Editor’s Note: As a pastor you are probably active in the volunteer placement process in your congregation. As your team begins to explore possible candidates for the position of family ministries coordinator, the following article may be helpful.
“The church nominating committee has finished its work and has asked me to serve as the family ministries coordinator. I am honored to have been asked, but now I’m a bit panicky not knowing where to begin. HELP!”
What Is a Family?
Perhaps the place to begin is to understand what the modern family is. The traditional view of the family, composed of a husband, wife, and a couple of children, is far from what is typical today. Today’s families range from a family of one person to families of two parents with children; from single parents to newly married couples; from group home families to a few friends sharing a roof. Families include grandparents raising grandchildren, married couples without children, teenage mothers, empty nesters, foster parents, and even older siblings in charge of younger ones. Each and every member of the church is a family in and of themselves—and a part of the larger church family.
Because of this great diversity in family configurations, one of your many duties is to ensure that all diverse families are included and nurtured. To accomplish this, you will need a cornerstone faith, a passion for families and relationships of all types, sensitivity for others’ needs and feelings, an insight to assess the church as a whole while keying in on each family’s personal challenges, and the ability to act as a model for others to see. Also, no matter how many people are part of your family, it is important that Christ is the head of your home.
What Is Family Ministries?
Family ministries has often been seen as a “program” that is periodically used in the lineup of church days and special events. It will never live up to its “ministry” label if it never outgrows its “program/event” boundaries. The dictionary defines “program” as “a public presentation or performance.” Programs come and go and are applauded for the moment, but seldom have any lasting effect for the local church and community. Programs alone are simply a flash of light that vanishes as quickly as it comes. “Ministry,” on the other hand, is defined as “the act of serving or assisting.” Only the ministries that are Holy Spirit-sustained and structured into the church plan can provide an unending source of light, a constant beacon for families to see, accept, and follow to Christ. Family ministries is not just a one-time program or performance; it is a continuing ministry and a constant act of service. This is an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth within your own family, the families of your church and surrounding community, and beyond. This is not simply compiling a list of do’s and don’ts to preach and expect each person to follow. And because each family is different, the same guidelines won’t work for everyone. Family ministries is not a venue to prove our talent, creativity, or genius. Rather, family ministries provide an opportunity to reflect God’s light into the world for the purpose of leading others to Him.
“In order to be effective, the family ministries leader(s) must have an understanding of God’s redemptive plan for dealing with the brokenness in relationships that sin has brought [both in marriages and with our everyday interactions with family and friends]. The leader(s) also must maintain appropriate confidentiality and know when and how to encourage individuals in critical situations to seek professional counseling.”[i] This means creating and providing ministries—both social and healing—and simply offering an attentive and caring ear.
Throughout your term as family ministries coordinator, you must devote specific time to understanding your church family and—more important—what each individual needs in order to have healthy relationships with one another and their heavenly Father. This will help you build your family ministries committee, evaluate the available resources, and establish a plan for what you can realistically accomplish with your time.
At the same time, remember to balance your personal life with your family ministries position. Yes, this is a ministry that demands your time and attention, but even a fantastic ministry won’t make up for a suffering personal life. Keep this in mind as you begin and continue your ministry.
A Family Ministries Committee to Help You
The church board will help you select a committee with members representing specific groups in the church. Make sure your committee contains a representative cross section of the various age groups in the church. Departmental leaders are necessary as a part of the family ministries committee because they will have input at the board level. Their membership on the committee also prevents the possibility of contention over separate agendas. Here’s a list of men and women who could be included on the committee:
- · at least one single person
- · at least one married couple
- · one or more parents
- · Sabbath school leaders
- · home and school leader
- · personal ministries leader
- · Community Services leader
- · men’s ministries leader
- · singles’ ministries leader
- · women’s ministries leader
Research the Needs of Your Church
Now that you have your committee ready, start by assessing the needs of the families in your church and community. Families are the part of life through which many people experience the most joy, but also the most sorrow. Family ministries leaders can reach out to families in the church and in the community where the local church is housed. A church and community assessment is helpful in learning how to minister to local families effectively.
A simple assessment of the church is a good place to start: What was the family ministries committee doing before you took over? What were their goals? What was established? What worked, and what didn’t work? Were any people left out? Discuss these questions with your committee. Your answers will help you identify problems and ways to make changes and improvements.
An assessment can be conducted in a variety of ways. The easiest and most straightforward method is simply to listen. Ask your fellow members to share their observations. Float about potluck and talk to people at each table—especially the stragglers. Bid farewells in the foyer after the service and ask what your fellow members need and want from the church. Write down your observations so you can remember what was shared during conversations with members.
