Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Review: Perspectives on Family Ministry

Southern Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky, has been working to develop their Family Ministry program. As a result, they've commissioned the writing of a book, edited by Timothy Paul Jones, called Perspectives on Family Ministry. This is an area of great interest for me and I was grateful to be able to review a pre-release copy of the book (due out in October). In the book, they attempt to give an acceptable definition to "Family Ministry" (no easy task) and present what they believe to be the three most common models for family ministry in the church. The three models are as follows:

Family Integrated
: "In this approach, all age-graded classes and events are eliminated… Generations learn and worship together, and parents bear primary responsibility for the evangelism and discipleship of their children" (p42). Those who promote this model (Voddie Baucham, Doug Phillips, Scott Brown, and Paul Renfro) believe that the church has become far too fragmented, undermining the Biblical mandate for families to worship God together.

Family Based
: "No radical changes occur in the church's internal structure… [rather] each ministry sponsors events and learning experiences that are intentionally designed to draw generations together"(p43). This model most closely reflects the modern church approach of a collection of compartmentalized ministries to children, youth, singles, adults, and the elderly. But the Family-Based approach attempts to make some effort within each ministry (though still separate attempts) to draw the generations together.

: This term was coined by the editor of this book and it is the approach Southern Seminary is promoting in their new Family Ministry degree programs. In this model, "Church leaders plan every ministry to champion the place of parents as primary disciple-makers in their children's lives, asking 'What is best for families?' at every level of the church's ministry…. [this model] reworks the church's entire structure to call parents to disciple their children at every level of the church's work." (Some promoting this model are Jay Strother, Brian Haynes, Steve Wright, Ben Freudenberg). This model may or may not require that some programs/ministries be dropped or significantly altered within the church. It all depends on what the church decides when they ask 'What is best for families?'

As mentioned above, the book is definitely trying to make the case for the Family-Equipping model as the approach churches should embrace. But I found the writing and logic presented in the chapter defending the Family-Integrated (FI) model most compelling. Here's just a few of the strong arguments put forward by Paul Renfro (author of the chapter defending the family-integration model) that were not adequately refuted by the other authors in this volume.

  • "Age-integration creates a network of meaningful multigenerational relationships." The author argues that "never in Scripture do we find an example of systematic age segregation in temple, synagogue, or church. In fact, we find the opposite…" (p.68). The results demand careful evaluation: "The fact is that the age-segregated structure has consistently failed to reach and to retain youth and children… The largest rise in full-time youth ministers in history has been accompanied by the biggest decline in youth evangelism effectiveness" (p91).
  • The FI model most closely resembles the biblical precedent of the home being the primary place where evangelism and discipleship of children is meant to occur.
  • The FI model helps to re-establish the church and the home as the primary influences in a teenager's life. In a culture where "Schools, media and peers are the 'disciplers' of American's children," this model re-elevates the importance of the influence of adults – both for the children and the adults. The fact that it calls the adults up to this role may be more important than what it does for the kids. He also states "In some cases a young person is so tightly connected to a youth group that he or she is more committed to that youth group than their own family" (p74).
  • The FI model frees up more time for families to spend together and to focus on doing ministry together. Since families are not overly busy with church-based programs in the FI model, they are free to reach out to the community in creative ways as a family.
  • Singles are intentionally brought into families where healthy family relationships can be modeled. The author argues, "Why would we want to isolate singles in a singles group? Such a practice assumes that the primary place where singles and single moms feel comfortable is with people like themselves. Yet singles need interaction with older saints who have traveled further down the road to maturity." I can speak from experience that though I loved spending time with other youth in our church youth group, the main reason I went was to spend time around the youth minister and his wife. And of all my youth group memories, the ones I cherish the most are those of the youth minister allowing me to come into his home and just experience life around his family.
  • The FI model is most easily transferred across cultures, since it models the structure of the family, something that exists in all cultures.

No question that the FI model is also most likely to be immediately rejected by most churches, since the change appears to be the most radical departure from the way the majority of churches do ministry. The hardest part of moving from a Family-based model to the FI model is retraining the parents. Parents have become so conditioned to the drop-off the-kids-and-let-the-church-train-them mentality, that it will take many, many months of meetings to help them capture and embrace a new vision for the primacy of the home in child training. Of course, even a move towards the Family Based model would be incredibly beneficial to any church. Either model, the FI or the FB, strives to get at the root issues underlying the lack of spiritual depth in today's churches. At the root is the problem of the incongruence between church and home.

The following quote by Richard Baxter sums up the importance of embracing one of these models in today's church (found on p65):

"Get master of families to do their duty, and they will not only spare you a great deal of labor, but will much further the success of your labors… You are not likely to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation. Some little religion there may be, here and there; but while it is confined to single persons, and is not promoted in families, it will not prosper, nor promise much future increase."

– Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, p93.

If you are a pastor or have some ability to influence your church's philosophy of training youth and children, then I highly recommend you read this book and wrestle with the concepts it presents.

1 comment:

Tim Brown said...

Thanks John that was a very helpful and concise summary.

I just attended the FIC conference where Baucham, Renfro and Jones were all featured speakers.

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