The current wave of books and conferences in church circles focuses on the role of parents in passing on the faith to the next generation. This wave of focus most often quotes Deuteronomy 6:7, where the children of Israel were admonished to “teach (spiritual truths) diligently to your children and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house…” The clear implication is that parents have the primary responsibility to teach God’s truth to their children. Deuteronomy 6, or D6, as the annual conference is titled, is the rallying cry of this movement (and the basis for this website's name). The D6 movement is a reaction against the view that church leaders knew best how to train children. Sunday School, professional Children’s Ministries, Youth Ministry, Children’s Church, and Church Camp all expressed the move to outsource spiritual education to the specialists at church. Many parents welcomed the release from the burden of spiritual training, and the organized church was glad to try to fill the void. As a children’s minister myself, it strokes my ego and gives me job security to see myself as the expert guiding all the children of my church to the Lord. But with record numbers of churched kids leaving their faith, many Christian leaders rightly questioned methods that ignored the importance of parents, and frankly, weren't working.
What we see with the D6 movement is a pendulum swinging away from the church and toward the parent as primary in spiritual training. Yet problems inevitably crop up when one institution tries to do without the other. The solution, of course, is not either-or. The solution is to answer this question: “What is the proper balance between church and home in the process of producing godly children?” Since God instituted both church and family, surely Scripture is not silent on this matter. What does the Bible say? We may agree with Deuteronomy 6, but let’s examine other Bible passages to be sure we have the full counsel of Scripture. It is always helpful when determining God’s view of a matter to look at the foundational passages. In other words, go to Genesis.
God’s Original Plan:
God established His creation and crowned it with Adam. But God said early on it was not good for man to be alone, so God brought Adam a helper and instituted marriage. The purposes of marriage may be manifold but at least one of those purposes was so that man could “be fruitful and multiply.” Genesis 1:27-28 tells us that God established the family. When God commanded them to multiply, both Adam and Eve were made in God’s image and innocent of sin. They were in the truest sense godly images. They were commanded then to reproduce more of the same; more godly images. We are told in Malachi 2:15 that God made man and woman one so that He might “seek godly offspring.” It was thus to the husband and wife that God gave the job of producing godly children.
God’s Plan Redeemed:
Soon man fell and no godly image could be reproduced because the original was marred. And so, God began another plan of redemption. Other institutions were needed. Clans and nations came about. A peculiar nation was created as the apple of God’s eye, and man’s marred image would be redeemed by a future messiah from Israel. Finally, in God’s plan, Jesus built His church, a community of believers with many of the same attributes and roles as families.
In the Old Testament nation of Israel and in the New Testament church, there are responsibilities for mutual care. God commanded Israel to care for orphans and widows. In the Old Testament, there was a clear presumption that a father would care for and protect his children. This is clear from how often the nation was commanded to care for the fatherless. (No command was needed for a father or mother to care for their own.) There are 42 OT references to the fatherless, most of those commanding the nation to care for their needs and include them in their feasts. Third year tithes were given specifically for the Levites, the widows and the fatherless. Families were typically not nuclear as they are today. Children were raised in large groups including aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. This order was carried over into the church, with parents given the primary responsibility of care for children, but with commands for the church body to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27).
So, from the beginning, God held parents responsible (especially men – Ephesians 6:4) for the spiritual training of children, with the community having a clear but secondary role. Let’s study several verses that describe two groups within the church with roles unique to each. The Bible describes specific roles for all members of the church body, with certain additional roles for leaders:
Church leader’s role:
- Preach and teach the word of God to the church members, which would include all the redeemed regardless of age - 2Tim 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
- Equip the saints (parents and youth) for the work of ministry through resources & counseling and through training events - Eph 4:11-12 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Church members’ role:
- Stir one another up to do the good works God has ordained. - Heb 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
- Share the celebrations and trials of the faith community (dedication, baptism, graduation, etc.) Rom 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
- Exercise church discipline and gentle rebuke - Gal 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
- Help brothers and sisters sacrificially - Gal 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Given these clear and delineated roles within the church, we still must determine how to flesh these out in our culture. Before we turn out attention to specific ways churches do family ministry, let’s summarize what we learned from the verses above. First, church leaders must have a robust preaching and teaching ministry from God’s Word. Because adults must first have the light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit working in them before they can teach any truth to their children, teaching of parents has to be a focus. Then, the discipleship of church members must include the fellowship, close contact, and encouragement that result in practical holiness. God designed His church to provide both the truth that comes through the knowledge of His Word and the mutual encouragement of brothers in Christ. Family Ministry, and indeed all ministry in God’s church, must include both.
Based on the type of church one attends, there are different approaches to blending the influence of home and church. That they must blend is a given. How to do so is as unique as each church body, but several models are emerging. All the models have at least this in common – there is a preaching ministry where all or almost all the members hear a message from a preaching minister. The leaders then determine how much emphasis is given to the role of parents in spiritual training. In some churches no sermons touch on this issue. In some churches, this issue is a central focus and is a constant theme. Most churches fall in between. After the preaching ministry, then, there are various ways churches structure themselves to address the spiritual development of children.
Some models of family ministry:
Traditional model – Sunday School and all other programs are conducted within age groups. Leaders direct Sunday School and other discipleship programs, preach, and teach. Leaders create events and recruit lay leaders in these ‘silos’. It’s assumed that children learn what they need to know as they attend church programs.
Puritan (Family Integrated) model – All members worship and learn together, no divisions on Sunday. Fathers (and mothers) have sole responsibility. Leaders preach and teach parents with children present. Parents are accountable to teach children at home. According to the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, these churches “reject the church’s implementation of modern individualism by fragmenting the family through age-graded, peer-oriented, and special-interest classes, thus preventing rather than promoting family unity.”
Family Based model – These churches organize programs according to ages and interests but overlay intentional activities and training events to bring families together. Family ministry, parent training, and multi-age activity is added to the traditional model.
Family Equipping model - These churches retain some age-segregated ministries but “restructure the congregation to partner with parents at every level of ministry so that parents are acknowledged, equipped, and held accountable for the discipleship of their children.” This restructuring is a core value of the church leadership and so penetrates all other ministries. They often employ parent training events that tie to ‘milestones’ in the life of the child or church.
Within any model, the parent has the final say by cooperating with his church’s model, ignoring the model, or supplementing the model. Ultimately, God has the final say by intervening in a person’s life to change the heart. Even the child who grows up with no spiritual training has the witness of Creation, and God can bring them to repentance. It’s good that we remember that, and give God the glory. By remembering this important fact, we also are prompted to pray for children, regardless of our model for family ministry.