew, or, a Jewish person who believes in Jesus as their Messiah. My entire childhood was spent in a Messianic congregation and my entire adult life and ministry has included both a Messianic congregation and a "normal" non-denominational church on Sundays. It does begin, "Shema Yisrael," or "Hear, O Israel," but like it was said above, their are specific commands to parents to speak of these things "when you lie down, when you rise up." Only these things take place in the home. Beyond that, we are called to mark them on the doorposts of our house and upon our gates. That is why every Jewish family has a mezuzah on their door frame with the Torah inside of it. It is definitely a command to families to teach their kids.

    Finally, we do have to creatively minister to spiritually parent-less children. The reality is that many children don’t have spiritually supportive parents or grandparents. It is our hope that by being part of the larger faith community, these children will still experience authentic, organic, and life-transforming spiritual guidance from adults in the church. This philosophy also profoundly affects singles and grandparents within the church as they engage in the lives of children, they have the opportunity to develop loving relationships with young people with whom they can pass on their faith and play a key role in the larger family.

  14. About 7 years into student ministry I did an assessment of the "Top 10" students in my ministry - the kids who were most Christlike. Turns our they were all from strong, Christian homes. This, despite very intensive efforts at reaching non-church students. Then after about 12 years I made another list. This time of the top 10 kids who had come from non-church families, who came to Christ and were maturing in their faith. Without exception, each of these students had been taken under-wing of a strong Christian family. This also happens to be my wife's salvation story. It's anecdotal, and it's just me, but I see the trend match up with what I read in the Bible. Faith is passed down from one generation to the next, and PRIMARILY via the family, though certainly not solely. Know how to make Family-based ministry evangelistic? Take a non-church kid on a family trip to the beach. Bam! Instant outreach event.

    Having said that, it has also been my experience that non-church students, and HS students particularly, would be much more apt to hang out with a group of peers rather than something labeled a "family event" -- even though many no doubt deeply long for the love and security found in a Christ-centered, spirit-filled home. I concur that FBM is more conducive to discipleship than outreach. My opinion is that age targeted ministries are better for body-evangelism/outreach while Christian families are essential to authentic discipleship.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Dan. One of the sharpest students in our ministry right now is from a broken family that is far from God. Interestingly enough he would say that the church is his family.

      In addition there are 2 families in our church that have taken them under their wing. It's a beautiful thing to see the body of Christ care for this particular student. Saying that, I'm not sure we would have ever know him if we didn't have some from of specific focus on middle school students.

      Your right on, it has to be both / and.

      I guess part of the question is who are we called to minister to? Is it JUST the families in our church or is it students and families in our parish?

  15. David, thanks for an invigorating post. While I agree with almost all of your comments, I also think it's dangerous to stereotype all "family ministry" with the wide brush stroke you're using. Mark DeVries, as an example, uses the term as the title for his book (Family-Based Youth Ministry), but his idea of "family ministry" is more accurately described in my opinion as "congregationally based ministry" (e.g. youth ministry that sees the whole faith community as part of the "family" that ministers to adolescents). This is VERY different than the type of "family ministry" advocated for people such as those represented in the video "Divided" which I think is actually what you're arguing against. We need to better define what we mean by "family ministry" as there are many varieties that differ substantially from each other.

    And while you're right that the whole faith community should be involved in the spiritual formation of adolescents, I would humbly suggest that Christian parents still have to assume their role as a major discipler in their homes (notice I didn't say primary). Therefore, we do have a responsibility as ministers to help train parents to understand and accept their role. However, we also realize that as important as parents are, they are not enough (generally speaking). While parents are still considered the #1 influence in teenager's lives in every major study that's been conducted for the last 50 years, we also know understand that adolescents need a wide variety of adults in their lives who can help them understand what it means to be Christian and adult. So even for those who teenagers who do not have Christian parents, the rest of the faith community becomes family (as Adam McLane stated above), which is the Christian community at its best.

    Overall, I am very sympathetic to your post, and regularly talk about many of these issues in my class when we discuss family/congregational youth ministry models. I just want us to more carefully nuance some of the conversation so as not to unfairly generalize all those who use the term "family ministry" into the rather narrow understanding of "family ministry" you're concerned with.

    Jim Hampton
    Professor of Youth Ministry
    Asbury Theological Seminary

    1. Jim, thanks so much for your thoughts and input. You're absolutely right. My post is a hasty generalization of "Family Based".

      I would assume there are all kinds of Family Based Ministries out there. My concern is there seems to be little conversation about FB. Who in the world could ever say we shouldn't minister to families? That's like saying we shouldn't focus on prayer.

      Thanks for helping me understand there is a broad range.

      As I've thought more it seems it isn't a question of what is primary or secondary, the family or the church, but who has greater opportunity. Obviously children who come from traditional Christian families have better opportunity to be discipled by that family.

      As children get a little older with a natural press for freedom it could be that a small group leader or variety of other adults has greater influence. That's where the the church family seems to provide the greater discipling opportunity.

