The Family Integrated Ministry Model

Our church is going through some rather interesting times right now. We are an empty-nester church that knows the clock is ticking in reaching young couples in our area. Despite the fact that we are just a couple of miles away from two big, program-driven churches who have seemingly sucked up all the young Christian families that had yet to commit to a church, our leadership is asking some serious questions about what it means to reach out to families.

Our church is one of the only churches I have ever heard of that has a family-integrated (FI if you will) Sunday School class as well as traditional age-specific classes. And all of the families in the FI class have been a huge blessing to Amy and I and are models of Godliness in so many ways.

The biggest question we are trying to answer as a church is: Should we stay the same way, with both seemingly competing models of family ministry co-existing or should we pick one model over the other as the main structure for ministering to Christian families and reaching out to new non-Christian families?

The way I will attempt to answer this question is by dealing with one model first and then the other. I will not use statistics, because both sides use them (and in some cases abuse them) to support their particular model. Furthermore, I refuse to use names. In reading some of the blogs on the subject of the FI model, writers have no problem with pointing fingers and calling into question the salvation of their brothers in Christ who happen to disagree with them. I find their attitude to be largely destructive and unbiblical.

The first “model” I want to critique is the FI model. Don’t worry, the program-driven model will get its turn. This blog post is pretty much a reaction to the different aspects of the FI movement that I find spiritually unhealthy. I am not necessarily positing my own model of family ministry, just critiquing some of the ones that are already out there.

Objection #1: The FI Model lacks universal definition.

To even call the FI model “the” model is to be misleading. When one asks, “What does the family-intergrated model look like?” one will get a variety of different answers.* Just do a google search of that phrase and you will see that there are even those within the FI movement that disagree with each other as to what exactly the FI model entails. But, there are too many people within the movement that think that their version of family intergration is the only one out there. Even program-driven, age-segregated traditional churches think their model of ministry intergrates the family.  So, is there a Bible-based definition of family ministry that can fit into any local church context? I believe there is. In fact, I believe that one could look at the majority of great FI leaders such as Voddie Baucham and Eric Wallace and distill down their convictions to some universally applicable priniciples. Principles like:

1. Family is one of the two God-ordained structures for Christians to operate in. The other being the Church.

2. Churches should do ministry through families as much as possible.

3. Families need to spend more time together, not less.

4. Fathers and mothers need to be taught their Biblically-mandated roles as primary disciplers of their children.

5. We do not need to take our cues from the world and pop psychology. We need to take our cues from scripture alone.

I don’t think I do any of the FI believers damage by saying these are generally what they believe. And you know what? I agree with all of it. So, why am I hesitant to throw my lot in with the rest of the FI believers?

Objection #2 Promoters of the FI model tend to make the doctrine of the family a 1st tier doctrine.

What do I mean by 1st tier doctrine? I mean those doctrines that are necessary to be identified as a born-again Christian. Doctrines like heaven and hell, the inerrancy and authority of scripture, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, atonement, justification by faith alone through grace alone, andso on. I don’t know of a single FI theologian that would come out and say that you must have a Biblical view of the family in order to be called a Christian. In fact, at best, the doctrine of the family is a 2nd tier doctrine. Necessary for the spritual health of the church, but certainly not necessary for salvation.

Yet, the attitude that I find in many of these circles is one of placing the doctrine of the family in the 1st tier. And when they say ‘doctrine of the family’ they mean their particular model of family intergration.  Why is this troubling? Because it leads to my third objection…

Objection #3: FI churches tend to be exclusivistic in their relationship with other churches.

Follow the logical progression here and see if this is what you think FI churches are doing:

1. Parents are the primary disciplers of their children.

2. The parents of several families in a FI church study both models and decide that the age-segregated model of small group Bible studies is the best way to disciple their children.

3. The elders and other parents in the church respect the parents’ decision (since they are the primary  disciplers) and allow for those families to disciple their kids in that manner.

Is that what you see happening in FI churches?  I think it’s more like this:

3. The elders and other parents in the church tell those families that there are plenty of other churches in that area that do those kinds of Bible studies and so they should probably move on to one of those churches.

