This week my family and I spent a few days in Nashville, TN at the ETCH (Equipping the Church & Home) Family Ministry Conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources at the beautiful Music City Center.
Jennifer and I were honored to lead a couple breakout sessions and record a podcast for the LifeWay Kids podcast.
This is my fourth time to be a part of the conference; Jennifer’s second.
We love seeing many familiar faces from the CentriKid world and the VBS Preview events.
The conference attendance was close 1000 people from all over the country.
As we shared with kidmin, student, family and young adult ministry leaders, several questions kept rising up in our conversations. I thought these repeated questions were a good indicator of where nextgen ministries are these days. These leaders are on the front lines of ministry with children, students, and young adults in churches small and large.
Questions I Repeatedly Heard
- What if the parents of my kids/students are not believers in Christ? How do I respond to them?
- What do I do to get outside the walls of my church?
- How can I respond to all the cultural issues that are flying at our kids/students?
Reflections about the Questions
In a series of three posts, I want to try and reflect and respond to these questions. Not that I am an expert in any way, but these questions are really at the heart of disciple-making for kids and students – something near to my heart.
Question 1: What if the parents of my kids/students are not believers in Christ? How do I respond to them?
The issue of unbelieving parents should not be a surprise to any of us. Kid and student ministries that actively reach spiritual orphans have been facing this for decades. When children and students find their way into a local church without believing Christian parents in tow, some of our recent ministry paradigm shifts come to a screeching halt.
The paradigm shift of family ministry and moving the focus to equipping believing parents to be the primary discipler of their kids has been a wonderful shift. There is no question that when kidmin and stumin leaders push believing parents away from their ministry design, they are making a terrible, unbiblical mistake.
The parent equipping shift, however, only works when you have believing Christian parents. If the kid or student finds their way into your local church without believing parents, the family-based discipleship model is useless. There are no believing parents to equip and encourage.
Even more difficult, but eternally glorious, is when an unbelieving child or student comes to faith in Christ without believing parents and the ministry now has the discipleship responsibility for that infant brother or sister in Christ for the long haul.
Kidmin and stumin leaders are seeing that the family-ministry shift, while necessary and good and wise, is based on the premise that believing parents will be available. That isn’t always the case.
S0 how do you respond to unbelieving parents? I offer you four suggestions: Introduction. Information. Conversation. Friendship.
- Introduction: Introduce yourself to them. Share your name, role at the church, cell phone number, email address. Much like a coach introduces themselves to parents on the first day of practice, give them a chance to get to know you. In their mind, you are kind of like a new coach or teacher for their kid, just in church-y things.
- Information: Keep them informed of what is going on. The coaching metaphor works again. Give them a schedule of the games, times for practice, and regular updates throughout the season. You will never go wrong in sharing information with unbelieving parents. They expect it from their kid’s teachers and coaches, they expect it from you as well.
- Conversation. As you share information, make yourself available for conversation. Send a note basically saying, “God loves your kid. Our ministry loves your kid. I know you love your kid, so if there is anyway we can do to help you and your family, just let us know.” Then let the conversations naturally come.
- Friendship. Hopefully over time, you will become a trusted friend to the unbelieving parent. Maybe you will never be super buddy-buddy like you might be with a Christian parent who serves alongside of you in ministry, but a friendship and mutual trust will form allowing their child or student to remain in the ministry for the duration.
In my limited opinion, the number of kids and students in ministries without believing parents is going to rise exponentially in the coming years. As our nation becomes more and more secular and the place of personal faith becomes more and more marginalized, churches will see a good number of kids and students coming who have no faith background or previous spiritual exposure in the home.
I see this as an amazing opportunity for Gospel advance. It will require ministry leaders to be wise and savvy to recognize that their ministry efforts will have two parallel tracks – one track for students with believing parents and another track for students without believing parents.
The two tracks are not in competition or opposition. They do, however, have different speeds.
See the responses to question #2 and #3 in corresponding posts.