If you would like to create a written survey, coordinate with your church’s communication director to create a questionnaire that can be filled out and turned in with the offering. You can also post a survey on the church’s Web site. Make sure the survey includes your phone number and e-mail address so that people can contact you if they have questions or would like more information. The more outlets you provide, the more information you will receive. And throughout this process, keep an open mind.
If you do conduct a written survey, plan to collect the responses immediately. It’s too easy for papers to be placed in purses or Bibles and taken away. Collecting surveys immediately upon completion will yield a wider response.
Don’t be discouraged if what you thought should happen or needed to change isn’t a concern for your church. Also, remember that unmet needs don’t mean you are doing a poor job as family ministries coordinator. A need is simply that, a need. Don’t take constructive feedback too personally.
Research the Needs of Your Community
Once you have become familiar with church families’ needs, it’s time to learn more about community needs. Listen to what community members say about their families’ needs. Your efforts to serve families through ministry should reflect the needs they share with you. Remember that Christ knew what we needed, and responded directly to those needs—He did not force His will on anyone. And responding to community needs is evangelism!
You can learn more about families in the community by seeking information that has been compiled by other entities in the area. If such information already exists, it is helpful to access it and then determine what additional information will be needed to help the focus of the ministry. If such information does not exist, determine what type of information is needed to offer purposeful, intentional ministry that addresses the needs of community families. Also, contact charities in your community and ask about their needs.
Meet the Needs With Family Ministries
Based on your collected information, meet with your committee and discuss what events, programs, and ministries you can plan to best fulfill the needs of the people in your church and community. As you entertain ideas about what you can do to strengthen family bonds, don’t forget to create direct ministries for those in specific demographics: young adults, foster parents, home-care providers, divorcés, those struggling with addiction, singles, empty nesters, those whose spouses have died, etc. But don’t focus all your attention on the smaller groups; this is family ministries, and providing events and activities that everyone can be a part of is equally important.
Keep in mind that at times church activities separate family members from the moment they enter the church door until they regroup when they pile into the car to go home. This is not new, as we read, “The Sabbath is often filled with meetings and other activities, even potlucks, that do not offer families the opportunity to share in the delights of the Sabbath as a family unit.” “The Sabbath should be made so interesting to our families that its weekly return will be hailed with joy. In no better way can parents exalt and honor the Sabbath than by devising means to impart proper instruction to their families and interesting them in spiritual things, giving them correct views of the character of God and what He requires of us in order to perfect Christian characters and attain to eternal life. Parents, make the Sabbath a delight, that your children may look forward to it and have a welcome in their hearts for it.”[ii] Help advocate on behalf of the families so they are strengthened and not weakened by all the church activities.
Ask yourself if each idea is realistically possible. How will this strengthen your church family’s bond? What are the pros and cons? Whom are you targeting? Is this a one-time event? Who might feel excluded? Is this something that can be sustained? Will you need to bring in outside professionals? Is this what the people in your church and community need, or is it what you think they need? How does this illustrate Christ’s love and His integral part in each home? You may find that while some of your ideas are good, they may not best serve what you and your committee wish to accomplish.
Please keep in mind that the goal of each event is to strengthen the bonds between families and to shine the light of Christ’s love, emphasizing the need for Him in all of our undertakings. But as you shine your church’s light into the world, it is absolutely necessary to remember the appropriate legal and safety precautions. Please be certain that only appropriately trained individuals facilitate your programs. There is liability for the church if you allow an unqualified individual to run your church’s programs. More important, if events are run by inappropriate personnel, innocent people could be hurt.
Ideally, both the pastor and the family ministry coordinator will be certified—or close to completing certification—in the Adventist Family Ministries Curriculum for Local Church Leaders. These certification classes may be presented at conventions and other training events for family ministries coordinators. Please check with your local conference office for information about upcoming training events. Additionally, this training is available free online in the Adventist Learning Community at https://www.adventistlearningcommunity.com/courses/8.
There’s much more to learn about this wonderful ministry to families. Remember to look for additional resources and materials in the Adventist Learning Community (https://www.adventistlearningcommunity.com/search_results), on the NAD’s family ministries’ Web site (www.nadfamily.org), and www.AdventSource.org .Welcome to the family ministries leadership team—you will be blessed as you bless others!
Drs. Claudio and Pamela Consuegra serve as the director and associate director of family ministries at the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
[i] Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 19th ed. (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2015), p. 93.
[ii] Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1954), p. 536.