Family Ministry In The Sunday School
By Rodney L. Pry, P.S.S.S.A. Executive Director
Families should be seen as one of the main keys to Sunday school growth. But, before any church considers organizing a special effort to invite new families into their Sunday school, there are some very important questions that they need to ask themselves. The most basic question to ask is, “Is our church and Sunday school ready for family ministry?”
Within the past few years, “family ministry” has become an “in” idea. A number of books have been written on the subject. Articles on the topic have appeared in many Christian magazines. Some churches are even adding a “family minister” to their staff.
But, what about the Sunday school? Are Sunday schools becoming more “family oriented?” As a general rule, I would have to answer that by saying, “no!” Yes, there are some churches that have been taking steps to make their Sunday school more family friendly, but for most schools, “family ministry” is more of an accident than a designed program.
For many years, the idea was that if you had a Sunday school class for every member of the family, you were a “family Sunday school.” But, is that enough? It certainly is important that a church’s educational ministry be available to every person of every age, but that’s just the first step.
Many of the specifics of family ministry relate directly to our view of the relationship between the home and the church. In family ministry, the family is seen as an arm of the church.
Family ministry aims to train people how to fulfill parenthood as Christians. It recognizes that parents continue to have the greatest influence – both positive and negative – on their children. Therefore, parents should be the primary ministers, nurturers and teachers of the faith to children and youth. With this in mind, one of the primary goals of family ministry should be to train parents in child development, evangelism, counseling, teaching, personal relationships and parenting skills.
God’s vision of the family is that it is the institution that he ordained for nurturing the faith in children. That means that the Sunday school must work with the home. Instead of making church programs an alternative to the home, we should be the primary supporter and trainers of the home. Instead of saying only, “Bring your kids to our Sunday school, we’ll teach them the faith,” we need to work to build strong homes and families and make the church and Sunday school the support system for the home.
We’re not saying that the church should eliminate Sunday school classes for children and youth; the church has a very important role in education and ministry. An important part of that role should be to help and encourage parents to serve as examples and teachers within the home.
Many years ago someone observed, “As goes the family – so goes the church.” How true! We all need to support programs that fortify the church’s families. In doing so, we are sustaining the health of our church.
First and foremost, we need to be teaching biblical truths about the family. As we do this, however, we must remember that the Bible often is not specific enough. Teachers need to be encouraged to give specific suggestions that people can take home and try out. Another source of workable ideas is the class itself. Members should be encouraged to share information, ideas and experiences.
Besides passing on relevant biblical information, a “family oriented” Sunday school should also offer a variety of classes related to the basics of family living. Remember too, many persons not only need spiritual help to prepare for family life, they also lack basic family and household skills such as communication, decision making, cooking and financial management.
Churches can do a great deal to support families if they are tuned in to the needs of the home. We all need fellowship with other believers, we need reinforcement from those of like mind, and we need biblical training to understand the Word.
Parents want their children to develop friendships with other Christian kids and they want them to see and learn from other positive adult role models within the church and Sunday school.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest things that most families are looking for in a church is not the theology, the facilities or even the pastor; It’s a sense of community that they see and feel within the church. Even though most are looking for personal benefits, they are also looking for opportunities to be needed and to make a contribution to others. They want to find acceptance. They want to be included. They want to fit in and find friends and fellowship, both as individuals and as a family.
We must use biblical teaching and support to show parents and other members of the family what they should do as a part of a Christian family. In addition, we must offer programs and activities that build up and unify the family, not tear it apart. Individual members of every family of the church must be cared for as a priority, not as a sideline.