Thursday Book Club: Family Based Ministry

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

Tuesday/Thursday Book Club:Perspectives on Family Ministry “Family-Based Ministry: Separated Contexts, Shared Focus,” chapters 7-8

It has been a while (July) since I’ve done any book club posts, but now that the book I was reviewing has actually been released, I thought I’d finish it up in two final posts. If you didn’t catch the first portions of my review, you can link to them here:

Chapters 7-8 of Perspectives on Family Ministry is dedicated to family based ministry.  The advocate for the position is Brandon Shields, who, at the time his chapter was completed, oversaw high school and collegiate ministries at Highview Baptist Church, a large multi-site church here in the metro Louisville area.  Brandon served in youth ministry for 10 years, and he has now take a position as a senior pastor in a Florida church.

It is interesting that this is my first post on family based ministry, because I resonate with it a great deal.  Two key books for the movement are Family Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries (Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), and Think Orange by Reggie Joiner (David C. Cook, 2009).  Both of these books are worthy of their own book club installments in the near future.

Two Core Values: Shields begins his chapter by underlining two core values that under gird the family based philosophy: flexibility and balance (sounds a little Zen to me but I guess it works).  Flexibility is core because every church culture is different.  And balance is key because , while encouraging the discipleship efforts of intact families is important, most youth and children today do not enjoy the luxury of an intact Christian family.  “Family-based ministry supports Christian families where they exist while, at the same time, aggressively and intentionally engaging non-Christian families with the transforming message of Jesus Christ” (98).  Another way of describing these two core values is to say that family based ministry recognizes that the church today must consider its culture missionally, and that it keeps the gospel message as the main thing (”the priority of evangelism ought to shape ministry practice,” 1 Cor 9:22-23, page 114).

Family-Based Programming: Family-based ministry does not require a transformation in programming, but rather a fresh mindset–that parents and families are crucial to faith development in every area of a ministry’s program.  DeVries says it this way, “Family-based youth ministry is not about what the programming looks like.  It’s about what you use the programming for.  We try to point as much of our programming as possible in the direction of giving kids and adults excuses to interact together” (quoted on page 99).  Family-based churches maintain age graded and often gender specific ministry programs, but intentionally include inter-generational and family-focused events in each ministry–with the goal of providing a platform for families to catch a vision for discipling their own children and teens.

Taking on Detractors: Shields insists that age-segregation is not the problem in modern student ministry, and he makes a strong case that research into age-organized ministry has been improperly conducted and used.  For example, he insists that the “infamous evangelical dropout statistic” is based more in youth ministers’ recollection and poorly done survey work than in actual reality.  He argues, ” Even if a large number of students are dropping out of church after high school, this does not necessarily mean that age-organized ministry is the culprit or that any certain form of family ministry represents the solution” (105).  Statistics actually change when considering churches where the youth pastor has a longer tenure (greater than 5 years),  the church holds evangelical theological beliefs, and it engages in systematic discipleship.  He concludes, ” Age-organized ministry is not the sole or primary cause of post-graduation drop-out rates” (105).  A better assessment of age-organized ministry is to see it as a missiological opportunity.  “At their best, age-organized programs function as vital missiological tools to touch the hearts of lost students who would not otherwise have a chance to respond in faith to the gospel” (107).

Pitfalls to Avoid: Although Shields is an advocate of age-organized ministry, he recognizes that there are some pitfalls to avoid.  Family-based ministers must avoid activity-driven ministry–programmatically heavy, theologically confused, and philosophically shallow. Family-based ministers should also avoid being uni-generational–working consistently and intentionally to build inter-generational relationships, because the Bible couches discipleship in multi-generational terms (Titus 2).  Finally, they must work to avoid culturally immersed ministry–being culturally relevant without cultural accommodation; not losing biblical distinctiveness or “going native.”

Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing: As I noted at the beginning of this review, Shields maintains that the “priority of evangelism ought to shape ministry practice.”  Family-based ministers recognize that there is a sub-culture of teenagers, and this movement reaches to minister to the teenage sub-culture as a missionary would reach any ‘foreign’ culture.  “Age-organized family-based ministry exists as a tool to address cultural ills in relevant and practical ways” (114).   “Family-based churches are acutely aware of the prevailing youth culture and of the breakdown of the nuclear family.  Such churches see these trends as strategic opportunities for pursuing the Great Commission in the context of age-organized youth and children’s ministries” (116).

Critique: There is much that I resonate with in Shileds’ gospel-centered and contextual focus.  The one critique that does hold is a question asked by Jay Strother (see last installment) in his response, “Does family-based ministry go far enough, in actual practice, in addressing the disconnect between the church and family?”  What do you think?  Can a church reach out misionally (as its primary duty) and equip families in the process?