the danger of formulaic ministry solutions

I appreciate having a game plan when I execute ministry initiatives. This is especially true of my ministry with parents in the past year, and looking forward into next year. By adopting a coaching model of interacting with specific parents, I have been afforded a greater depth of interaction with them. Plus, they have owned the process. Throughout this process, I have begun to think about the many models of family ministry and parent ministry available on the market today. I wonder. Have we become formulaic in devising our solutions?

By formulaic I am referring to the expectation that if we do certain things we can expect certain results. For example, if we teach our parents to pray with their children daily, and to have family devotions and shared meals daily, then we might expect there to be an increase in spiritual vitality in their homes, right? Not so fast.

To be sure, those things can be helpful if done in a way that is relational, organic, and loving in the home. However, to expect equal results in every home based on arbitrary behavioral patterns can create a dangerous set of expectations. The reality is that each family and each of its members are unique. They are situated in unique neighborhoods and they each have myriad influences which vie for their attention. Essentially, no two families are alike.

Think of their children for a moment, assuming a family has two or three, or even more. We must not forget the will of each child, his or her power to choose. This is an important point. We typically talk about how parents are the primary influencers of their children. But what about siblings? What about older siblings, especially in the early years? We might also consider the influence younger children sometimes wield upon their older brothers or sisters. This is an important point to remember, given that a child  can cause their siblings to fall into an area of sin in secret. Sometimes these issues go undiscovered for a long while, if ever. So while the family is having their regular devotions, the deeper matters of the heart fester undealt with for years until they come to the surface through conflict or, preferably, through confession and repentance.

Parenting is hard work. My aim in this writing is to acknowledge the difficult job parents have, and to honor the commitment required to meet the needs of their children. Yet, we surely must recognize that a pre-approved set of strategies, tactics, behaviors, and expectations will fall short if we forget to rely on the Lord Jesus to help us guide our children into maturity. Strategic initiatives have their place in the church context as they give us a way of framing our shared conversations and practical interactions. But remember, humans are not mere integers in a mathematical formula. We cannot be plugged into a spiritual formula and be expected to produce a guaranteed result. We are complex creatures made in the image of God; tainted by the stain of wickedness from the fall. Only God’s grace can solve the deepest issues of our hearts and our families.

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