You probably know that Sojourn recently hosted a conference called The Gospel, Counseling, and the Church. SojournKids hosted a pre-conference "family track" for leaders in children's, student, and family ministry. I asked Patrick Aldridge, Pastor for Children and Youth at Redeemer Fellowship Church, St. Charles, IL, to take detailed notes for the blog. He did:
Jared Kennedy asked me to “take detailed notes” of the pre-conference family ministry stuff as well as the break out sessions on parenting dealing with Gospel centered children’s and youth ministry. He was whining something about his wife being ready to give birth again and he wasn’t sure he was going to be there. I think he was looking for a way of getting the information without doing any of the work; but whatever he’s a good and godly friend so I am happy to bail him out.
[at the time of posting there is still no baby, so maybe I was just trying to get out of work--Jared]
Tuesday morning and early afternoon a group of us who are all involved in children, youth, and or family ministry got together to talk through some of the issues and struggles we all have. After a round of introductions, Mark Prater from Covenant Fellowship shared about making sure the children’s youth, and family ministries are Gospel centered. A ministry, any ministry, which is Gospel centered will bear its own fruit (Col. 1:6). It’s not about methods or models, it’s about the Gospel. The Gospel is the central truth we seek to teach and apply.
From there we looked how to practically put that together. Mark laid out four things that need to be considered when putting together a Gospel centered ministry. First, we need to know what we are building. This starts with a philosophy of ministry. This needs to be theologically tied into the mission and ministry of the church. Ministries don’t exist for themselves and shouldn’t be entered into just to keep certain groups (children / youth) busy; it needs to be part of the overall vision of the church. From there a clear simple Gospel centered philosophy of ministry statement needs to be crafted and communicated often. The one that Mark shared was well crafted with: an upward (between a person and God), an outward (between a person and others), and an inward (a person dealing with sin / who they are) approach that I thought was well thought out. The final step here is to write Gospel centered objectives for the ministry. Three to five statements that help volunteers and parents know what the ministry hopes to accomplish.
Secondly, the role of pastor or leader needs to be clearly defined. Because we were talking family ministry, we all have come to the same conclusion that scripturally parents are responsible to teach and discipline their children (Deut. 6:5-7 and Eph. 6:4). Pastors and leaders need to find ways to come along side parents and equip them for their biblical responsibility. Pastors and leaders also need to be aware that they are responsible for the message they present. Finally, the role of pastors and leaders is help parents see their families in the larger community of faith and use that community to help them and their families.
The third area that needs consideration, particularly with children’s ministry is that of choosing a curriculum. When considering any curriculum we need to make sure it does a couple of things. It needs to effectively teach the Gospel – the message that never changes. It also needs to help equip parents to teach the Gospel at home. Finally, it needs a theological framework that agrees with the theological framework of the whole church.
The final area that we need to remember with any ministry is that we need to place our confidence in the Gospel. Mark wrapped up his teaching time where he started by reminding us that the Gospel produces its own fruit.
From there Jared shared how this was fleshed out at Sojourn. This four page document entitled Teaching the Gospel to Children is how Sojourn keeps their children’s ministry Gospel centered. If you haven’t read it, do so it’s good stuff [Patrick said this... not me.--Jared]
This hour and a half session ended with some round table discussion on a variety of issues ranging from how we view children (image of God vs. sinners) to parental involvement (mandated or not).
The second session was led by Timothy Jones (Southern Seminary) and Jay Strother (Brentwood Baptist Church, TN) on the topic of Family-equipping ministry. This conversation started with the question of how faith is past from one generation to the next. Tim laid out that there are basically 4 ways. First, there is the programmatic method; when the church sees a need they create a program (or ministry) to meet that need (examples: children’s ministry, youth ministry, etc.). Second, there is the family based method. Here the idea is to add family components to what is already being done. Third there is the family equipping method (which they both advocate) where every ministry of the church is there to provide an opportunity to equip the parents (especially dads) to be the primary faith trainers of their children. Fourth, and finally, there is the family integrated method where there are basically no other programs and the family is together all the time. In order to move from one to the next and beyond requires changing the ethos or culture of the whole church. It needs to be communicated at all levels in such a way that the vision sticks. We discussed the fact that this process of change may be easier in smaller churches. It’s a long process to undertake so providing small wins are important. This process will be a battle between the parents who get it verses the parents who need it. The bottom line question we need to be asking ourselves as pastors and leaders is, “Is our church hurting families?”
We all agreed that the church can’t replace parents in terms of the amount of influence that can be had on a child. I don’t remember who shared it (too busy writing it down), but someone shared a statistic that the church gets about 40 hours a year of instruction with a child or student and parents have the opportunity of approximately 3,000 hours a year. From there we went over the fact that things are “caught” rather than “taught”.
At some point Jay started guiding the conversation and shared the KASH method of learning. K – knowledge, A – attitude, S – skills, H – habits. He shared that the church is really good at the first two, but all four are required for real, lasting change.