You see, that is what I LOVE about my church. We made room for both! Whether or not it is the most practical way has yet to be determined, but at least we didn’t make otherwise honest, hard working, Godly Christian families choose between ministry structures.

Objection #4 Much of what makes up the FI movement is a knee-jerk reaction to the traditional, program-driven church.

I have met some people in the FI movement that seem to have joined the movement because it was the opposite of the traditional model they grew up in. Maybe they had a bad experience in a traditional church and it’s caused them to go to the other extreme. Instead of exercising self control over their emotions, they let those emotions color their judgment and so accept the first ministry model that comes along that sounds better than what they grew up in.

Never buy into a model as a reaction to the previous model. Let me repeat that: Never buy into a model as a reaction to the previous model. Each model has to stand up under its own scrutiny.

Besides, not all program-driven churches are anti-family. I grew up at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville (membership at about 18,000) and it was program-driven. However, most folks in the FI movement are surprised to learn that FBC Jax didn’t have a children’s church. Dr. Homer Lindsey, pastor of FBC in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s did away with it so that families would sit together on Sunday morning.

He also did away with the children’s bus ministry in the 70′s. Remember when those were popular? What Lindsey discovered was that the parents of those children were not being reached and they were treating Sunday morning church as a babysitter. So, when Dr. Linsdey ended the bus ministry, he taught the congregation that if you want to reach those children with the gospel, the best way to do it is reach the fathers first and this is the responsibility of the families in the church, not some bus captain.

So, you see, it is a matter of to what degree any particular church is family integrated. For those who have given a knee-jerk reaction to the program-driven church, you need to accept the fact that the anicdotal evidence that you’ve gathered doesn’t tell the story for every program-driven church.

Objection #5 The FI church’s exclusivistic nature tends to attract legalistic Christians.

The emotional reaction to the program-driven church combined with the FI church’s tendency to be exclusivistic can make for some odd company. Again, I promised not to name names, but a quick google search will show that the FI movement has attracted many in the old fundamentalist crowd- those folks who believe that dancing, smoking, alcohol in any form (Jesus turned water into grape juice), playing cards, and listening to rock music are all evil and of the devil.

The FI model is very attractive to fundies because it sets up the father as one of only two teachers (the other being the main pastor of the church) of their children. Thus, it eliminates most of the competition as to what the child learns and gives parents greater control. There is also the problem of placing certain social convictions on the same top tier that should be reserved for doctrines having to do with salvation.

There is another odd aspect of the FI movement. It seems to me that the FI model and post-millenialism (or theonomy) go hand-in-hand. FI theologians talk a lot about the role of the family in the Old Testament. They want to make sure we aren’t ignoring the OT mandates concerning parents. I agree with them that we shouldn’t ignore the OT mandates. Indeed, Deuteronomy 6 is a great motivating and inspirational passage for parents. I have used it often. The problem though is when the post-millenialist takes over and says we need to usher in the millenial reign of Christ and the way we do that is by reinstating ALL of the Old Testament mandates. I can’t go into it here, but I have big problems with post-millenialist theology. I’m not saying all FI churches believe in it, but it can lend itself all too easily to that kind of destructive theology.

Objection #6 The FI model is not THE answer to evangelism. Personal responsibility is.

I submit that the program-driven model is also not the answer to evangelism. The gospel can and should be shared within any ministry context. Although there are issues in introducing a seeker or new Christian to the program-driven church, there are also issues in introducing them to an FI church. (see objection #7)

Ministry structures do not lead people to Christ. Gospel-toting people win people to Christ. I know some FI churches personally who are fairly evangelistic and have stirred the baptismal waters regularly. However, I also know some FI churches that do nothing evangelistically. I guess they think that people will magically want to accept Christ by seeing how perfectly their family follows the commands of Christ. Sorry, but they actually need to be told the gospel, not just shown it.

Here is a rhetorical question to ask a family in a FI church: What is your family more likely to get involved with: a church softball league or a city softball league? Which do you think will net better relationships with unbelievers and more of a chance to share the gospel?

