Methods Of Family Ministry
There are four methods of family ministry: (1) developing a congregational life that supports and nurtures all families; (2) organizing and facilitating support groups and networks; (3) providing educational resources and programs; and (4) counseling (Garland 1999).
Developing a congregational life that supports and nurtures all family relationships. The fundamental and essential method of family ministry is congregational development as a supportive and nurturing community. The other three methods of family ministry, which are more overtly focused specifically on family issues, depend on the existence of this supportive congregational life. Community life is particularly important as a context for helping families deal with specific life stressors and situations, whether they are common to all kinds of families or are characteristic of particular kinds of family structures and experiences.
Some faith groups become havens, communities that counter the values of mainstream society. They may have ways of living designed to protect members from negative cultural influences. The Amish continue to live a lifestyle that sets them apart from the surrounding social world. Less radically, some congregations choose to provide their children with day care and schools as a means of controlling what they are taught and protecting them from unwanted influences. Others provide support to parents who choose to homeschool their children.
A few communities of faith may use communal principles, sharing cars and other expensive items, making it less necessary for so many family members to work outside their homes or to make choices about fewer work hours and less demanding careers. In one congregation, a number of families have intentionally bought homes in the same block of an inner-city community, using their presence to bring new stability and safety to the neighborhood. They share evening meals, each household taking a turn in feeding the others. The church may be intentional in guiding and supporting families in making these choices and in using their presence as a means of creating positive social change.
Even congregations that do not go so far as to develop physical communities still often serve as significant social communities in the lives of families. There families find others who share and support their values and family culture, who provide advice and resources for family living, and who help them with life challenges.
Being an advocate for families is an essential part of being a supportive and nurturing community. Congregations have voices that need to be used in behalf of the needs not only of their own members, but also of their neighbors, whomever and wherever they may be. A congregation can be the leaven that raises the consciousness of the whole community about needs and vulnerabilities of families. Advocacy can range from encouraging members to run for posts on the local school board to contacting national government representatives concerning government policies that affect families. It can be as simple as writing letters to the local television stations applauding their family programming and discouraging the broadcasting of shows with violent content. Or it can be much more hands-on, such as organizing families in a poor community to find ways to clean their neighborhoods of gang violence and drugs.
Organizing and facilitating support groups and networks. Supporting and advocating for families is the foundation for family ministry. In addition, congregations may develop specific programs and services to address particular issues in family life. These programs and services can be conceptualized as a continuum from the most general to more specialized forms of family ministry. Families are helped by being with other families who share their life situations—parents of teenagers, care-givers of people with Alzheimer's disease, mentors of single parents, parents of young adults who are troubled by substance addiction, grandparents raising their grandchildren. Together, families learn from and support one another. This support may be formalized in a group, or it may be a more loosely structured network of families who are in touch with one another as they choose. The role of the church leader is primarily helping families find and become linked with one another, and helping them, if needed, to identify resources that can be helpful to them. The families themselves provide any leadership needed for their group or network, although professional staff persons can help equip them and support them in this role.
Providing educational programs and resources. Some families want or need to learn new information or skills that will help them with their particular situation in life. Educational groups or seminars such as parent education or premarital education are common in congregations. Congregational leaders take more visible leadership roles in providing this kind of ministry, either providing the educational content themselves or securing other knowledgeable educators. Congregational leaders may also provide families with educational resources such as books or videotapes for families to use individually.
Counseling. Finally, some families have barriers to learning information or skills they need. These barriers need to be addressed in individual, family, or group counseling. For example, a marital couple may be so angry with one another that they cannot learn in a group setting about anger and conflict management until they have been guided through their current crisis. Families face a variety of crises that need the individual attention provided in a counseling relationship. Congregational leaders may either provide this counseling or refer to community professionals who can do so.
Family counseling thus plays a supportive, not a central, role to the family ministries of congregations. Counseling is like tutoring, preparing people who need help in overcoming obstacles to their full participation in the mutual relationships of a community. Some families are dealing with crises beyond the capabilities of the congregation to respond. They need the loving support of the congregation, but they may also need a professional counselor to help them deal with such issues as post-traumatic stress syndrome after the death of a family member, a deep disappointment in life, and other difficult life circumstances.
AM/FM: Audio-Magazine in Family Ministry. Waco, TX: Baylor University Center for Family and Community Ministries.
Browning, D. S.; Miller-McLemore, B. J.; Couture, P. D.; Lyon, K. B.; and Franklin, R. M. (1997). From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Family Ministry: Empowering Through Faith. Louisville, KY: Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Freudenburg, B., and Lawrence, R. (1998). The Family-Friendly Church. Loveland, CO: VitalMinistry.
Garland, D. R. (1994). Church Agencies: Caring for Children and Families in Crisis. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Garland, D. R. (1999). Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide. Downers Grover, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Hebbard, D. W. (1995). The Complete Handbook for Family Life Ministry in the Church. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Lyon, K. B., and Smith, A., Jr., eds. (1998). Tending the Flock: Congregations and Family Ministry. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Strommen, M. P., and Hardel, R. A. (2000). Passing On the Faith: A Radical New Model for Youth and Family Ministry. Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press.
DIANA R. GARLAND
Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsFamily Ministry - Why Congregations Do Family Ministry, Congregational Family Ministry And Public Family Service Programs, Who Leads Family Ministry?