I remember the first time I read the new draft of my job description. Keep in mind, I’d been employed by the church for over a year and was actually already performing the tasks described in the document, but the reality of seeing it on paper, in black-and-white, was overwhelming to say the least. The sheer quantity of responsibilities with such high callings as “spiritual formation of children and families” and “development of volunteers in line with their gift and callings” were intense. And somehow, I was supposed to make all that happen.
If you are new to children’s and family ministry or just starting out in a new position, you can probably empathize with my reaction. A deep sense of inadequacy tinged with hints of fear began to gnaw at my stomach. There simply was no way that I could do those things.
And I was right. But I was also wrong.
To understand this we have to look at one of my favorite portions of Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This passage has become quite popular the last few years as more of a focus has been placed on the home and the equipping of parents for the work of discipleship, but I see something a bit different when I read it. In fact, I like to start back at Deuteronomy 5:1 where it says, “Moses summoned all of Israel and said…” All of Israel. As in the entire faith community.
It is within that context the Moses tells the whole assembly to:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
And just in case they forgot after his long sermon (check it out, it’s really long) he says the exact same thing again in Deuteronomy 11:18-21.
The overwhelming sense of inadequacy I felt in the moment was because I was reading my job description as though I were alone in the task; that I alone had the job of ensuring spiritual formation and developing leadership. But I couldn’t be further from the truth.
As ministers, we serve the body of Christ, yes, but we also serve with the body of Christ. In the context of that larger faith community, we find the place for discipleship, mentorship, and faith formation. When, as the psalmist says, we “let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power;” it is there that the work of the church happens.
My advice to you as you consider your task is to not forget the community into which God has placed you.
- Get to know your congregation.
- Form relationships with old and young.
- Go to all the services, not just the one where you feel most comfortable or the kids attend.
- Introduce yourself to the volunteers and lay leader, not just in the children’s area, but all over the church.
- Seek to find ways to allow the generations to impact one another through prayer, worship, one-on-one mentorship and times of discipleship.
- Don’t try to do it all alone; allow the community of faith to connect and grow so you do not become weary and lose heart.
Someone asked me recently what my immediate, off-the-cuff answer would be for someone just starting out in ministry, and this is how I responded:
Create a culture in the church where the congregation, as a whole, sees as part of their responsibility and opportunity the chance to come alongside parents and children and to engage in the support, nurture, and equipping of the next generation – that this responsibility is not theirs alone, but that they may need to create the means by which those things can happen (especially if the church is “used to” the Children’s Pastor doing it all) and that they may need to find and offer resources in order to bring that vision into reality.
It will look different in your context than it does in mine. Your church and community will have unique needs and desires that won’t mirror any other ministry or congregation. But if you take the time to foster that culture of intergenerational ministry, where one generation can tell its children of God’s mighty acts and proclaim His power to the next generation, you will be both blessed and a blessing to the faith community you serve. The impressions will be lasting ones, not only on the children and families, but on the entire congregation.
It is a high calling. But you are not alone.
One great way to connect the generations is through prayer. Check out this great resource at www.prayformecampaign.com that links kids and youth with prayer champions of various ages. At our church, this has led to stronger relationships across the entire congregation.
Another source for connecting the generations can be found at D6 Family. Their resources range from a blog intended for engaging families in the church community to a free app that provides devotionals and tools for family discipleship to their curriculum D6 Generations that is a family-aligned curriculum for every generation. Find out more at www.d6family.com
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.