Furthermore, there seems to be the mentality within the FI movement that if you raise your kid in the ways of the Lord, that they will be included in the elect. Nobody will ever admit they believe this, but the way they live it out may be entirely different. God is sovereign and therefore not obligated to save anybody because of the effort of the parents. A different way to say it is the Holy Spirit’s regenerative work comes solely from the will of the Father and not the efforts of any man. So, Junior may grow up in a great Christian family and attend an FI church, but leave home at the age of 18 an unregenerage unbelieving pagan. I do believe that God tends to bless those parents who honor him in all they do by bringing salvation to their children, but those parents need to be honest with themselves and admit that A) It doesn’t always happen and B) Their kid’s salvation is based solely on the grace of God, not their parenting skills.

Objection #7 What do you do with singles, divorcees, and parents who send their kids to public schools?

In theory the FI model is better suited than any traditional ministry model in dealing with singles and divorcees. In practice, however this is not always the case. Two things to keep in mind:

1. Singles and divorcees NEVER start out feeling comfortable in a FI setting. So, it will always take a lot of hard work from the families to welcome them in. Also, singles and divorcees need time with each other. They need to know there are others who share the same struggles (not to mention the fact that they may want to meet potential marriage partners).

2. If an FI church shows the characteristics that I have objected to thusfar, then there’s a good chance they’ll look their noses down on anyone who is not married. This attitude is a consequence of placing the doctrine of the family on the 1st tier of doctrines.

As for parents who send their kids to public school: The FI movement is best friends with the homeschool movement. Although I think that homeschooling is a better choice than public schooling (but private schooling better than both if one can afford it), by choosing not to do any activity that segregates the family into age groups, it is an implicit condemnation to anyone who sends their kids to public or private schools. I want to see how a parent of a public schooled kid fits in to a FI church without feeling pressured to homeschool their kids. Again, if it is true that the parent is the primary discipler of their own children and they decide against homeschooling for their children, then the FI church should respect that decision. This isn’t always the case- in fact, there are some FI churches that have written in their covenant that sending your children to public schools is worthy of church discipline!

Objection #8 Lack of any statistical data to help showcase their effectiveness.

I said I wouldn’t quote stats and I’m sticking to it. I did want to point out, however, that many of the family integrated books and articles I have read don’t hesitate to use statistics to show how bad off most traditional churches are, but I have YET to read any serious statistical work done on FI churches. If anybody knows of such a beast, please tell me. It’s the same problem with homeschooling- lack of statistics to back up their claim. Stats don’t tell the whole story, but if done thoroughly and with scientific accuracy, they can be very useful.

In conclusion, I think it is about time we stop thinking of taking sides in this debate and start thinking about where we can come together.  We need to stop treating this debate as if their are only two camps (the family-integrated camp and the program-driven, age-segregated camp) and start thinking in terms of degrees.  To what degree does your church bring families together? To what degree are you meeting the needs of those that do not fit into your model? Answering this question will cause you to tailor-make a ministry model that fits in the context of your church and could avoid some of these fringe elements within this movement (or any movement).

Now you can read my critique of the Traditional, Program Driven Church.

* I recognize that I am critiquing a “model” that I argue is slippery in its definition. My critique is, admittedly, of the stereotypical characteristics of the FI model in general. Not all FI churches have all the problems that I discuss in this blog entry.

Do Youth Believe the Bible?

As a Youth Pastor, I have met several youth who have, at some level, doubted the Bible. It’s not that they want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, but more so that they only want to believe parts of the Bible. So, like Picadilly Cafeteria, they pick and choose what they like and leave the rest behind.

Obviously this is not limited to just youth (middle schoolers/high schoolers). But, what is so surprising is how young CHRISTIAN youth are willing to compromise their faith in scripture. Even as soon as 12 years ago, when I was in high school, I don’t think I met a Christian that had this struggle. It was more typical to see this struggle take place during college. But, I guess with the erosion of the family and the encroachment of secular humanism in the public square and in our schools, it should come as no surprise that this generation of youth are questioning the Bible at a younger age.

