Whose job is it to teach the children and youth in our church anyway? Who is responsible for spiritual development and maturity? Ultimately it’s the Holy Spirit, working in our children, but what about the human side of things? As parents, we often feel ill-equipped to teach our children all the important aspects of the Bible and theology. We might know certain parts really well… and struggle to answer the tough questions, like when a pet dies, or a bad thing happens, or even fully grasping the nuances of the Lord’s Supper or Baptism. So we want the expertise of the pastors and staff of our church.
Churches, on the other hand, have surprisingly little time with children and youth, with just an hour or two a week. Sunday School teachers can be very influential in the lives of children. I know mine were. However, Sunday School plus a midweek event averages out to less than 5 days a year! That is not a lot of teaching time. Church staff and pastors are limited in how much we can teach, how quickly, and how much they retain in such a small amount of time, but the desire is there!
In his book Family Based Youth Ministry, Mark DeVries, a youth minister and professional consultant on youth ministry, says that many churches have either a family-based ministry or a youth-based ministry. Family-based ministries focus on supporting parents and families through classes, special events, counseling, and support. The idea is that parents bear the responsibility, so the church supports the parents in this important job. But sometimes this means the church is less active in the lives of the students themselves and leaves it all to the parents.
Youth-based ministries focus on moving students to maturity in Christ with the use of parents and other adults. The idea is that the church bears responsibility through programs and Bible studies, service projects and trips. But it’s easy for churches to leave parents out and leave them without the support they need to continue the work at home on a daily basis. But DeVries advocates for a third approach, what he calls “family-based youth ministry.”
Family-based youth ministry, and we could extrapolate that to children’s ministry too, is a both/and approach. DeVries defines it as this: “Family-based youth ministry accesses the incomparable power of the nuclear family and connects students to an extended family of Christian adults to the end that those students grow toward maturity in Christ.” It’s parents and churches bearing the responsibility together. It’s parents intentionally leaning on the community of the saints as the “village” it takes to raise a child. It’s churches uplifting the parents and the students. Providing resources and opportunities for both separately and together. And it involves not just pastors and staff… but the whole church! That sounds a whole lot like FPC’s value to cultivate cross-generational relationships and to participate in each other’s lives as a community of saints. It can apply to any ministry model, but this is the mindset we operate from.