Catchy title, huh? Usually a title like that is simply click bait. However, I do sincerely wonder if the church’s focus on the family (pun intended) might be causing us to lose sight of our mission and even stifle our effectiveness. Now before you throw me off a bridge, I do think the focus on family ministry has produced many good things, and even offered some needed correction to the modern practice of youth and children’s ministry. My reaction is to the shift that has taken place in many churches in order to “minister to the family”. Here are my main concerns…
- We’ve become member focused. Stop and think for a second. When we put all of our eggs in the family ministry basket, aren’t we really just thinking through how to minister to the normal family that is attending? Rarely do we think through how to minister to the unique demands of a single parent household. Or how to help the family where the parents do not know Christ. Our member focus has potentially moved us toward nice ministries, but maybe a step away from effectiveness.
- We’ve become good at the jargon of family ministry. I hear lots of ministry folks talking a good game about family ministry, but do families in the church truly see a difference? Family ministry has to be more than take-home pages for parents and occasional family events. How do we genuinely partner and minister to parents? It has to start by getting close enough to their lives to make a difference. It seems many want to drop a parent pamphlet or talk family ministry without engaging in the messiness of people’s lives. Want to truly minister to parents? It has to get messy as we engage with individuals in the routines and struggles of their lives. It cannot just be a program.
- We’ve dampened our evangelistic zeal- My main push back to the family ministry wave is that in the process, we’ve lost our passion for the students (and parents) who have yet to come to Christ. Youth ministry was born out of the passion to reach lost students. Check out our history. Why? Teenagers are receptive to the gospel and are in great need of the hope that only Jesus can bring. We cannot and must not lose sight of this. If we are hoping to minister in the way of Jesus, we have to get outside the walls of the church. We have to be burdened, obsessed, and driven by the fact that there are hurting teenagers trying to do life without Christ. And in turn, we should be dreaming, praying, planning, moving toward not-yet Christian teenagers.
This is not an anti-family post. Quite the contrary. It is good to equip parents, integrate them into our ministries, and strive to help them form better relationships with their children. This is an appeal to move past the jargon of family ministry and to move toward people, especially people who have yet to discover Jesus. There are lost teenagers who are depending on us.
Brian Leslie is the Associate Professor of Student Ministry at Johnson University in Knoxville, TN.