And, in typical postmodern fashion, these youth do not totally give up their faith. They’re cool with God, Jesus (even Jesus dying on the cross for them), and most of the attributes of God. But, when it comes to ethical issues such as homosexuality, who they should and should not date or marry, abortion, music, politics, evolution, racism, and their social life- well, they’re more likely to listen to their friends and the culture in general than they are the Bible.

So, is the Bible reliable?  I believe every word of it is. I have studied Bible scholarship that is both approving of and critical of the Bible- specifically textual criticism- and I have found that the best of the critical scholars are unconvincing. But, this blog entry is not about the reliability of the Bible. To read more on that I suggest any book written by FF Bruce, Craig Blomberg, DA Carson, or Bruce Metzger. At this time I am more concerned with the dangers of genuinely born-again Christian youth compromising their view of scripture and what we can do to avoid those pitfalls.

The Dangers of Doubt

Doubting the Bible in some areas and not in others reminds me of the Titanic. When the Titanic was struck by its imfamous iceberg, it ripped several holes in the hull of the ship. Underneath the hull were 16 water-tight compartments that were broken up on purpose in case there was a breach in the hull. It was designed to handle four flooded compartments. Unfortunately, it was ill-designed in that the “water-tight” compartments didn’t go all the way up to deck level. So, the water would fill up one compartment and over flow into another, and another, and – you get the point.

The Titanic is not the Bible in this comparison. It is a young person’s understanding of the Bible. If we do not give our youth a truly water-tight foundation, then that little bit of doubting that you think is just a phase they’re going through, will quickly become full-blown skepticism. Although they may be saved, they will continue to flounder in their spiritual life long into adulthood.

You want to know why a good Christian man or woman ends up divorced? Then start with their understanding of scripture right around the time they were dating their spouse. Oh sure, there are exceptions, but I am pretty certain it has to do with what they thought the Bible said concerning marriage. There are so many youth that I’ve known that are dedicated Christians and are clearly Biblical in so many areas, yet they will scoff at anyone who even dares to tell them their definition of romance, love, dating, or marriage is unbiblical.

And it’s not just dating/marriage. Politics is to be left untouched by the Bible as well. In fact, so strong is the family’s influence on a youth when it comes to politics, I have actually heard youth admit to me that the Bible proved them wrong about a certain issue or the ethics of a candidate. Yet they were going to go ahead and vote for said candidate because they trust their grandfather’s or parent’s opinion more than they do the Bible.

There are certain areas in a teenager’s life that are just off limits to God and His Word. Parents, youth workers, pastors, and concerned friends need to take note of these sensitive areas. These are NOT PHASES! They are to be treated very seriously because you don’t know what is corroding their Christian foundation underneath a so-called phase. What starts out as a one or two-issue problem will quickly snowball into something much more damaging as the youth connect the dots and begin to tell themselves “if the Bible is wrong about THIS, then it may be wrong about THAT as well.”

With as much Bible-centric jargon as I am presenting here, one may think I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures. No, I am not trying to elevate a physical Bible with ink and paper to some mystical level equal to that of God. To do so would idolatry. However, it is God who created us and therefore it is God who gets to decide how He would speak to us. He has clearly shown us that he speaks to us through a book written 2,000 years ago and has stood the test of time. That is why I go to great lengths to keep the Bible on the frontburner of the minds of our youth.

Our Response

So, how do we keep the Bible in the forefront of young Christians’ minds? It is a three-fold response: 1) Parents 2) Pastors/Youth Pastors 3)youth themselves.

1) I mentioned the strength of parental influence in terms of politics. But, it is also true concerning religion. Parents listen too much to pop culture which has told them that their kids’ friends and tv icons are more of an influence than they are (and if they are to win over the affections of their kids, they have to compete with said friends and icons). This is simply not true. When they get older most of them are not going over to the friends’ house for thanksgiving and Christmas- they’re going back to the strongest influence in their life- their parents. That’s because family has the kind of bond only God could have created.

So, parents need to step up and take back their role as the primary discipler of their own children. Have regular Bible devotions with them, constantly bring up issues and how they relate to the Bible, and for petessake, don’t be afraid of answering their questions (or asking them for that matter). Trust me, they may act like their not listening, but they are: “Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

And as I said before: parents should not think that doubts concerning scripture is a phase. Confront it head on (with love) and nip those doubts in the bud.

