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/ 21 February 2018

Family ministry and faith communities

I’m sure if you’ve been paying attention you will have noticed a growing change in the world of children’s ministry.

Over a good few years there has been an increasing reassertion of the primary role of the family in the faith of a child with the emphasis shifting away from the church. This has been supported by a few bits of research, notably the report by Theos ‘Passing on Faith’.

This concluded that the most reliable way of passing on faith was through parents who demonstrated their faith through their lives and their parenting.

This is obviously a very welcome development, it sets us up to fail if we think that an hour on Sunday is going to cut it for a child growing up in a world where the Christian faith is just one of a few equally valid options from which they can choose from or indeed pick a few parts of.

However as the pendulum swings back towards family there are a few keys points I’d like to make as we think about this.

The family now is not the family then.

There’s a really important point to make when talking about family ministry is that there is really no parallel between what we mean when we say family and what they were in Bible times.

We generally mean nuclear family, just parents and their kids, units of three, four or five generally all living in the same home. In the Bible the word family is something altogether bigger; upwards of 60 people of multiple generations all invested in working together to maintain what is basically an economic unit.

If faith is formed in the family in the Bible then it’s formed in units bigger than a lot of the churches that children go to today.

To try and draw a direct comparison sets families up to fail.

Don’t allow this to become a stick to beat parents with.

There are a lot of stats flying around about how hard life can be for parents raising children in this generation.

The big issue in this era is time – families are incredibly stretched by the need to earn the money they need to pay for housing. Working jobs requiring increasingly long hours.

In addition to this, finding the time to get their kids to all the clubs and activities that are now a thing makes life incredibly stretched.

Too many resources in family ministry don’t seem to get this.

A lot of families feel they are only surviving and to ask them to instigate a family Bible study and devotional time just adds another thing to feel guilty about when we fail.

Yes, families must play a key role in in the nurture of the faith of their kids but it must be presented in a life-giving, affirming way and not in a way that adds to the pressure and fear of failure.

I suppose the more I think about this the more I realise the old adage from Westerhoff still rings true: a child’s faith grows best in the context of a multi-generational faith community where they belong.

In the Bible, this unit was unquestionably the family and it’s easy to see how it did an amazing job.

However, life is not like that now, so instead we need to find a new way of providing that. My thought now I suppose is that the child needs to belong to a network of mutually supporting faith communities.

One is in the home, another is in the church, but we will need to find others too so that the child is surrounded with examples of faith to learn from and journey with as they grow.


About Sam Donoghue

Sam Donoghue is Head of Children and Youth for the Diocese of London, a keen cyclist and a supporter of Everton FC.

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