For decades throughout North America the emphasis in youth ministry has been on numbers, excitement and fun. But more and more church leaders have come to recognize that such an emphasis does not develop disciples. As a result the current conversation centers on how we must structure our ministries so that our children grow up to love and serve Christ. What is being recognized by many is that the missing ingredient in discipleship of children is the family. The church has often operated as if it was the primary means of spiritual development of youth and therefore parents must relinquish that role to youth pastors and leaders. But Scripture is clear that the parents, and especially fathers, are the primary discipleship-makers of children. With this in mind a number of approaches dedicated to returning to family-oriented spiritual development have emerged. The three most prominent of these are detailed and debated in this book. All three philosophies agree, “The primary training ground for discipleship and spiritual formation is the nuclear family rather than the local church” (pp. 38-39). And each approach defines family ministry as “the process of intentionally and persistently realigning a congregation’s proclamation and practices so that parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as the persons primarily responsible for the discipleship of their children” (p. 40). However, each system maintains distinct perspectives on philosophical and methodological matters. The three approaches are identified as family integrated, family-based and family-equipping. All three agree on three basic assumptions: (1) God has called parents—and especially fathers—to take personal responsibility for the Christian formation of their children; (2) Scripture is the supreme and sufficient standard for how to do ministry; and (3) the generations need one another.
Family-integrated ministry is explained by Paul Renfro, who pastors with Voddie Baucham at Grace Family Baptist Church, perhaps the best known family-integrated church. Quoting Baucham we learn,
The family-integrated movement is easily distinguishable in its insistence of integration as an ecclesiological principle…Our church has no youth ministers, children’s ministers, or nursery. We do not divide families into component parts. We do not separate the mature women from the young teenage girls who need their guidance. We do not separate the toddler from his parents during worship. In fact, we don’t even do it in Bible study. We see the church as a family of families (pp. 55-56).
The family-integrated church is committed to three things: (1) age-integrated ministry, (2) evangelism and discipleship in and through the home, and (3) biblical leadership (pp. 62-65).
The family-based philosophy is represented by Brandon Shields who serves as minister to high school students at Highview Baptist Church which has sites in both Kentucky and Indiana. Family-based maintains typical age-organized youth and children’s ministries but with an independent twist. “We are not suggesting a radical change in programming. What we are suggesting is a fresh mindset—parents and family are crucial to faith development in every area of a ministry’s program” (p. 98).
Shields defines some of the alarm stemming from recent studies pointing to church dropout rates of post-high school young people. He sees many of these studies as poorly conducted and/or analyzed (pp. 101-106) and suggests the real problem is unhealthy age-organized models that have been in vogue for the last half century (pp. 107-112). Family-based leaders believe Scripture does not mandate methods for churches to implement (as the family-integrated people do) but instead provides an absolute interpretive grid “by which every philosophy, teaching, leadership structure, ministry offered, and decision is judged” (p. 134).
The final approach plows a middle ground between the other two. Jay Strother, a minister at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee champions the family-equipping ministry. “Family-equipping churches retain some age-organized ministries but 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” (p. 144). Family-equipping churches have carefully developed seven ministry strategies (pp. 151-154) based on what they call their “Deuteronomy 6:7 Ministry Plan” (p. 150).
As is typical of multi-view books, each perspective is followed by an evaluation and critique by the other authors which in turn is rebutted by the original author. This provides a healthy debate by those who best understand the arguments.
It is with open arms that Christians should welcome the return of emphasis on the family within the evangelical church. While the three perspectives on family ministry represented in this volume differ in detail, all are dedicated to creating churches that assist families in the discipleship making process. Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views is a welcomed evaluation of church-based family ministries offered today.
I would confess I was a bit alarmed by the apparently positive mentions of Mike Yaconelli (pp. 24, 34, 100), Mike King (p. 101) and Phylis Tickle (p. 184, all strongly mystical and emergent in their understanding of the Christian life. But none of the authors seemed to follow a mysticism or emergent bent. Still the discerning church leader may want to sift through resources that their ministries might recommend.