2) Pastors should understand that their congregation cannot survive by just sucking on the milk of the word. They need meat. Pastors today need to put to bed the old fundamentalist understanding of the “simple gospel” and give these youth the answers that their ever questioning minds demand.

And youth pastors need to spend less time fiddling with their powerpoint lessons and youtube “application” videos and more time actually studying the Bible. I have had questions ask to me by young people that would make Nietzche’s head spin. And I’m going to win them over with cool audio-visual aids? I don’t think so. Not that I’m against those things- but, if you find that your youth pastor is leaving most questions left inadequately answered, then they need to be challenged to study more.

During my first stint as a youth pastor, several youth pastors put their youth groups together so that we could do our own youth camp. The speaker they invited preached on the “more than conquerors” passage throughout the week. Although I have my own issues with the speaker, I thought that his main sermons were quite excellent- and were well-recieved by the youth. But, after camp, one youth pastor mentioned to me, “Yeah, we’re not inviting so-and-so back to speak next year.”  “Why not?” I asked. “Because, the youth need the gospel, not a lecture on theology.”

Not a lecture on theology. I guess the gospel isn’t theology.

No, what they need IS theology- the kind of theology that satisfies their souls and helps them make sense of their world. Youth pastors have maybe two hours a week with their youth. That’s it. For most youth, that’s all they’ll give them. Do we really want to fill those two hours with fluff? Or are we going to do the hard work it takes to break down the deep truths of the gospel into bite-sized pieces that the youth can understand?

3) “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17  Many times a simple helping hand from a peer will do what a parent or youth pastor cannot do. The whole “You just don’t understand me because your too old,” excuse melts away when a Christian peer reaches out to another Christian peer. Benji Thigpen, David Crowe, Jonathan Adams, Eric Snow, Stuart Henslee. These are the names of guys that were in high school the same time I was- guys who had a profound impact on my spiritual development. I looked at these guys and though- geez if they can do it then I sure can. Youth need to challenge, encourage, and keep each other accountable on their view of the Bible.

One more thing: Sometimes the reason why we don’t dig deeper into the lives of young people is because we are afraid of what we may find. We may find that they never turned from their sins and accepted Jesus to begin with. We may find that they don’t really believe. It’s a scary thought for a parent who wants desperately for all of his/her children to be Christian. It’s also a scary thought for a youth pastor to think that the work they put into that teen’s life is for nothing.

Yet, we must ask. As Charles Spurgeon said, “If we are to err, let us err on the side of caution.” It is better to be wrong about a person’s salvation and have a good laugh about it one day when you’re both in heaven, then it is to be wrong about a person’s salvation and be the only one in heaven laughing. It’s not that we are responsible for their salvation (they are and ultimately God is) but we definitely don’t want them to leave this world with any excuses as to why they didn’t believe.

So, yes, let us teach the whole Bible to our youth- not just the easy parts. And if all three parts are functioning together- parents, pastors, and youth- then we will easily see how the word of God is still alive today and still in the business of transforming lives.

reThink Youth Ministry. Is student ministry Working? Decide for yourself…

ReThink Book on Sale at Amazon.com

ReThink Book on Sale at Amazon.com

 

 

 

“I often wonder if perhaps we have moved so far away from the biblical ideal (for youth ministry) that we may not recognize it any longer.”

 

 

 

 

 (edit: You can now read my book review of Wright’s follow-up to Rethink. It’s called ApParent Privilege.)

 

This is the title of the latest book that I have read. reThink, written by Steve Wright and Chris Graves.  There are a plethora of books on the subject of youth ministry, why should anyone care about yet another book?  The reason why this book IS different, is because it is not yet another model. At least not in the sense most of you may be thinking.  Wright does an excellent job of pulling out the common themes/characteristics of  typical modern day youth ministry models (YMM) and treating it as just one model. He then evaluates that model in light of scripture.  What this book seeks to do, is to take a hard look at the current YMM and ask, “Is it Biblical?” If it isn’t, then how fast can we get rid of it and replace it with one that is Biblical?