      I suppose I long for balance and discussion. To borrow Chap Clark's idea, we need 5 adult to every student. I love the idea of thinking through encouraging intergenerational ministry which includes Godly parents.

      Thanks Jim

    2. Historically, and even now in some regions of the US, ministering to families has not been an important for youth ministers, or at best, was simply overlooked. The 70's and 80's were way too full of youth ministers who felt they were the "trained professional" and thus were the ones who should be ministering to the adolescents, even if it meant they actively thwarted what the parents were doing. There were even cases where the youth pastor simply chose to create their own "church" within the larger church, all so they youth pastor could shape kids without parental interference.

      Even in churches that acknowledged the importance of families, often there was nothing more present than a newsletter and an occasional parent meeting.

      One of the best articles that dealt with the common four varieties of family-based youth ministry was "Parafamily Youth Ministry" by Dr. Dave Rahn in Group magazine (May/June 1996, pp 36-39). It might be hard to find, but if you want, I can send you a copy if you'll send me your mailing address. You can email me at: James.Hampton@asburyseminary.edu

      Since the article was published, I'd say there is now a fifth category, which basically assumes there is no need for youth ministry, because it is not biblical. (This is the premise of the video "Divided".) Not something I accept, obviously, but I throw this out there to again demonstrate the breadth of what all falls under "family-ministry."

  16. I really appreciate the discussion and desire to have the most effective ministry possible.

    I think there are three important points to be made here. 1. To me the whole article can be summed up by your personally practice. In other words, everyone can have theories but you're going to put into place what is deepest in your heart. You stated that with your own children your practice is "me speaking truth in one ear and other caring adults speaking truth in the other." This seems to be exactly what you criticized throughout the first 2/3 of your article. Sounds like effective "family-based" ministry to me. According to you: first you speak into your child's ear and second, the body supports that. (Ooops for you-smiles)

    2. I realize you may be different from many of the other parents in your ministry, which is my second point. Our attempts to make cookie-cutter (or more often "cutting-edge") the model for ministry has left most churches ineffective and lacking depth. Read the New Testament in a broader context and it can be seen that there are lots and lots of paradigms present. Family-based, "church"-based, missionaries in a foreign countries, and on and on. This seems to be the biblical method: lots of methods. To be trite: bandwagons are for sissies! If there are biblical examples of families raising children to be godly, let's be for it. If there are examples of the body raising up godly kids let be for that, too. I'm just saying that in organizing our ministries let's be wide-open to God's creativity, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

    3. If the biblical proof-texts for the family are weak, the biblical mentions of youth-ministry are nonexistent. If you look into my personal experience here you'll see that I'm a believer in youth ministry. Our church, of which I am the pastor, has one and my kids participate fully. The part of the "family-based" model that resonates with me is that we do not need to "hire" a 23 year old college graduate and give him/her authority to raise our children because he/she can relate to them. There needs to be a genuine partnership between youth ministry and parents. I have seen this be most successful over time - with success being measured in long-term discipleship not number of youth at an event. I realize this partnership is part of what you are proposing.

    I agree that we shouldn't jump onto the "family-based" bandwagon as the only way to do ministry, but to keep going on the same path thinking we have been doing a great job seems to be a mistake, too. Our youth are leaving/disappearing/running from church after their youth-group experiences in massive droves.

    Great discussion. Thanks!

    1. Love your point on being creative in your own context!

      As far has hearing truth in stereo there are families who do that well but to be honest many of our kids would just love to hear their parent's voice in their ear.

      Last night our middle school pastor took at student "home" who has 2 parents in prison. Now, if we want to expand the idea of Family Based Ministry being the entire spiritual family of the local church, I'm definitely in. If fact I might even let you call me "family based".

      And yes, partnership is the key word. Parents shouldn't do it on their own, next gen ministries should seek to support and shepherd the parents. (If they can)

      Thanks for chiming in.

  17. I am a small town church of Christ youth minister in West Texas... I am a father of 6 kids from 6 months to about to turn 12... 4 boys and 2 girls... i preached this last Sunday on a version of family based ministry, but let me tell you that the version of family based ministry that you seem to be arguing against I've spent years arguing against myself. i got a C in my Family Ministry Class in College because i spent the entire semester arguing with the professor... that being said... the research out of fuller (Sticky Faith) and every other piece of research that I've come across shows that having more adults involved in the spiritual growth of teens (primarily of their parents and grandparents ages) the more likely they are to truly internalize the Gospel. in Sticky Faith there's a story about Tony Dungy (Super Bowl winning coach) giving his son advise that the son would not listen to until he heard it from his high school coach. and the fact is that parents are the primary disciplers of our children, and part of that job is placing other adults in their lives to influence them. i know the quote goes to Hillary Clinton, "It takes a village to raise a child" but doesn't that go back for millennia? isn't that why she said village instead of apartment building, or group of friends, or town? Israel was called to protect and teach their children and that was not just the job of the parents.

    so many times we do have kids whose parents are discipling, that's why we have youth ministers. but it should be our job to help the village come together to raise our kids. most kids from broken homes love to be involved in more complete homes, and thrive in those relationships.

