By Becky Drish
For hundreds of years, parents recognized their role as the faith leaders in their families.
That gradually changed over the past 100 to 200 years. Now, many regular churchgoers look to the church to fulfill that leadership role.
As churches and children’s ministry leaders, we need to re-empower parents. Fortunately, that has begun to happen through a modern family ministry approach that has been making a steady, solid entrance into the children’s and youth ministry field over the last decade.
If you frequent children’s or youth ministry conferences, you surely have seen sessions dedicated to this approach. But there are many different definitions, philosophies, and models of how to best implement a ministry that reaches the whole family.
I recommend any person or church that desires to initiate a family ministry to research it before creating a position or revamping your current model. Six years ago, I read Timothy Paul Jones’s Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples. The book resonated with my longing to see parents equipped and leading their children. I began researching possible family ministry strategies.
If engaging parents is your goal, do your research and then share your thoughts with your senior leadership and colleagues, because developing a family ministry is more than simply adding a program or position. It is a philosophy of ministry that should permeate the entire church.
Develop a Philosophy, Not a Program
There is no neat and tidy “5 Steps to Creating a Family Ministry” checklist to follow. The reality is we are trying to have parents see themselves as the primary influencers of their children’s faith. This culture change will take time, and it surely won’t happen by simply instituting a weekly program called “Family Ministry.”
This new thought process starts with church staff—particularly those who work in early childhood, elementary, and youth ministry—seeing themselves in the position of partnering with and equipping parents. That partnership must get beyond, “Drop your kids off with me once a week and I will teach them something about Jesus!” We need to equally emphasize, “Here is how I will equip you as a parent to continue this faith conversation at home.” Once this becomes the mind-set of the children’s team, you will begin to see ways to equip and engage parents in all of your existing programs and events.
Equip and Empower
Parents sometimes fail to lead because they do not believe they have what it takes or do not think it is their responsibility.
About 15 years ago, my husband took our second-oldest daughter to a father/daughter camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The camp was designed to spiritually grow each person and relationship. I remember looking over the material provided for the dads. It was simple, direct, and empowering: “You’ve got what it takes.” What a fantastic mantra to plant in a parent’s heart and mind. No, you may not be a Bible scholar or hold a degree in Christian education, but God made you this child’s father or mother. If you seek God with all your heart, he will guide your steps . . . and that includes leading your child.
After that camp experience, I saw my husband embrace his position as spiritual leader more confidently and more enthusiastically than ever before. Why? Because the camp equipped him with some basic tools and empowered him to spiritually lead his children. Equipped parents are empowered parents, and empowered parents lead.
What about the parents who simply do not view their child’s spiritual development as their responsibility? This is where we, as church staff, need to do a better job of communicating our role and the role of parents. It can be overt: “Parents, when you are doing your daily Bible time with your child, look up the story from Luke 10 that we covered in kid’s church today.” Or it can be subtle, such as social media posts throughout the week suggesting fun ways parents can engage with their children about biblical elements discussed in the kids’ service.
I love it when parents pick up on these ideas and post a picture on their private social media platforms. This speaks volumes to the other parents, and it reinforces the idea of parents discipling their children throughout the week.
Equipping can certainly be formal, and many churches use spiritual milestones as topics for parent seminars held throughout the year. These may be centered around baby dedication, salvation, baptism, purity, and graduation, to name a few. But not every parent will attend a seminar. In fact, those who do probably are your “rock star” parents. But, if you offer a parent/child fun day event and throw in a 30-minute equipping class for parents (while the kids do something else), you can accomplish many things at once.
You can engage parents and children in intentional activities that allow parents to lead spiritually, and you can also give parents a small dose of equipping that instills confidence to keep leading. At the church I serve, we have used this strategy in elementary parent/child camps over the last two years. Only a handful of parents may sign up for a class held at church, but give them a fun day at camp with their kids and they will come in droves!
Be Strategic and Look for Existing Opportunities
Most churches try to do too much with too few, so the last thing you want to do is heap more on your current children’s or youth pastor. They are busy leading kids and training volunteers . . . and now they have to equip parents? But this needn’t be burdensome.
Be strategic. Revamp or tweak existing events by asking yourself, “How can I bring parents into this?” For example, we were already in the process of planning all these camps, and I simply asked, “What if we brought the parents into this one?” For other camps, the engagement looked different. We gave parents the Bible teaching ahead of time, so when their kids returned home the parents were ready to talk with them about it. Prayer calendars are another great tool.
Look at your existing programming and events. Are there opportunities for families to do things together, or are they always sent in separate directions? Is your church having a middle school girls/guys night? Why not revamp it to include a parent for part of the event? Want to get your parents doing daily devotionals with kids at home? Do a Bible-reading challenge for a month; offer prizes and make it fun. Set up your parents to “win” and equip them with affordable resources that you make available in your lobby. Many parents want to do better but need a nudge or guidance about where to start.
Changing culture takes time. You need to be in it for the long haul and realize not every parent will embrace this new way of doing things. Some parents like having little to no involvement in spiritual leadership, so any kind of request that they engage with their children in this way will likely be met with resistance. Be patient and flexible. Move slowly but consistently toward creating a culture where parents see themselves as the spiritual leaders of their families and see the church as an involved and supportive partner.
Becky Drish serves at The Crossing in Hannibal, Missouri. While she enjoys many aspects of full-time ministry, she particularly enjoys equipping and encouraging families to grow together in Christ.