And YES, all the other youth ministry books claim theirs is the most Biblical, too. The question then is, “What are the fruits of the ‘typical’ modern day YMM?” The entire first chapter of the book deals just with raw data/statistics. And, let me tell you, the evidence is overwhelmingly against the current youth ministry model. Nobody needs statistics to argue for a Biblical YMM (all you DO need is good hermenutics), but when the stats are on your side, it makes your argument that much more potent.

For example: the lowest number cited in regards to student drop-out rate for church membership after high school graduation was 61%; the highest was 88%.  In regards to the tenure of youth pastors, the stat cited was 3.1 years at a given church.  If you were looking at just the bottom line, which I am glad the author does much more than that, then this would be seen as a miserable failure. Even at the low end, 61%… if a college basketball coach averaged a 61% win record every year over the past 10 years, he would no longer have a job. Youth ministries have had this model for over 50 years.

So, what is the typical youth ministry model that Wright rails against? It is hard to describe it in just a few words, but let me try to sum up what Wright thinks are the basic characteristics of a typical youth ministry:

1. There is little to no parental involvement.

2. Parents are seen as competition for the youth pastor.

3. Youth are won over by the youth pastor’s charismatic personality, gimmicks, and entertainment instead of being won over to Christ and to authentic Christian relationships.

4.  Pragmatism, rather than the Bible, is the default method of evaluating ministry effectiveness.

5.  Numbers are the prime indicator of success.

6. The youth group is at best weakly connected with the rest of the church and at worst totally severed.

7. Because of the above mentioned characteristics, far too many youth (presumably even the ones that are truly saved- I’ll get back to this later.) not only graduate from the church when the graduate high school, but they graduate from God.

(I would say that my youth group can be described like this, but it’s difficult for me to do so. That’s because my youth pastor that discipled me in high school endorsed this book. Needless to say, I’m going to have a very interesting phone conversation with him some time in the near future.)

After lambasting this current YMM, he evaluates the only two other choices: Total Family Intergration and what Wright calls a hybrid model; a model that takes the Biblical elements of both family ministry and student ministry and “co-championing” them both together. This hybrid model takes seriously the charge to parents that’s made in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for parents to view themselves as the primary disciplers of their own children. This is the primary principle behind Wright’s argument. If it is true that the parents are the primary discipler of their children, then everything else needs to fall in line behind it.  We can see what this looks like by basically flipping the above-mentioned list on its head:

1. Parents are to be challenged and encouraged to be involved in all aspects of student ministry.

2. Parents are considered as the primary disciplers of their children and partners with the youth pastor.

3. Youth are won over by a gospel-saturated family life (or won over by the friend who comes from a gospel-saturated family life) and, not surprisingly…

4. …by the preaching of God’s word (here’s a great quote from the book about preaching God’s word: “Does the church have the courage to become relevant by becoming Biblical?”).

5. High attendance numbers do not matter nearly as much as retention numbers.

6. The point of the youth ministry is to teach the youth how to operate within the life of the church as a whole, therefore the youth are purposefully trained to operate with other ministries in the church.

7. When these principles are implemented (with a high dose of prayer), then you will see far greater and more lasting fruit as a result.

What worked:

Co-championing both the parents and the youth ministry. I love the thought of “co-championing”! Since this is the thesis of the book, this is where Wright shines. On the one hand, he spends half the time discussing why the parents are the primary discipler of their children. On the other hand, he spends the other half discussing the importance of peer ministry and why parents can’t be the ONLY disciplers.

His sense of honesty and vulnerability. Wright tells a story about the time he bloodied the nose of one of his youth. Obviously, this happened when he was a young youth pastor, but it still takes guts to talk about such an embarrassing ministry faux paux. Because, in this day and age of religious posturing, inflated membership rolls, thick skin, and shallow relationships, his vulnerability and honesty is refreshing to say the least.

Practical application. After laying enough convincing groundwork, Wright gives us a glimpse of how his church implements this vision. Great ideas like a Parent Leadership Team show us newbies how to get started. 

