Several years ago, one youth ministry writer took this perspective on family ministry: “There is not now, nor is there likely ever to be, an identifiable programmatic animal known as ‘family ministry.’” Perhaps he’s right. Maybe family ministry will metamorphose so radically from place to place that it defies precise denotation. Yet, even if definitions of family ministry do remain a bit slippery, specific models and structures for family ministry are desperately needed. Church leaders need to know how to plan ministries that draw parents and children together instead of driving them apart (Mal. 4:6; Luke 1:17). Congregations need practical ministry models that guide parents to embrace principal responsibility for their children’s spiritual formation. We in the family-equipping movement are specifically seeking practices of family ministry that are driven and defined by a Scripture-saturated plan for equipping parents to embrace primary responsibility for their children’s discipleship.

Which brings us to the perspective on the meaning of “family ministry” that we’re promoting here—a definition that’s far from the final word, but one that’s rooted in research from many family-ministry practitioners and professors. Here’s what we mean by “family ministry”: The process of intentionally and persistently realigning a congregation’s proclamation and practices so that parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as the persons primarily responsible for the discipleship of their children.Such a perspective does notabsolve the church of its responsibility to partner with persons from every age-grouping and social background in the task of discipleship—including divorced persons, never-married singles, children from single-parent households, and children of pre-Christian parents. What this definition recognizes is that God designed families to serve as the foremost framework for children’s spiritual formation. The family is a normative context for the discipleship of children. Every Christian parent is, therefore, responsible to engage personally in the formation of his or her child’s faith.

This definition also recognizes that “family ministry” requires far more than a slight tweaking of present paradigms of youth or children’s ministry. Several popular ministry models whose titles include the word “family” fall short because they treat family ministry as nothing more than a fresh form of youth ministry. While the intent of these models is commendable, family ministry is not merely one more method for doing youth ministry. Family ministry is also not another church program that a pastor can add to the present array of programs. Such a programmatic approach, while well-intended, is not what this we intend here when we talk about “family ministry.” Family ministry represents a fundamentally different way of doing church. Full-fledged family ministry entails more than the addition of one more purpose or program. It requires persistent and intentional reorientation of the entire church’s perspective on the processes of evangelism and discipleship.

[Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from the book, Perspectives on Family Ministry edited by Timothy Paul Jones.Used by Permission.]