The Gospel goes home with every kid and teen that’s reached by the ministry of Awana. We regularly hear stories of moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors being impacted for Christ by one child’s changed life. Our prayer is that children and youth all over the world will come to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. We know firsthand that lifelong discipleship takes root faster and deeper when families play a positive role. Over the past few weeks we’ve explored how to know, love, and serve Christ, kids, and leaders. In part four of this series, we’re targeting families. If you’re enjoying the posts this month, pass the link on to your volunteers and share on social media using @Awana and hashtag #AwanaKLS.
I Have a Dream for Family Ministry
I recently returned from a ministry trip to Luanshya, Zambia in sub-Saharan Africa. My ministry colleague, Casey, and I spent a week focused on children’s ministry in the context of community and the local church. We visited with pastors and lay leaders who are passionate about kids, evangelism, and lifelong discipleship. We heard about the role of Sunday school, Awana clubs, education, church, and family in the physical, emotional, and spiritual formation of children and youth. It was powerful to visit children and primary caregivers in their homes while being accompanied by their Sunday school teachers and Awana leaders.
During our visit, the testimonies of Precious, Betty, Jonathan, and other kids shed light on the pervasive nature of life and growth in God’s family. Casey and I were able to hear from children changed by Christ in conversation with the kid-influencers He used to help heart change happen. We found out about the impact God was making in each home, as well as the role of the church family in transformation. It became evident that discipleship happens anytime, anywhere. Distinguishing between faith at church, faith at home, and faith in the world is an irrelevant exercise. Bridges between church and home are being built all over Africa. How is the same taking place or in need of happening more in North America?
Today’s families are more frantic and fragmented than ever before.
The world is changing at an alarming rate. Information overload is inundating homes and hearts. Media, for better or worse, rides in on endless waves. Education and employment trends are unsettling. People are traveling far and fast. Physical, emotional, and spiritual health rarely remains in balance. Communities of faith are appreciated yet an afterthought, even by anchored believers. The lasting effects are unknown, but somehow predictable.
What will family and church look like in the generation to come?
How will the ways we experience each one today affect our vision for tomorrow?
Are we up for bridging the gap between church and home with lifelong discipleship?
Regardless of what programs or curriculum your ministry offers, it’s ultimately God-honoring relationships that will bind church and home together. Church leaders love to lift up Deuteronomy 6:4-9 as the pinnacle passage for family discipleship. God’s timeless words are regularly pointed at parents so they will rise to the occasion and take responsibility as the primary spiritual influencers in their home. Surprisingly, the teaching in Deuteronomy is not targeted solely at moms and dads; it’s a family ministry message for the entire faith community – including all biological and spiritual family members alike. Don’t miss this. God calls for an invisible, inseparable partnership between church and home so that kids of all ages will know, love, and serve Him forever.
What’s my dream, you ask?
It would delight me to no end if today’s generation of children and youth could experience both church and home as “family.” And I would be overjoyed if this happened for many generations to come. As I’ve personally experienced, and in my encounters with kids and teens all over the globe, it’s become apparent that it’s the family of God that has the greatest impact on children, even if parents have a disproportionate capacity to influence faith formation.
It’s rarely reflected upon in family ministry discussions, but Christ doesn’t distinguish between biological and spiritual family when it comes to disciple making. In fact, when asked, Jesus said his closest family members were not blood relatives but those who faithfully lived out the God’s will (cf. Mark 3:31-35). Timothy is a prime example of one disciple who experienced both church and home as family – his mother and grandmother impacted him, as did his spiritual father in the faith, Paul. As we aspire to reach kids and youth with the Gospel and engage them in lifelong discipleship, leaders play a significant role as surrogate family members – parents, siblings, and more in the family of God.
Bring Church and Home Together
What needs to happen in your church, children’s, and student ministries for families to become fully engaged as participating members of the body of Christ? What can you do differently so your disciple-making efforts don’t stop with children but carry over into their homes with intentionality? If you’re serious about reaching kids with the Gospel in favor of lifelong discipleship taking root, here are three relationship builders between church and home for you and your team to try out.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:10
1. Be open to knowing families.
Checking kids in and tracking attendance in children’s ministry can create a lot of frustration. Church leaders figure out that kids and families aren’t coming weekly. It’s discouraging on multiple levels. Relationships take longer to develop. Bible stories and memory verses are quickly forgotten. And long-term discipleship dreams get dashed because of infrequent attendance. While there’s value in paying attention to who’s here and who’s not, this administrative duty can inadvertently cause children’s and youth ministry leaders to grow callous hearts. If you’ve ever referred to certain moms and dads as “drop-off parents,” you know what I mean. It’s tempting to write off families that don’t seem to want to be known, seen and understood, by you or your ministry.