From there Jay shared his view of how his church practically works this out. The catalysts for faith maturity must first come from the parents and then from church and ministry leaders. The context for these are no different than they are for the rest of the church; worship, discipleship, and service. The content for these should focus on key doctrines and key check points or milestones (this will be discussed in the next paragraph). Jay was quick to say that this is how he, his team, and his church work this model of family equipping ministry. It will look different in different contexts and to try to “cookie cutter” what they are doing, will most likely not work. We need to think like church planters and make it our own. Jay also warned that the temptation with this model was to make the family the focus. When that happens the family becomes an idol, a stumbling block between themselves and God. The Gospel always needs to be the focus.
We spent the last part of this session talking about “check points” and “milestones”. It was a fascinating conversation between us all that focused on those times in people’s lives where significant change happens. Timothy Jones brought up the three “newly’s”; new(ly) members; newly converted; newly married. These three times are great times to introduce these people to the overall approach of family equipping means and methods. The “milestones” that Jay was talking about when students move from one school to the next (elementary, jr. high, high school, college). Those are big times for students and their parents and can be a great advantage to the church if they are used for the teachable moments that they naturally are. I again believe it was Jared that brought up the “life stages” that he deals with in his position of parent / child dedication, new converts, and baptism. This led the conversation in to different ways to do small groups in this family equipping model. It really depends on the situation you find yourself in. Being intentional (a phrase that was repeated again and again throughout the day) with it is the key to making it work.
We ended the session with a list of resources that we could get. I have a list of book titles and have ordered some based on just that information. Here they are: Shift by Brian Haynes, A Parent Privilege by Steve Wright, Revolutionary Parenting by George Barna, Perspectives on Family Ministry edited by Timothy Jones, and Parent Advantage (a forthcoming?? Lifeway product [I'm not finding a link to it so I'm going to ask Timothy about it]).
After a great lunch and a tour of the 930 Arts Center (Sojourn’s home), Jason Houser from the Seeds Family Worship ministry led a session on just that, family worship. Jason saw a need for families to be equipped in this area and created Seeds to help. He shared with us that when he is called into a church he shares with them 4 basic principles that relate to family worship. First there is historical as well as biblical basis for family worship. He shared with us a historical (don’t remember who said it) quote, the gist of which was: praying with kids is good, prayer and reading Scripture with kids is better, while prayer, reading, and singing is best. Secondly, what family worship is. This principle focused on having some sort of structure as opposed to waiting for those “teachable moments” and building a path of intentionality. The next principle focused on how the church interacts with family worship and the last principle was how the family interacts with the church. The challenge that Jason through out to us was to figure out what the next step was. He answered his own question by saying challenge families; challenge them to engage God creatively.
That ended a pretty full day so far and it was only 3pm and the conference hadn’t even officially started yet.
The next day during the first (of two) “break out” sessions, the conference offered a parenting track. The issues being discussed were equipping parents of children and then youth. First up was Mark Prater. He started by using the same outline he shared with some of us the day before (so I won’t rehash it again) and then opened it up for Q & A. The questions focused around how they do children’s ministry. Most of the questions focused around the fact that they require parents (members) to serve in the ministry. One of the things I found interesting about what came out of the Q & A session was what Mark shared about how the ministry attempts to grow Gospel kids, not just good kids. He shared their tier approach for families: Growing in God’s Word, growing with one another, growing toward the future, growing along side culture, and growing in the local church.
Next up was Andy Farmer, a co-minister at Covenant Fellowship with Mark and he spoke to the youth ministry side of equipping parents. Andy basically had seven questions that need to be considered when framing a Gospel centered youth ministry. 1 – What is a teen? In this section Andy talked about the historical trends; the fact that the concept of teen / adolescent is only about one hundred years old. Additionally, we considered the cultural climate of teens; the fact that they are highly marketed, highly vulnerable, and their tastes change quickly. Finally, the biblical world view of teens, which Andy described as immature worshippers. The warnings here were that we all are worshippers; the question is what are we worshipping? It is also easy to create mature worshippers that worship the wrong thing. 2 – How does God work saving and sanctifying grace in the life of a child? The discussion revolved around how to evaluate “being saved” in the life of a young person. Current models of youth ministry, where parents drop off students, want them saved as soon as possible and it is the church’s job to keep them saved. The question becomes can and does the Gospel work beyond youth ministry. 3 – What is the relationship between the church and the family in the spiritual formation of teens? Andy shared with us his personal conviction that the church is too big and the family is too small to develop a Gospel centered teen, it requires both. 4 – What is the role of outreach in youth ministry? The question in ministry to teens is - Is outreach done inside or outside of church? Covenant Fellowship has gone with a community based evangelism strategy where parents, teens, and church members all work together in this effort. Andy made it very clear that this is a choice his church made and it may not work in all situations. 5 – What is the function of pastoral care for teens? This widely debated topic has been solved at Covenant Fellowship by having a rotational teen ministry approach. The entire family ministry staff rotates through the youth ministry. 6 – How is truth most effectively communicated to teens? Whether in large group teaching times, small groups, one on one discipleship, or any combination thereof the idea here is to be flexible with the method, but be committed to communicating the truth. The dangers here are an over – emphasis on relevance, moral instruction, life management strategies, dialogue, theology / doctrine devoid of application, issue education, error, and well intentioned but gift – less instruction. 7 – How does a church manage the competing goals of continuity and flexibility in its methodology and programming? The programs and structures need to serve the greater purpose, and thus need to be flexible. Emphasize the values of the church, not the methods.
[Thanks Patrick for great note taking!]