Serving as a family pastor for the past seven years and having been a children’s pastor for fourteen years, I have come to see ministry to the families of a church is not a luxury but a necessity. I believe family ministry matters more than anything else the church can do and here is why.
1. A society is as strong as the families that comprise it.
Aristotle wrote that the family is nature’s established association for the supply of mankind’s everyday wants. John Paul II further develops this idea.
John Paul II said the following of the link between family and society.
“The family has vital and organic links with society, since it is its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of service to life: it is from the family that citizens come to birth and it is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself”
Aristotle saw the value of family without being able to see the purpose of family. The purpose of families is to show a watching world the covenant-keeping love of Christ through the sacrificial love of husbands and wives for one another. It is also through families that the world sees our need for a perfect father through imperfect ones.
2. We must teach our kids to lose their lives to find true life.
We live in a society that values freedom of choice, freedom of everything without constraint and it’s literally killing us. Pastors need to articulate where freedom is found. Oz Guinness in his book A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future sums up our passionate pursuit of freedom and where it leads.
Life is a project, and self-creation is all. Everything fixed, fated, given or commanded is out. In its place are millions of choices offered to us as freedom, for freedom today is another word for possibility, and the illusion of infinite possibility is conjured out of the magic of endless choice. Call it “doing your own thing,” call it “authenticity,” or call it “following your inner freedom,” but the effect is the same. Gone is everything that comes from the higher and the outside or that is passed down or predetermined by others. What is authentic now is what has been designed, decided, determined by each of us ourselves, acting out of our right to be ourselves and to be let alone. After all, life today is all about each of us. It’s all up to us, it’s all ours to choose, and it’s ours to choose without coercion or interference. As today’s secularists admit wryly, they once thought they were atheists, until they woke up and realized they were god.
Kids need to know that freedom isn’t the highest value in the kingdom of God. It’s accountability and authority. Because we are accountable to a God who made everything and because we belong to him, we have great comfort in the midst of dark and painful days that we are not our own, but we belong to him. Kids and families are running from the very thing that brings comfort and peace.
3. The best place to ground the next generation in theology is when they are young.
Kids need proper theology because they think thoughts about God all the time. The question is, are those thoughts true? Are those thoughts good? Pastors who minister to kids and to youth often lean too much on gimmicks and fun (I’ve been guilty of this myself) when kids are dying to know what is true. Our funny stories must point to something other than our own need for affirmation. They must point to a transcendent God who loves us because he loves us. The problem with so many kids who are walking away from faith is the stories we tell are not compelling and not grounded in the gospel. Have fun, do crazy things, but every chance you get, show them Jesus. Show kids how Jesus is on every page of their Bible. Tell them how he has done amazing things in every season of your life.
4. Give parents the tools, the opportunities, the guidance they need to lead their kids.
The best thing a youth or kids’ pastor can do is disciple parents through their kids. Allow parents to be the spiritual giants in the eyes of their kids by giving them the tools they need to lead their kids. Remind them they have the Holy Spirit of God to guide and lead them in this. When I started helping in youth ministry decades ago the youth pastor was the cool older brother who was way cooler than mom and dad. In fact, mom and dad got in the way much of the time. I remember hearing youth pastors say “Your parents don’t get you but we do.” This could not be further from what is needed. We live in a transient culture. It is a rare thing that people live in the same house, stay in the same town, or attend the same church for their whole lives. Parents never were the enemy and today they have never been more needed as an ally.
The idea of children’s ministry and youth ministry started off as a novel idea in the 70’s and 80’s. It has turned into something that is vital. If we as a church fail to reach our children with the Gospel, we have failed indeed. We live in a complex world where we have to fight for simplicity. I love how Susana Wesley simply describes how God loves us. She said, “He loves us because he loves us.” Not because he needed to or because we deserved it. That is what our kids and families need to hear over and over again. He loves us because he loves us.