For those of you who are interested in the interface of campus-based children’s ministry with family ministry, I invite you to consider my thoughts below and even help me wrestle through the issues I raise by leaving comments, if you so desire. The ideas I share are partly generated by my own direct ministry experience and also by my consulting experience with churches throughout the USA and in other parts of the world.
In my view, a healthy children’s ministry should honor family ministry as the general center of gravity for its initiatives. Likewise, I think family ministry should honor children’s ministry as a vital and necessary expression of outreach and discipleship for the community in which the church campus is located and the communities in which church attenders reside. I am intrigued with the notion of slightly adjusting the initializing focus of children’s ministry from the needs of the campus to the needs of families in their neighborhood settings. I believe that this should not be perceived as a threat to campus-based ministries and initiatives, but as a necessary missional corrective from what often becomes a consumer model of discipleship to a more holistic model, which infuses the normal rythms of daily personal, family and community life with the presence of Jesus Christ.
Yet in many of the church settings I have encountered, I perceive a certain level of territorialism on a number of fronts. This is unfortunate. In part, the territorialism is a by-product of an ingrained church growth ethos. That is to say, the church is expected to increase in numbers in terms of weekend campus attendance, and since the children’s ministry has become a recognized integral part of accomplishing that ongoing goal, it logically must receive primary focus so that personnel, resources, facilities, and finances are available to accomplish the aim. Anything which redirects even part of the attention from this aim can be seen as a threat. I believe that the burgeoning focus on family ministry in general, and neighborhood focused ministry in particular, fall into this category. Again, this is an unfortunate tension.
There are additional potential causes for territorialism. For example, in churches with full-time children’s ministry staff, there is an inherent desire to ensure job security. In the business world, I am expected to produce on a daily basis. Failure to do so will result in discipline and possibly removal if the failure persists. In churches, staff members are expected to produce according to expectations. If weekend attendance falls, then tithing probably will too, putting jobs at risk. So naturally, there is a desire to attract and retain as many people as possible to weekend services. I realize this sounds crass. Yet it is a reality. Even as a part-time volunteer I have felt this pressure over the years. I can only imagine how it feels for a full-time leader.
Having said all of that, I strongly feel that the placement of children’s ministry at cross purposes with family ministry is an unnecessary and unhelpful false dichotomy which creates unhealthy tension, rather than constructive integrative ministry expression.
In my church, my aim is to find ways to refine the children’s ministry so that it becomes missional in focus concerning the needs of our immediate and outlying neighborhoods and so that the center of gravity concerning our ministry ethos rests on family and community, thereby more clearly informing our best practices for campus-based discipleship and activities. In essence, I desire to develop practices and resources for family discipleship which encourage, rather than frustrate those whom I am attempting to encourage. Instead of adding to their burden with more programs, I desire to infuse into their normal way of thinking and living an ethos of passionate living for Jesus in the context of family, community and yes, even the church campus.