Can We Really Start a Family Ministry?
Starting a Family Ministry
By Michelle Shiparski
“We are excited and ready to embrace family ministry at our church---now what?”
I’ve been asked this question many times by churches that I’ve worked with over the last 3 years, and frankly, it is a question I asked myself when I began exploring how to transition into family ministry at my own church.
This question, however, is often hard to answer—not because the answer isn’t out there, but rather because the answer is often not what ministry leaders want to hear.
When we, as a church, are ready to make a change, we want that change to happen sooner rather than later. We don’t want our excitement to wane or for our congregations to get distracted by other needs/wants/visions, so we typically want to implement our ideas as quickly as possible.
Transitioning into a successful family ministry model, however, is not as simple as hiring a staff member or changing the current children or youth director’s position title to “Director of Family Ministries.” It is not about shuffling the responsibilities among the staff and volunteers that are already engaged in the ministry. It is not about branding your ministry with a new name, changing to new curriculum, or even just adding some new outreach or special events that involve the entire family.
While none of these considerations are wrong, transitioning into a successful family ministry model is about making a paradigm shift in how we do ministry as a church, and it requires a culture change. That is a change that doesn’t happen quickly.
Before you get discouraged & stop reading, though, let me say that just because this change may not happen as quickly as you may want, it can happen. And when it does, it is transformational!
Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, professor, pastor and a pioneer in family ministry, describes 4 transitions in his book, Family Ministry Field Guide, that churches can make in order to equip parents to disciple their children. Today I’ll introduce you to the first two:
- The first transition, BE, begins with your church leaders (paid & unpaid). Did you practice an intentional family devotion or activity that helped fulfill your disciple making responsibility this week? As leaders, we must lead with integrity and that means we must be the faith leaders in our own homes first. We can’t take families on this family ministry journey if we, as leaders, aren't willing to go there first. This shift requires honesty and transparency, sometimes recognizing our own failures, but it is first step.
- The next transition, EQUIP, means that instead of expecting that parents already know how to disciple their children, we as church leaders need to begin reshaping existing ministries so that they involve, train, resource, or equip parents with the skills they need to become the primary faith leaders in their homes. Before we start adding new ministry events, classes, and programs (which, let’s face it, we LOVE to do), we need to first examine what we are already doing. Are there ministries that are working against the culture change we are trying to shift? How can our current ministry offerings be re-imagined so that they include an element of training or resourcing? For example, instead of sending a parent take-home page at the end of a lesson, what if you sent it home the week before the lesson and asked parents to take the lead—giving them the opportunity to introduce the material first? After all, if our messaging is saying that parents are the primary faith teachers, shouldn’t we allow them the opportunity to live that out?
Transitioning into family ministry is not quick or easy. There is not a silver bullet or a written recipe for success. Transitioning into this new paradigm can get messy and more importantly, it will take time. In fact, if your church wants to embrace this ministry model, you will need to think in terms of years…not weeks or even months because it requires a mind shift, a cultural change, in how your church approaches ministry so that parental discipleship of children becomes the norm instead of the exception.
Re-culturing requires deliberate, intentional, and incremental course corrections that unfold over time months. Moving too rapidly without considering the overall vision of partnering with families can certainly kill the very changes that need to be made. But with prayer, intentionality, and vision, your team can absolutely create a pathway that will lead to lasting change.
By Michelle Shiparski
Michelle serves as the Children’s Discipleship Director at Church of the Saviour in Montgomery. She has been actively involved in children's ministry in both paid & unpaid servant leadership roles for 26 years. In addition to serving at the local church, Michelle works with the conference as both a Family Ties traction track facilitator and as an MCCI strategy coach for children’s & family ministries. She is passionate about coming alongside families to train and equip them to live out their faith in their homes, schools, & communities.