To combat cold-heartedness toward everyday parents and caregivers, it’s important to remain open. This involves “hoping the best” with regard to a family’s faith intentions. It’s rare that a mom or dad is trying to be a destructive force in their child’s life. They’d like to be much more intentional and consistent when it comes to relationships with God, each other, and His people. And, for whatever reasons, it’s harder to follow through than anticipated. Families need church leaders to remain openhearted toward them in every season and struggle of life.
How open are you to knowing the families that let you down from time to time (or what feels like all the time!)? Are you willing to step into their shoes to find out what’s holding them back from fully engaging with the family of God? How can you work with individual families in a way that helps their kids know, love, and serve Christ well? What can you do to honor the efforts – both big and small – of parents and caregivers to connect with your church community? Being open to knowing the families God sends your way is step one in building relational bridges between church and home.
2. Be gracious in loving families.
When I was a kid, my family experienced a lot of difficult chapters. I remember one particularly painful Christmas during my high school years. My step-dad’s unemployment created a significant financial burden. My mom worked extra hours to try and make ends meet. My stepbrothers and I were teenagers, so expenses for food, clothing, school activities, and church programs kept soaring up and to the right. We did everything we could to limit non-essentials. This season was stressful on everyone.
Rather than keep our challenges a secret, our church encouraged us to bring our situation into the light of God’s family. I didn’t have to ask my parents to recognize this was hard and humbling for them. But, the benevolence of the congregation was remarkable. They didn’t shame us for being in need. The family of believers surrounded us with love in physical, emotional, and spiritual ways. Sometimes the care we received was obvious; at other times, we experienced the audacious, overwhelming nature of God’s grace without anyone specific to thank.
The image I carry in my mind and heart to this day is answering the doorbell at our town home on a typical weeknight in December. Someone, obviously from the church, dropped off several bags of groceries and gifts “anonymously” on our front stoop. The food and toy selections were particular to our needs. Beyond that, the provisions were also in the “want” category. The donor didn’t stop with basic items; he or she took the time to personalize the purchases and went above and beyond what we could ask or desire.
The gracious spirit with which we were shown love is vital to bridging the relational gap between church and home. How generous are you in expressing the affection of God to parents and caregivers in your ministry? What could you do this holiday season to show how much you appreciate each family in your church and surrounding community?
3. Be discerning when serving families.
You don’t always need to do dramatic acts of kindness to know, love, and serve families. It’s important to be wise stewards of the resources God has entrusted to you and your ministry. If you get creative, you’ll figure out that there’s plenty of care to go around that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
It’s important to pay attention to the kind of sacrifice that’s necessary to demonstrate the love of Christ with each family you serve. Moms and dads succeed when they receive the right care, coaching, and challenge they need. For one family it might mean caring for them tangibly with meals or resources. For another, you might provide a service like home repairs or childcare. Offering discipleship tools and experiences is a fantastic way to equip families to walk with God and His people faithfully. This can take the form of books, Bible studies, crafts and games, or large group gatherings, teachings, special events, and activities. There’s no formula for success when it comes to serving families, but it must come from the heart and be in line with the ministry God has for you and your team.
Growing in discernment is simply learning when to say yes and no. As you serve families, one of the best ways to come alongside them is by challenging them toward lifelong discipleship. Remind them they aren’t in this adventure alone. Encourage them to be faithful to God and each other in whatever era of family life they’re in. Challenge some parents to “step up” in their commitment to Christ and community, while challenging others who are overzealous to “chill out.” Serve families regardless of where they’re at spiritually speaking. They may not be where you think they should, but you can trust that in time (and with your support) God will bring them to where He wants them to be.
We’re Not So Far From Home
Jesus left and is coming back to bring God’s family home (see for yourself in John 14:1-4!). You and I, and every family we know, love, and serve, have an opportunity to be part of this miracle. The global children’s ministry of Awana is devoted to reaching kids with the Gospel and engaging them in lifelong discipleship. We’re wide open to extending this to their families as God opens doors. You can close the gap between church and home by inviting biological and spiritual family to grow in faith as one. Your relational efforts as a kid-influencer will transform children and youth, but the impact won’t stop there. Be intentional about building relationships with parents and caregivers by being open, gracious and discerning as you know, love and serve families in the way of Jesus.