Here is one I wrote for a youth ministry class I was taking.
In his book Family Friendly, Steve Thomas makes the observation that raising a family has never been easy. He suggests that every generation has faced difficulties in that area but the world in which we currently live is showing hostility towards the family that has never been seen before. He sums it up nicely when he says that “families are in trouble” (Thomas 17). Because of this, there are some who believe that the concept of family ministry is faulty or outdated but I believe it still serves a purpose in the church of today.
Pamela J. Erwin agrees with Thomas in his assertion that the family is in trouble. She goes one step further and proposes that the family needs the church. The deterioration of the traditional family has created a sense of hopelessness and frustration that leaves many families feeling alone. People are looking “for closeness; for relational warmth and intimacy; and for love, fellowship, and meaning” (Erwin 12-13). I agree with her when she suggests that the church can meet those needs. In order for the church to successfully minister to youth I believe that we must look at the family and carefully consider ways to involve it. There are many valid reasons why the family should be a part of the church’s youth ministry program but I want to focus on a couple of them.
The family existed long before the church. In Genesis we learn that God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…. (Gen. 1:28). This is the command that created the very first family. Before there were kings, judges, or prophets, there were patriarchs. God chose to lead and teach through fathers. Noah and Abraham are famous examples of God providing revelation and blessing through the working of the family. The church was still thousands of years away yet God was working among His people through the family. I don’t believe that it’s a coincidence that God calls Himself our Father. The relationship between parent and child is predated only by the relationship between husband and wife. I agree with Jim Burns when he says, “students may think you’re nice and feel safe talking to you, [but] parents are the primary influencers in students’ lives” (Fields 105).
We must recognize, however, that society and culture have changed greatly since the Bible was written. The Bible consistently shows the importance of the family. The relationship between Christ and the church is described as that of a husband and wife (Eph. 5:22-32). We also find that the Bible stresses the importance of parental involvement in the upbringing of children (Eph. 6:1-4). The world, however, presents a very different picture of the family. Divorce, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and the loss of traditional parental roles have all contributed to the weakening of the family. Dysfunctional families reproduce and create a cycle that is seemingly unbreakable. In his book Family Ministry, Charles M. Sell makes the following statement; “Unless something is done for them, the many problems they have today will be repeated in the families of tomorrow” (Sell 46). To many, the survival of the traditional family seems hopeless.
That brings me to the second reason I believe family ministry is so important. The church and its ministries provide a sense of community that many in today’s world are longing for. Families spend less and less time together and that causes them to slowly drift away from one another. To some, church is the only time that they are all together in one place for any length of time and they often find themselves being separated and isolated from one another there as well. While I believe that there is nothing wrong with having separate activities for adults and youth, I do feel that we often take this to extremes and, in many cases, create two totally different churches meeting under the same roof.
In a 2000 article for Youthworker Chap Clark writes; “Certainly there are differences between the way those younger than 30 think, behave, and process than those over 50 do” (Clark). We often feed those differences instead of finding common ground. The church itself is a family and we often bring our dysfunctions into it. In many cases the living, growing family described in Acts 2 is slowly being transformed into a bunch of segregated ministries that function separately from one another. Mom and Dad have their church in the big room, the teens have their church in a slightly smaller room, and the children have their church in various classrooms scattered throughout the building. These different churches often have their own music, their own language, and their own agenda. I believe that can be a sign of an unhealthy family.
If we are going to maintain a healthy church family we have got to figure out how to minister to each of the different groups within the family without creating unnecessary divisions. Steve Thomas suggests that we need to develop a strategy that will look at the needs of the different families within the church and meet them all. He says that we must teach “them how to express an authentic family resemblance to our Father” (Thomas 57). I firmly believe that parents must be involved if we are ever going to achieve this. Successful youth ministry depends upon it.
In a 2002 article, Jim Burns describes six ways that we can strengthen our ministry to families. He says that we need to: change the mindset, help families succeed, inform parents, assist parents, involve parents, and lastly, encourage parents (Burns). I want to briefly address three of these ideas and explain why I believe they are essential to the development of a healthy family ministry within the church.
Burns says that we’ve got to change the mindset. I’ve already addressed the fact that families played a much larger role in the spiritual upbringing of a child during Biblical times. Many parents today don’t consider it their responsibility to be youth ministers to their children. They take their children to church and place them in the care of someone paid to teach and train them. Burns suggests that the church is partly to blame because it willingly let parents place the spiritual well-being of their children into its hands. He also observes that parents aren’t “clamoring to take back this responsibility” (Burns). We’ve got to remind parents that we are there to assist them, not the other way around. Parents are the ones commanded to “train up a child in the way he should go…” (Proverbs 22:6). It is our responsibility as the church to equip and encourage them as they do so.
Assisting parents is the second thing I believe is an essential responsibility of family ministry. I believe the first, and best, way we can assist parents is through prayer. Doug Fields says that we should continually ask parents how we can pray for them (Fields 105). We often feel as if we have to create programs and host events in order to reach out to families. Fields suggests that we should sometimes lighten up on the programs and focus more on relationships. Families often have frantic schedules and our good-intentioned programs create one more thing for them to stress out over. Fields says that emphasizing healthy family relationships is much more important than giving them things to do. He also reminds us that we should keep the family in consideration when we do plan events. We often forget the time and money required to send kids off on the awesome programs we dream up. We need to remember that everything we plan will affect each and every family that participates. We don’t need to make the ministry a burden to them (Fields 108).
The final thing I want to address is the actual involvement of parents in the youth ministry program. It’s true that not all parents are going to want to work with the youth group. It’s also true that not every parent is going to be able or gifted to work with them. But we need to make sure that we include those who are. Many of the kids in our youth groups are not going to want their parents heavily involved. There are ways that parents can be involved without becoming a part of the actual youth group. Burns mentions the following ways parents can be indirectly involved: “prayer team, advisory council, retreat chaperoning, driving, food preparation, discipleship, fund raising, and hospitality just to name a few” (Burns).
I realize that there are many other issues that affect family ministry within the church. I also acknowledge that there are differing opinions as to how involved parents should be in organized youth ministry. I believe Pamela Erwin sums it up correctly when she says; “Family ministry is not something that can be photocopied from one church to another. It’s more organic than that; it’s a way of thinking. A theological conviction, and a philosophy. It’s not simply a program to be modeled” (Erwin 11). We have to approach each individual congregation and family differently. What works in Elizabeth City, NC will probably not work in Los Angeles, CA. We have to remember that the church is here to serve and support the family, not the other way around.
Bomar, Chuck. “Missing Both Ends: Adolescence Changes Youth Ministry.” Web page.
10 Oct. 2005. http://www.youthspecialties.com/arti…evelopment.php
Burns, Jim. “What is Family-Based Youth Ministry?” Web page.
10 Nov. 2005. http://www.youthspecialties.com/arti…evelopment.php
Clark, Chap. “Youth Ministry in an Age of Delayed Adulthood.” Web page.
4 Nov. 2005. http://www.youthspecialties.com/arti…evelopment.php
Erwin, Pamela J. The Family Powered Church. Loveland, CO: Group, 2000.
Fields, Doug. Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
Sell, Charles M. Family Ministry: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995
Thomas, Steve. Your Church Can Be…Family Friendly. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.