    David, i can feel your frustration and anger in this post and while i write this i am praying for your peace and understanding. Intergenerational and Family Based seem so many times to be confused and fused together, and it's all contextual. I have been told before "the only way to do youth ministry is through these kids families." and i will still argue with that until i am fully convinced that these families will "adopt" any kids that they come across who need Jesus into their families. i believe that until the families are doing intergenerational ministry to the kids peers (whether or not their kids "like" that peer) it is the churches duty to provide these kids with family. i do spend more time in my ministry seeking the unchurched kids from families who do not go to church than making the church kids happy. but through this my church kids have began to minister to their "unliked" peers without having to be challenged and reminded to.

    i realize now that my post here is somewhat random, and reactionary. and i apologize if i've come across in any unintended way. i just want you to know that you are not alone in your frustration, but the benefits of families (nuclear and church) are huge and if you are seeking to do intergenerational ministry, than you are doing a version of family based. my experience and advise is to get those families to minister to each others kids and any kids that they have the opportunity to...

    1. in the second paragraph that's supposed to say are not discipling...

    2. Thanks Jason. Great thoughts. To be honest I'm not that frustrated or angry, I simply desire there to be a discussion. I'm not sure that family based (whatever that means) works for all people in all places. (See Hace's comment)

      I long to have all kinds of adults, parents and those who aren't parenting, loving and serving the next generation.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  18. David...

    Good thoughts here. I stumbled onto your post from a friend linking it on their Facebook...you gotta love social media! I'm a big proponent of Family Based Ministry and thought I would share where I agree and disagree with your assessment of the pendulum swinging too far.

    "1) The Bible doesn't teach that parents are the primary disciplers of their kids." There is a lot of symatics wrapped up into this...so I don't know if I agree or disagree with you on this. As a pastor to adults, I want our church members to understand that in the eyes of the Lord, both they and their church family are accountable for how children turn out as adults. But if there is one of those two that gets a heavier share of the accountability...it's the parents. The Bible is talking to parents when it says, "Train up a child in the way they should go..." as well as the several references teaching children to obey their parents...not the church. We learn from scripture through it's direct teaching as well as the precedence it sets. There are parents in the Bible who did a good job of teaching their children to obey God's Word (Eunice, Timothy's mother) and parents who did not (Samson's parents). We are given these examples not just as stories, but to also learn from them what it is that pleases the Lord. So I do believe that in God's perfect plan that parents should be the primary spiritual model for their children to see.

    "2) Family based does not fit all ministry contexts." I agree. There are a lot of ministry contexts where children are seen as "in the way" by their parents. To try and reach the children through the parents is near impossible. That does not change the fact though that once the parents are reached, they should be discipled to understand God's desire for their role in their children's lives. Until the parent can and does fill that role...the church needs to provide people who will.

    "3) Family based ministry seems to neglect evangelism". It can go both ways. Churches that are sending their adults and teaching them to be missional/incarnational with the nations and their neighbors are filled with children and teenagers who are following their parents lead. Check out Austin Stone Community Church as an example. But churches that see it more important to teach parents to protect their children from the harm of a dark world, do in fact end up loosing their love for the lost most times. It's hard to live out love for a person or group of people that I am concurrently teaching me children to run away from.

    "4) Intergenerational ministry NOT family based ministry seems to fit the Biblical model and most cultural contexts." I agree wholeheartedly. I think this is a better description of what it would look like if we embraced the strength of the "family based" model and married it to the strength of the "church based" model. That's actually what the group "Think Orange" is trying to do...but I think they are little misunderstood because so many churches are just using their curriculum for children and not communicating well to parents what they are trying to do.

    Good article...it obviously got a lot of people thinking. I think in the end...the thing that persuades me to lean more on towards family based ministry is the context of the culture I'm ministering in as well as the research that both Barna and Lifeway have doone on this subject. When they independently looked at discovering why so many teens leave church after high school, then stumbled upon a stronger explanation as to why those that stayed did. Those that did stay in church overwhelmingly had two things in common. One, they said that their parents played a major role in their spiritual formation...and two, that through them having opportunities to serve/volunteer in the church growing up, they felt that they were important to the church and visa versa.


  19. Hey Ben,

    Thanks so much for a well thought out response.

    Yes, Christian parents are accountable for the discipleship of their children. I love the way Jim (above) puts it, "I would humbly suggest that Christian parents still have to assume their role as a major discipler in their homes".

    The only thing I might add in the section on "ministry contexts" concerns parents that are currently "unreachable". In some churches just the kids come to church and it's very difficult to discover who the parents are much less believe they are going to be ready any time soon to disciple their children. Yes, we should do our best to build relationships with and partner with unchurched parents of kids who come to the church, but I don't believe we can wait on them, do you?

    Anyway, love the balance you bring to the discussion. I'm glad we're talking about this.


  20. Hey David,
    Good job bringing up some points to facilitate discussion. Always happy for open dialogue!
    Have a good week!