By: Min. Angela Lee PriceFor the next six weeks, February 16th - March 28th, I will post a blog series entitled "Family Matters, The Family Ministry Shift", with an overview of the historical roots, biblical basis, leading voices, active churches, and strengths and weaknesses, and conclusion of family ministry. This series is based on a research paper I completed in 2013 for my last class in graduate school, Innovations in Contemporary Church. I hope this series is a blessing to you and will provide you with some food for thought as to how we can minister differently to our young people.
This post explores the historical roots of family ministry. Timothy Paul Jones, a leading proponent for family ministry offers this definition, “Family ministry is the process of intentionally and persistently coordinating a congregation’s proclamation and practices so that the parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as the primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives” (Jones, p. 33).Family is a God-ordained institution with strong biblical basis and is subject to civil, moral, and spiritual laws. The historical roots of family ministry date back to the book of Genesis. In the beginning not only did God create the heaven and earth but also man and woman. The family unit is built on the command of God for a man and woman to be fruitful and multiply within the confines of marriage (Gen. 1:27-28). God commanded Noah and his sons to be “fruitful and multiply (Gen. 9:1)” and promised “fruitfulness” to Abraham (Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5), Isaac (Gen. 26:4, 24), and Jacob (Gen. 28:14; 35:11). The twelve tribes of Israel were based on the family unit dating back to the book of Numbers, and the prophecies foreshadowing the birth of Jesus pointing to His family line coming from the house of David.
God, in creating the family unit, mandated that parents raise children to love and fear Him. The Lord pronounced judgment against the house of Eli, the priest because his sons, Hophni and Phinehas were rebellious, and Eli did little to correct them. (1 Samuel 2). Eli died an old man, but God determined that in his family line there would never be another old man (1 Samuel 2:30-31). David was a great king, but he was one of the most incompetent parents in Scripture. He loved his sons, but would not discipline them. Tragedy upon tragedy resulted, first with Amnon, then with Absalom and Adonijah. David appointed his son Solomon to succeed him as king. After learning some hard lessons with his sons, David, before his death, instructed Solomon saying, “Obey the Lord your God. Walk in his ways, and keep his laws.”
Joseph of Nazareth was given a very special role in history. He was the father chosen by God to provide protection and nurture to Jesus. He struggled as an ordinary father to Jesus, his other children, and as husband to Mary. When he discovered that Mary was pregnant and the child was not his, he decided to divorce her privately. This story is example of godly obedience to the will of God (Matthew 1 and 2; Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-50) for family.
In the 1880’s pastor Samuel W. Dikes launched Comprehensive Coordinative Family Ministry in his church in Vermont. It soon spread to thousand of churches, but was discontinued in 1907. The purpose was “for the congregation to partner with parents so that the faith training of children occurred both in classes at church and in the day-to-day context of their households” (Stinson, p.19). The segregated ministry approach rose to dominance in the American church in the 20th century.
Timothy Paul Jones includes an interesting quote from Jay Strother in his book, Family Ministry Field Guide. It suggests that the history of age-organized, segmented ministry in the church is partly the blame for the spiritual destabilization of the family unit. Jay Strother states,
As we examined our church context, here’s what we concluded: In our well-intentioned efforts to reach students for Jesus Christ, we had developed ministry models that failed to call parents to embrace their role as the primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives. The church had tacitly encouraged this parental abdication by relentlessly promoting benefits and life-changes that would accompany increased participation in ministry activities. As a result, the church and families were being split spiritually along too many key fault lines. (Jay Strother in Family Ministry Field Guild, p. 32)