I apologize for the hiatus in my interaction with Perspectives on Family Ministry. We will now resume our regular programming.
Part 1 consists of four chapters written by Timothy Paul Jones on why every church needs family ministry. By relating both personal experience and historical precedent, he does an excellent job of setting up the issues to be discussed in the book.
As he relates in chapter 1 ("Confessions of a Well-Meaning Youth Minister"), his experience as a youth minister led him to ask, "What if this separation between students and adults - something I had been trained to see as a solution - has actually been part of the problem? What if God never intended youth ministry staff members to become the primary sustainers of students' spiritual lives? What if something is profoundly wrong with the entire way the church has structured ministries to youth and children?"
Excellent questions, I say. So why has contemporary youth ministry followed the path of dis-integration? Jones answers that a single false assumption is the cornerstone of this flawed model. "The false assumption is simply this: Parents are not the primary persons responsible for their children's Christian formation" (13, emphasis original). Therefore he suggests that "this model is not biblical, and the results of this approach have not consistently reflected God's intentions for His people" (13). Instead, God has designed the family as the primary context for discipleship of young people.
Chapter 2 develops this last thought in a helpful way. There are some tasks, Jones suggests, which are simply too significant to delegate to someone else - "taking your spouse on a date, for example." No one else can do that job for you. In a similar way, the parents' responsibility to be the primary disciple-makers of their children is too important to be given to anyone else. This was the historic expectation of the church. Although churches have always engaged in some kind of age oriented ministry, and parents have always struggled to disciple their children, modern churches have developed an unprecedented mindset - ministry professionals are supposed to give children the spiritual training they need. While the vast majority of Christian parents verbally acknowledge that they are responsible to disciple their children, most of them rely on the church to do it for them.
So how did we get to where we are today? Chapter 3 provides the historical contexts for family ministry. Jones provides a crisp and accurate historical overview of twentieth century views on young people and ministry to young people, noting especially the invention of the teenager, the rise of age-focused ministries, and the release of parental responsibility. Bravo to Jones for this chapter.
Given where we are today, what do we do about it? This is the main question that drives the book. In chapter 4 Jones sets up the discussion between three models of family ministry.
Beginning next week, Lord willing, I will see if I can go a few rounds with the protagonists of each model without getting KO'd myself. It should be fun. I hope you can all get ringside seats.