The number of awesome quotes. Wright uses good word economy in this book and has also done his homework in providing some of the most insightful comments by other Christian writers.

What didn’t work:

Before I give a negative critique, I must say that some of these missing links may be left out purposefully for a second book.

Not enough on childhood/teenage conversion.  There is an unspoken controversy regarding conversion. Parents want to believe their kids are saved. Youth pastors want to believe they are leading youth into a genuine relationship with Christ. Yet, the best methods, the most biblical YMM cannot substitute for the regenerate power of the Holy Spirit. This book assumes the salvation of the youth in question and that’s fine for its purposes. It also at least exposes SOME faulty evangelism methods. But, a whole chapter should have been devoted to this issue.

Arguments against total family intergration model of youth discipleship were weak overall. I am very happy Wright at least addressed the ‘other model’. The other model is the one that sees any expression of youth ministry as unbiblical. But, when it comes to reacting against total family intergration, Wright only gives one argument (albeit, a good one) against that other model of ministry. He says we should avoid both extremes (typical YMM and total family intergration), but 90% of the counter-arguments are against the typical YMM. I can think of at least 4 more arguments against total family intergration.

More practical application and troubleshooting. Yes, he poured a lot into unpacking the “parent leadership team” concept, but it would have been nice to have something written about youth who do not have Christian, involved, caring parents. It would have been nice to see MORE of how his youth group does evangelism.

Again, these are all things that can easily be covered in the next book, so my complaints are ultimately only minor.

Thank God this book was written! My hope is that this enters into the church growth circles as an alternative to what’s currently out there. The more exposure this book gets can only mean good things.

 

P.S. Here is another book review by fellow Southern Seminary grad, Tony Kummer: http://saidatsouthern.com/book-review-rethink-by-steve-wright/#comments

and here is the link to the Amazon.com webpage, where you can buy the book:

http://www.amazon.com/reThink-Steve-Wright/dp/1931548692/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1209578207&sr=1-1

Philosophy of youth ministry

I have just been voted in as Minister of youth and families at Amelia Baptist Church in Amelia Island, FL. Great church. Great worship service. Great pastor. Those of you who know me are probably thinking that this youth pastor job is coming out of nowhere. I have been mostly looking at head pastorate jobs in my search for a ministry position.

However, truth be told, I have been praying that God would allow me to be an associate pastor and get under a pastor who is older (and wiser) than I am, but at the same time understand and agree with my philosophy of ministry. Well, the dozen youth pastor jobs I’ve looked into always ended up being a difference in philosophies.  That is, until I met that pastor (Neil Helton) at Amelia Baptist. He and I agree on enough that I felt comfortable accepting the job as youth pastor.

What drew Pastor Neil to me was my philosophy of youth ministry. Although the church is in transition and not everyone is totally on board with it, the church at least felt confident enough to see that this could be the future direction of the church. I have written out my philosophy of youth ministry to be shared with the blogosphere. Feel free to critique it. (And in case you’re wondering, it is going to be in the same vein as Rethink by Steve Wright.) Oh, and this statement includes children because, after all, I am pastor of youth and families.

Philosophy of Family Ministry
Nathan and Amy DeFalco

 

 

Authoritative Source

The Bible is not only without error, it is all-sufficient for guiding us in every area of faith and conduct. It is also our first and final authority for every area of faith and conduct. Because it is sufficient and authoritative for guiding families, we need to look to the Bible first for guidance, as well as we need to be discerning of any source outside the Bible that claims authoritative guidance for families. Any outside source that contradicts, ignores, or denies the wisdom of scripture in regard to the family, should be rejected.

 

Parents

The Bible teaches us that the family is a whole unit and should be treated as a whole unit. The head of the family is the father, with both father and mother being ordained by God to be the primary discipler of their children. They are the primary teacher concerning doctrine, behavior, and the ins and outs of daily life. When the father is not present, the mother is to assume head of the household and, with the help of God and the church, be the provider and nurturer of the home. It is important to the spiritual life of the child that their parents bring their children to appropriate church services and activities. It is equally important that the things taught to them at church are reinforced in the home.

