This is the final book club installment for the volume Perspectives on Family Ministry Here is a series of links to the entire series:
- Perspectives on Family Ministry
- Family Ministry Assumptions
- Foundations for Family Ministry
- The Family Integrated Church
- Family-Based Ministry
In the final two chapters, the Family-Equipping model of ministry is advocated by Jay Strother, Emerging Generations Minister at Brentwood Baptist Church in the Nashville, TN, area. I was privileged to meet Jay at a conference at the Connecting Church & Home conference at his church this past Summer, and he has been invaluable to our children's ministry as we made plans to launch our first multi-site this year.
Jay begins his chapter with the usual complaints about the contemporary youth/family ministry situation. He notes that "despite strong interest in religion and even active participation in vibrant churches, millions of students in our ministries were unable to articulate even the most basic tenets of Christian faith... Despite all the investments and supposed advances in age-organized ministries over the past thirty years, churched children and youth are growing up less likely than ever before to have a biblical perspective on life" (141). While these complaints are usual, I want to agree with Jay that they are serious. I think that our kids' inability to articulate doctrine is somewhat more serious than the dropout statistics often referenced. As I read to this point in Jay's chapter, I found myself wondering, "Yes, but is this a problem with our philosophical model or merely a problem with the content that we're teaching?" Jay's answer is "Both."
What's Distinctive about a "Family-Equipping Church"?
Similar to the Family-Integrated Church, Strother emphasizes the primary of the home. During an evaluation of the ministries of Brentwood Baptist, Jay's team discovered, "We had developed ministry models failing to call parents to embrace their role as primary disciple-makers in their children's lives... The home has the greatest impact on young lives with few exceptions. If we fail to impact the home, we will never make a lasting impact on students" (142-43). The model he advocates is unlike the family-integrated church in that it retains some age-organized ministries, but similar in the focus of its restructuring. Family-Equipping Churches seek to "restructure the congregation to partner with parents at every level of ministry so that parents are acknowledged, equipped, and held accountable for the discipleship of their children" (144). The Family Equipping movement thus engages and equips parents as primary disciple-makers, and it partners with parents to develop a definite plan for their children's Christian formation. Jay says, "Our ultimate goal is to bring the home and the church together in a biblical partnership to raise up a generation that loves God and loves others" (148).
The Spiritual Formation Picture
According to Jay, a child's spiritual formation picture has three primary parts. First, there are the catalysts: parents and small group leaders/mentors within the church. Second, there is the context within which these catalysts connect kids to Christ: (1) Grounded in worship, (2) Growing in small group discipleship, and (3) Going in service. Finally, there is the content that kids are given, which moves from a foundation (preschool) to transformation (children) to identity (middle school) to destiny (high school) to mission (college). Within this three-part model,
Brentwood Baptist's Deuteronomy 6.7 Ministry Plan (150-54):
Within Jay's three-part spiritual formation model, Brentwood has developed a clear ministry plan with six biblical characteristics (goals) and seven ministry strategies (action plans) designed to help develp these characteristics in students:
Our goal as a church is to partner with parents to see God raise up generations of children and students who love God with all their hearts, souls, and strength. We hope that students and children will:
- Love God as a way of life (worship). See Rom 12:1-2.
- Love others as a way of life (service). See Mark 10:45.
- Love the church and understand their roles in the body of Christ (community). See Eph 4:4-7.
- Love the Bible and can handle it properly as the authority and foundation for life (Scripture). See 2 Tim 3:15-17.
- Love to tell others about Christ (the gospel) and share their stories (testimony). See Rom 10:14-15.
- Love to grow closer to God through personal spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study (discipleship). See 1 Tim 4:7-12.
To chisel the six biblical charactersitics into children's livs, the Brentwood team developed seven specific strategies for ministry:
- Synchronize all ministry efforts around the recognition that two partnered influences--church and home--have the greatest potential to impact young lives... In every planning and evaluation meeting, we challenge ourselves with this question: Is this God's best for families?
- Clearly communicate expectations and plans to parents. If parents are the primary disciple-makers, ever ministry and leader exists to support but never to replace the parents' role.
- Develop a resource guide to recommend resources for family devotions and family issues.
- Connect the church's teaching ministries to the home. One goal in our team is for every small group leader to contact the parents of each child in their group during the first week of each fall semester. Conversations aid the church-home connection.
- Provide catalytic venues to introduce parents to biblical expectations for parenting.
- Provide family-equipping mission opportunities. The spiritual activity that leaves the most significant lifelong impression on children and students is serving alongside their parents.
- Partner with the worship team to develop inter-generational and family worship gatherings. Children and students are an important part of the worshiping community!
I think that there is a ton to be learned from the family-equipping model--primarily that equipping parents to teach their children about God's words and works is a primary responsibility within the church community (Deuteronomy 6:7; Psalm 78:5-7). I also think that the methodology advocated by proponents of this view--Jay Strother, Brian Haynes (Shift), and Steve Wright (ApParent Privelege)--is worth working through and adapting to most evangelical contexts.
However, I do think there is one critique that sticks to the Family-Equipping writers. In his review essay, Brandon Shields questions whether or not the family-equipping church's strategic questions is too limited. He states, "Is God's best only for our families? If every aspect of the church's ministry is asking, 'Is this God's best for families?' then the scope of the church's influence will be limited mostly to those families that are intact or that are currently 'in the pipeline'" (176). I think this is a fair critique. I'm convinced that church's will keep a proper perspective if they simply keep the gospel mission as the main thing. Many of the methods of the family-equipping church will be adopted, but mission will go forth, even among those who do not yet fit the ideal.