Book Review: Perspectives on Family Ministry

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I went to First Baptist Church, Plant City, FL for most of my high school years. Tommy Warnock had such an amazing impact on my life in areas of discipleship, leadership, and missions. His faithfulness in ministry and love for others was contagious. I’m so glad God put me there; much of the future of my life was rooted in that one decision to go to that church.
Time span: 1995 (graduation) to 2010 (now). I have grown in knowledge of the Word and the turns and styles of ministry. Being in many churches since high school graduation and attending seminary, and now working at a seminary has definitely had an impact on how I think about and am active in ministry.
This book highlights one of the latest “styles” in how to do children and youth ministry. 5-10 years ago no one would have had a conversation about family-integrated, family-based, or family-equipping ministry models. I read Mark Devries‘ book Family-Based Youth Ministry in college as I minored in youth ministry, and applied it to the youth ministry in which I was working. I quickly forgot what I read and couldn’t tell you one underlined statement from that book – but I remember its implications.
The youth ministry staff I was on was a thriving youth ministry, boasted the largest youth ministry in St. Augustine. I loved teaching the Word every week to 70+ middle schoolers, playing games, going on ski-trips, having 5 middle-school girls sledding down my stairs on a mattress – those were the times. I love those girls I had in their youth group years. I love the parents who participated in the youth group, went on the same trips, loved teenagers, taught Sunday School, cooked brownies. They were so cool. But I also remember the parents who whipped through the parking lot of the church (dodging the kids shooting baskets or skateboarding) to drop their kids off for youth group by 6.10pm. I pray I had an impact on the lives of those girls. My first discipleship opportunity with a young lady was amazing and life-changing for both of us as we enjoyed dinner with her family every week one summer and then studied a Max Lucado book together upstairs. I loved that time. She is thriving in life and ministry right now. But, I guarantee that has more to do with the fact that she has parents who model a life of following Christ every day than that one summer I had with her, Wed night youth group meetings, ski trips, and Sunday School classes.
Anyway…this discussion of style of ministry is fairly new. When I started working at Southern Seminary in Fall 2007, the first I ever heard of this was because Steve Wright wrote a book entitled RE:Think. Timothy Jones and Randy Stinson continued the conversation and were teaching principles based on the Word, and dubbed “Family-equipping model”. This is the culture I have been immersed in over the last 2.5 years. This has provided me much to think about and wrestle with. This is what I have come up with.
God created the family – Gen 2
God gave the mandate to the parents for discipling their children – Dt 6
God gave the ministry of equipping the saints to the pastors – Eph 4
The call of disciples of Christ is to evangelize the world – Matt 28.

This book, edited by Dr. Timothy Jones, with authors Paul Renfro, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother, is a good introduction to these three models (mentioned at the beginning of this) and gives the reader much food for thought. This book would be extremely helpful to people training for ministry, or for church staffers looking at making a change to existing ministries.
Personally, I thought Renfro’s was the strongest argument, Jay Strother’s was the most practical, and Shield’s was the weakest. That doesn’t mean anything – that may just be the style of writing. I liked the humble dialogue between the authors as they brought out points that most readers may not have thought of while they worked through the styles of ministry.
Here are some quotes from the book:
“Church programs have usurped a responsibility that Scripture and church history place first and foremost at the feet of parents.” – Jones, 21
“Family ministry is not another church program that a pastor can add to the present array of programs.” – Jones, 41
Jones definitely accomplishes his task with this book: “My goal is not to convince readers that one of these models is better than the others. I do want to equip them with the knowledge needed to discern which model might work best in their congregation.” – 45
“Who is better able to discern the condition of their children’s hearts and to know if true repentance has occurred than those who live with them every day? The home is the best context for discipleship.” – Renfro, 63
“Could it be that family-integrated churches so heavily emphasize traditional family structures that they subtly give non-traditional families the impression they are second-class citizens?” – Strother, 86
“When attempting to reach another culture, there is a fine line between relevance and accommodation.” – Shields, 110
“So many American families are merely a shell of what God created them to be. In such families each family member has personal agendas and schedules; homes are merely pit stops for the washing of clothes, the provision of food, and a few hours of sleep.” – Renfro, 121
“In the typical church it will require significant changes not only in the message communicated to parents but also in the church’s internal paradigms to send a loud and clear message that parents have the primary responsibility for their children’s discipleship.” – Strother, 129
“We must go where they are, preach to them in their language, compel them to come to Jesus, and consistently create attractive environments where persons from any background can grow in their relationship with Jesus.” – Shields, 137
Why must we create attractive environments? That is my area of disagreement with the above statement.
“Family-equipping ministry must represent the congregation’s convictions about the entire nature of church and ministry.” – Strother, 161.
This is not merely a youth ministry question – this is an entire church life question.

My thoughts: I am not a parent. I have been in youth ministry/college ministry/kids ministry now for 15 years. This has given me much view of typical American families. I see failures and successes. Not every teenager that comes out of a intact, Bible-believe home is a radical Christ follower. Not every teen that comes out of a divorced, broken home is a loser who wants nothing to do with Christ. This isn’t a 100% no-fail solution. God is still in charge of radically changing the lives of sinners like me. He called parents though, Christian parents, to disciple their children in the ways of God. The church is called to equip and evangelize. Evangelize the lost, and disciple them to do what they are called to do. One of the things they are called to do, if parents, is to disciple their own children.
Much more is to be discussed on this topic: broken families, single parents, single adults, etc. But…this isn’t my dissertation on the topic of family ministry. This is my response from reading Jones’ book on it.
I am thankful for all 4 authors as three of them have had a personal impact on my life and ministry and all 4, through this book, have made me think.

2 Responses

  1. Victoria

    I have also been getting involved in youth ministry…Yet, my Church follows the "segregated" approach. I recently stepped down after sharing my heart for family-discipleship. Do you have any other resources on the Biblical model for youth ministry with the main goal of uniting families? My pastor is interested, he just doesn't know what it looks like.

  2. TimothyPaulJones

    Victoria, in addition to this book (regarding which I'm obviously a bit biased), I would recommend Shift by Brian Haynes, Apparent Privilege by Steve Wright, and two upcoming books Trained in the Fear of God and one that has yet to be titled, which I'm presently supposed to be writing instead of reading Kim's blog.