 

The parent should also see themselves as the primary educator of their children. Although the Bible is silent concerning the mode of education (whether it be private school, public school, or home schooling), the Bible makes it very clear that the parent is to shape the mind of their child helping them to see the world through the light of scripture.

 

Finally, the parent is also responsible for sharing the gospel with their unbelieving children. Since all children start out as unbelievers, all children need to repent and believe in Jesus. The parents can do their part by teaching their children the meaning of salvation, by loving them in a Christ-like way, and by taking their children to church so they can see the gospel at work.

 

Family Pastor

The family/youth/children’s pastor should see themselves as primarily an equipper of the parents to disciple their children and secondarily as a discipler of their children. He is to be both a pastoral leader to and a servant of the families in the church. He will provide resources for parents and children. He will provide group and individual discipleship to parents and children. He will provide counsel for families in need. He will facilitate programs, events, conferences, retreats, etc. that will bring families together and will fulfill the goals of the family/youth ministry.

 

Finally, this pastor is responsible for equipping families to reach out to unchurched and unbelieving families. Parents are to reach out to parents and are to encourage their children to reach out to their peers. The Family Ministry of the Church will help to reinforce this through outreach events, local mission projects, regional mission projects, and overseas mission projects.

 

Children/youth workers

Workers should have a basic knowledge of the Bible and a passion for children/youth. Workers should be flexible and available to meet a variety of needs as they come up, but  the gifting and passion of volunteers will be made use of as much as possible . The children/youth workers are the “parents” when the children are away from their parents. This is especially true for those children/youth whose parents are not members of the church. When a child comes to church without a parental guardian, the workers are to assume responsibility for the ministry, behavior, and safety of that child.

 

They also will commit to being trained when training is available so that they will know how to meet the individual needs of a child/youth that are unique to the age group they’re working with.

 

Children

My hope is to lead all involved to love, care for, and to share the gospel with all children (regardless of race, background, or special needs). This includes teaching children to come to church with the right attitude. A right attitude sees church as a time to learn about God.  We will also lead the children to know what it is like to serve other children and the church in general. And finally, we hope to lead the children to lead others to faith in Christ.

 

Programs should be designed to meet all of the above goals. Furthermore, programs will be centered on the family as a whole. Therefore all programs should encourage parent participation. Since the program serves the children and not the other way around, they should always be reevaluated, tweaked, or done away with and replaced with programs that better serve the children and the objectives that are already in place. (This includes the nursery, as I see nursery time- at least for 2 to 4 year olds as being a time to teach the children about God in a way that is appropriate for their age.)

 

Youth

The parents, the youth, and the church are to view middle (and especially) high school aged students as adults-in-training. Although they are still emotionally developing at this stage, they are able to take responsibility for their actions and to serve the church. 

As they show evidence of their salvation and show maturity in faith, they will be given more and more responsibilities in the church. The hope is that by the time the youth graduates from high school, they will be ready and willing to integrate into the adult life and adult ministries in the church.

 

Special Issues

 

Childhood Conversion: A child’s conversion is the most important event to take place in their life. I was converted at the age of 7, and my wife accepted Christ when she was 6. However, we believe it is important that children truly understand the gospel before they are baptized and accepted into membership of the church.

 

Therefore, when a child makes a decision to accept Christ, I want to personally council with them before they are baptized and accepted into membership. I also want to council with the parents, so they understand the importance of their child’s decision and that they understand the Biblical definition of salvation.

 

Family Counseling: The Bible has many competitors in the ‘market’ of family counseling. The church should respond by renewing its efforts to place the Bible in the center of family counseling. I will do this by encouraging all those who are interested in family counseling to become trained and certified in biblical counseling.  In general, the parents will be taught the difference between biblical and unbiblical approaches to counseling.

 

Children’s Church: Since the parent is the primary discipler of their children, it will be up to them as to whether or not the church does a children’s church. It will be my responsibility to inform the parents of the pros and cons of doing children’s church (as opposed to keeping them in the main service). The other adults in the church should not look down upon parents who choose to keep their children in the service, rather they should encourage them and help them.