Do Parents Need the Gospel Really?

March 31, 2015
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In recent years, there’s been a clarion call for a specific type of ministry that impacts several other ministries. It’s called family ministry. Sounds new, intriguing, and refreshing. Most bible believing Christians don’t have a good grasp of what family ministry truly is, yet it’s taking over like gang busters. And for that I’m excited….with a seatbelt.

What seems to have happened is a current trend choosing to ignore the past while charging forward. In other words, churches are not facing their own music of how poorly they’ve done and structured family ministry. They’d rather talk about the here and now as if they can avoid past repeated mistakes by not addressing them. To go along with that, churches offer a quaint view of family ministry to their members and visitors. Perhaps bogging them down with historical purview isn’t quite ideal. I get that. I also get that if folks nowadays don’t know where something came from, a technique that most churches only use when attempting to hide something, they can feel as if what they’re doing is new and inventive and thereby not possible to be critiqued. However, it’s imperative that we first talk about the church, the gospel, history of family ministry, and who all should be the focus of this ministry.

The church is the universal body of believers all over the world that has been given a task, a duty, one and only assignment by the head of the church, Jesus Christ. The mission Jesus gave was for believers to go make disciples. Sounds easy and simple, right? Well, yes and no. Disciples of Jesus are set on being like Jesus. They do that by reading and obeying what they’ve been taught in the Scriptures. These disciples then go to the lost in their homes, families, and out in the world to make more disciples. Their goal? Help these new disciples be like Jesus and go make more disciples. Why mention this? The church is intentionally being about fashioning certain ministries that are considered must-haves and the church creates new ministries as well. And yet I wonder how often the sole mission of the church is seen, stated, and targeted as the goal of each and every ministry?

In order for disciples to be made, they must believe the gospel. Lots of ways to define the gospel so what I have to say is nothing new or improved. The gospel is the understanding that God created the first humans in his image, and every other human being, to make much of their creator and fill the world with more image bearers; sin entered every created being and creation, and has been a hindrance to producing more image bearers; then Jesus was both promised to come and overturn the curse of humanity and creation and in due time he did just that with an obedient life fulfilling the law of God and dying in the stead of those who will believe in Jesus dying their death, being given his perfect life, rising 3 days later, and sitting beside his daddy in heaven. As the ones who don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus, they’re told this most precious story ever to be told, and they can repent and believe that Jesus paid their penalty.

The history of family ministry is crucially not on a need-to-know basis (much like the Reformation or the Puritans impact on the church), but on a must know basis. It’s important that the word ‘family’ isn’t substituted into children and youth. Last time I checked, little kids and puberty laced teens don’t make up families. They do have parents, and those parents do need to be ministered to. But that’s for another blog post.

The history of family ministry is quite extensive and not nearly as new (70 yrs old) as some might have us believe, though it’s never been codified or defined as it is today. And I owe almost all of my knowledge of this topic to my old professor, Timothy Paul Jones. The early church fathers were quite adamant about parents, mainly fathers, raising up their children according to Ephesians 6:4. The Didache and Letter of Barnabas spoke to practices being done in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Men like Polycarp, Clement of Rome, and Chrysostom weighed into this with instruction for fathers. In fact, in the 3rd century all the generations worshiped together, though sitting separately. So churches have been multi-generational for quite some time. A practice that was consistently taught and carried out until the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, fathers were taken away from the homes due to working responsibilities, so then the onus was placed on the mother, and sometimes grandparents. Once the time of the Reformation came, you had figures like Martin Luther calling fathers the bishops and priests of their home in efforts to refocus them on what’s most important, and that is to train up their children and not simply leave it to the wife to handle. Broken homes and absentee fathers isn’t a new thing to the life of the Church, it’s just become more highlighted thereby creating more of a frenzy.

Which brings me to my final point. Who all should be the focus of a family ministry? Far too often the children and youth are the only focus. Parents are simply told of the church’s plans and expected to assimilate. Meanwhile, they meet with other parents to talk about everything under the sun except parenting. It’s become painstakingly clear to me that pastors and parents feel as if the gospel of Jesus Christ can speak to the heart and outward actions of our lives except for parenting minus the reciting of Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 and Proverbs 22. We’ve punted the ball more than we’ve trudged up and down the field enduring the pitfalls. Parents need the gospel and need it to be explained in its fullness so that they can do with every pastor on this earth combined cannot do, and that’s have a more direct impact on their kids. They can model grace, forgiveness, redemption, mercy, love, community, patience, and so on better than any senior or youth pastor or Awana volunteer. Not knocking those for speaking into their lives, just stating the reality.

So yes the parents need the gospel because it speaks to how they parent and discipleship of their kids. Yes the church gets to speak to this because of the gospel and because the multi-generational emphasis is a tool Titus 2 and early church history speak loud and clear. Pastors get to influence families holistically as they preach. Small groups get to do the same as they teach, dissect, and discuss truths the pastor can’t do Sunday morning. And those nuclear families get to practice and preach this throughout the week as they’re around each other learning how to practice the one-another’s in a sea of love as shown by the Godhead.