This blog series, Family Ministry: Not Just for the Christian Right Anymore, explores how family-based faith formation ministry will help progressive Christian values take root first in homes and then throughout our communities and the world in order to spread justice and peace.
My first ministry “job” was typical for a first-year seminarian — a part-time student pastor charged with organizing and guiding the youth program in a local, mid-sized congregation. Fresh with knowledge of God’s call on my life and with roughly half of a semester of seminary under my belt, I gathered the high school youth group together one Sunday night and launched into what I thought was a earth-shaking, life-altering discussion of how THEY might be feeling called to ministry and what that might mean for their life choices. I thought this discussion would reshape their priorities and send them packing for seminary even before they went to college.
There was one huge, gaping hole in my plan: NONE of them knew what the word ministry meant. Even most of the adults. Being a baby seminarian myself, I didn’t really know either.
If you look up the word ministry or minister in the regular ol’ English dictionary, the definition refers to the priestly person who does service on behalf of and for the church. Ministry, not surprisingly, limits itself to that official religious office. That didn’t help my cause in convincing the average teenager or adult youth group chaperone that ministry is something everyone is called by God to do.
If you look back to the etymology of the word, the Latin root, ministerium, means to serve. That’s better. The Protestant Reformation helps. Although he didn’t use the exact phrase, scholars credit Martin Luther with coming up with the idea of the “priesthood of all believers;” meaning that all Christians, by virtue of their baptism, are called by God to serve their communities and the world.
These are lofty, lovely ideas. When the rubber hits the road, most churches are accustomed to the “professional” ministers doing the work of ministry. I’ve heard many stories of congregants avoiding taking ownership of ministries of the church. I’ve also heard pastors balk at giving congregants responsibility for ministry by training and equipping them.
So if most of us think (if we think at all) of ministry as somethings only those “professionals” or “priestly types” do, then doing “family ministry” seems as difficult as rocket science or brain surgery. What could saying a table grace with your family possible do to bring an end to hunger? What could doing a devotion alone every morning before sunrise do to bring peace to this war-torn world? What could talking about a movie with your junior high school-aged nephew have to do with helping him recognize God’s call to love the stranger?
Everything. Family ministry has everything to do with bringing about God’s vision for greater justice, mercy and peace that progressive Christians hold dear. For one simple reason: Practice. Practice. Practice.
It takes a daily devotional practice to even get a glimpse of God’s vision. It take years of giving thanks to God for the meal on your table to feel the pain of others who go to bed without eating. It takes years of sitting down to meals with your family (even when you don’t get along) in order to welcome a foreigner into your home or church. It takes serious reflection on movies, media and music to get an inkling of how God inspires art so that we may be inspired to live better lives.
Daily, regular practice of our faith in our homes gives us safe space to test out the countercultural ways Jesus’ shows us. Daily, regular practice inspires the realization that we can no longer spend our money on products that exploit child labor. Daily, regular practice opens our eyes to the pain of those who are denigrated because of their race, gender, sexuality or age. Daily, regular practice calls us to welcome undocumented immigrants because God calls us, without exception, to welcome the stranger in our midst. Daily, regular practice draws us into listening to those with whom we don’t agree politically because we are called to love our neighbor and our enemy.
Family ministry. It can. It will. Change the world.
To see some of my favorite family ministry resources and devotional practices, check out my Pinterest boards.