Modern & Contemporary Approaches to Family Ministry & Discipleship

     family ministry

The future of the church will largely depend on the success of family ministry. While there are multiple approaches to family ministry and discipleship, Randy Stinson could not be more correct in his assertion that: “Family ministry is necessary and significant because families are under siege, because husbands and fathers have been marginalized, because what we have been doing is ineffective, because the church is a family, and because families are wanting to be led.”[1] Timothy Paul Jones demonstrates the following four models of modern/contemporary family ministry: (1) Educational-Programmatic Ministry Model, (2) Family-Based Ministry Model, (3) Family-Equipping Ministry Model, and (4) Family-Integrated Ministry Model. However, before analyzing the strengths and weaknesses behind each approach, it is important to note Jones openly admits, “None of these models is absolutely exclusive of the others… [and his] goal is not to convince readers that one of these models is better than the others.”[2] Given this disclaimer, Jones make several things clear: “Every church is called to some form of family ministry, Scripture is the supreme and sufficient source for how to do ministry, God has called parents – and especially fathers – to take personal responsibility for the Christian formation of their children, and each generation needs one another.”[3]

Of these four models, the Family-Equipping Ministry Model seems most biblical and relevant because as Jones illustrates, “Although age-organized programs and events still exist, the church is completely restructured to draw the generations together, equipping parents, championing their role as primary disciple-makers, and holding them accountable to fulfill this role.”[4] Most churches are made up of Abrahams, Isaacs, and Jacobs and for the mutual health of the church; it is vital to reconnect these segregated age groups to one another. Dan Burrell strengthens this view by explaining, “Spiritual authority in the home is crucial, so application can be derived… [Furthermore,] the church could never and should never replace the role of parents who God placed as the primary disciple makers in the home.”[5] God calls every believing parent to train his or her children in the Christian faith and this model can be traced back to Abraham (Genesis 18:19), Moses (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:1-12; Exodus 12:25-28), and any Jewish home as the primary place for spiritual training (Proverbs 1:8). Jones further demonstrates, “When evangelism, worship, and discipleship for children and youth occur in isolation from, and, at times, with disdain for, their counterparts, it is difficult to see how the hearts of parents and children can consistently be turned toward one another.”[6]

The Educational-Programmatic Ministry Model forms various silos of ministry, which rarely touch one another. This model cares more about convenience for the family’s schedules and needs than the spiritual formation of the next generation. Burrell explains, the parent’s responsibility is to disciple his or her children, in order for the Holy Spirit to cultivate the soil and seeds that have been planted. However, if the needs and convenience of the parents are put first, this model fails. The Family-Based Model takes a step in the right direction by intentionally drawing generations together and encouraging parents to take a more active role in the lives of children, but it falls short in still segregating the various generations. There is a central vision and mission, but when a ministry is created that does not point back to that vision and mission, silos are created and walls are put up. Jones explains, “Whereas family-based churches develop intergenerational events and activities within current structures, family-equipping ministry reworks the church’s entire structure to call parents to disciple their children at every level of the church’s work.”[7] Lastly, the Family-Integrated Model is by far the most radical way to do family ministry. This model completely does away with all age-graded classes and events, which means there are no youth groups, no children’s church, and no grade-segmented Sunday school classes.[8] Paul Renfro adheres to this position and views each scripturally ordered household as a building block, which when put together forms the local church. While the notion of parents bearing more responsibility for the evangelism and discipleship of their children is biblically sound, completely doing away with all age-related ministries seems counterproductive to the overall goal of producing spiritually mature followers of Christ. Jones concludes, “Although there is widespread agreement that churches ought to do family ministry, there is little agreement regarding what family ministry looks like. And there is even less agreement when it comes to the question of how to implement a family ministry.”[9]

Ultimately, as George Barna emphasizes, “The primary formation of a child’s faith is not a job for specialists; it is a job for parents.”[10] This means the primary role of the church needs to focus on training parents to embrace their God-given primary responsibility for instructing children about God, in order for them to grow spiritually mature. As Burrell emphasizes, “Training up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) is a proverb and not a promise. Bruce K. Waltke demonstrates how, “The relatively rare imperative dedicate ḥănōk (train) means, to start the youth off with a strong and perhaps even religious commitment to a certain course of action.”[11] Burrell furthers this statement by stressing the importance of direction. It does not matter how fast or how far one goes, if he or she is headed in the wrong direction. Ultimately, the training up of a child essentially takes a village, but it must begin in the home, with the parents. This, of course, is in an ideal setting where both parents are present and are also followers of Christ. However, the unique challenge the church faces today is how to adapt a family ministry model, which ministers to what researchers have defined as the fatherless generation.


Barna, George. Revolutionary Parenting. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007.

Burrell, Dan. “Why the Topic of Family Discipleship is Important.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 11:17. (accessed March 21, 2017).

Estes, Daniel J. Hear, My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1 – 9. Edited by D.A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Study Guide Edition. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005.

Renfro, Paul et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views. Edited by Timothy Paul Jones. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2009.

Thompson, Tad. Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design. Adelphi, MD: Cruciform Press, 2011.

Tripp, Tedd and Margy Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2008.

Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Revised and Updated 2nd Edition. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2005.

Waltke, Bruce K. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976, 203.

Wright, Steve and Chris Graves. ApParent Privilege: That the Next Generation Might Know… Royal Palm Beach, FL: InQuest Ministries, 2008.

[1] Paul Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, ed. Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2009), 1-3.

[2] Ibid., 45.

[3] Ibid., 45-47.

[4] Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 52.

[5] Dan Burrell, “Why the Topic of Family Discipleship is Important,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 11:17. (accessed March 21, 2017).

[6] Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 19.

[7] Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 44.

[8] Ibid., 42.

[9] Ibid., 24.

[10] George Barna, Revolutionary Parenting (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 12.

[11] Bruce K. Waltke, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 203.



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