The Family Ministry Generalist

by Frank Trimble, Director of Training and Consulting •

Recently, I met with a member of our Colorado convention with experience in church planting, and I learned so much from our time together. We talked about church planting, Southern Baptists in Colorado, family ministry, and so much more. It was helpful to hear his heart for pastors and to learn more about the culture of the Western part of our nation. He helped me to understand that in order to be a Colorado church planter, a pastor must function as a generalist.

In larger state conventions, the ability to specialize ministry efforts becomes more of a likelihood. Where resources abound, programs tailor-fit to the specialized needs of congregations typically arise. So much good is done through so many of these efforts. However, many existing churches, and most church plants, do not have the personnel or finances to carry out specialized programing or staffing structures. While this might be a discouragement to some, the church planter acquainted with the idea of serving his church as a generalist, welcomes the idea as if it were a familiar friend. While specialized children and youth ministry programing can be amazing, the generalist pastor and his leadership team are given the blessing of spending time working on the family ministry culture of their church before the need for specialized staff arises. 

However, before we launch into the idea of family ministry from a generalist perspective, let’s define family ministry:

One of my favorite definitions comes from Dr. Timothy Paul Jones of Southern Seminary:

Family ministry is “the process of coordinating the practices of a church so that members develop diverse discipling relationships and so that parents are acknowledged, equipped, and held accountable as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.”

Parents discipling their kids within the home is more likely to happen when the senior pastor leads out in a family ministry culture change. 

I want to encourage Colorado pastors by saying that you can acknowledge, equip, and hold accountable the parents in your current or future church in the discipleship mission they have been given by God. You don’t need a budget or multiple staff members to get this ball rolling. Here are some tips on how to do that:

1) Emphasize the importance of what happens on Sunday mornings. Sometimes, Sunday morning worship services can feel like large Sunday school classes for adults. Make strides to ensure that the whole family feels welcome in the main service. Children will benefit from regularly interacting with multiple generations on Sunday mornings. 

2) Be sure to talk about home discipleship from the stage. It is so important to have lead pastors take their place as the lead vision caster for family ministry. If the lead pastor gets it, the congregation is more likely to get it. This is perfect for the family ministry generalist because, frankly, it’s often one man! Parents discipling their kids within the home is more likely to happen when the senior pastor leads out in a family ministry culture change. This change can begin with publicly acknowledging that the church cannot do the job of the parent. 

3) Give attention to discipling and training the fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers in your congregation. These saints need help as they seek to obey Deut. 6:4-9, Psalm 78:1-8, Ephesians 6:4, and many more. These leaders need to be encouraged and equipped in their role at home and at church. Also, as you disciple them, equip them to always be looking out for those in the church that do not have Christian parents. Remember, while the task of discipleship is urgent, it does not happen right away. Protect yourself from the temptation of relying on large events and evaluating success numerically. As you already know, real discipleship takes time. We want a culture change, not just programmatic success. 

4) Provide opportunities for parents to be lovingly held accountable. This could be accomplished through community group structures, discipleship groups, family worship training and follow-up, or other structures that probably already exist in your church’s culture. Think about ways to redeem what is already there to accomplish the function of accountability. Be cautious when considering adding another program to your weekly schedule. Families are already too busy. Without intentionally baking accountability into the family ministry pie, nothing lasting will happen. 

This list is not exhaustive. I guarantee that if you and I were to sit down at a coffee shop, we could come up with many other ideas. However, these give you an idea of how approachable, conceptually, these ideas can be. Plus, none of these require money. You can spend quite a bit to work through strategies like these if you choose, but you certainly don’t have to. Here’s the great part, making these simple adjustments will help you establish a healthy family ministry culture within your church when the need for specialized staff comes!