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Is Your Church Hurting Families? SBTS Calls Parents and Churches Back to Biblical Discipleship of Children

February 20, 2009

Jeff Robinson is editor of Gender Blog and Garrett Wishall is editor of Towers, the campus newspaper of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Is your church unintentionally hurting families? Or to frame the question less provocatively, how should the church assist parents in fulfilling the divine call to raise up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? The School of Leadership and Church Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is helping local churches, pastors and laypersons to think more biblically about this crucial question.

Southern Seminary has introduced a family ministry model that centers on equipping parents to biblically train their children. Designed for future associate pastors, the new approach, called the Family Equipping Ministry Model, seeks to address a weakness in the ministry of many local churches, said CBMW President Randy Stinson, who serves as dean of Southern's School of Leadership.

The new model seeks to address the well-documented breakdown of the home in contemporary culture, Stinson said. The programmatic mindset of many evangelical churches has been an unwitting co-conspirator in the breakup of the family, Stinson points out, a sad reality that Southern's new approach seeks to remedy.

"Enough has been said about the ineffectiveness of past ways of trying to reach families and trying to disciple children and teenagers," he said. "We all know there is a problem and we're tired of talking about the problem. Now, we want to address the problem."

"One of our main concerns has been that over the last 20 years the discipleship of children and teenagers has not been as effective as it should be. One of the reasons that is true is because parents have either not been trained, not been held accountable, or both, to being the primary disciple-makers of their children. The Family Equipping Ministry Model espouses a partnership between the home and the church where the church oversees and equips the members of their church, in particular parents, to disciple their children."

Southern has developed an informal coalition with Family Life Ministries, led by Dennis Rainey, and several local churches to create the new model. The Family Equipping Ministry Model operates from a definition developed by Timothy Paul Jones, Assistant Professor of Leadership and Church Ministry at Southern. Jones defines family ministry as "The process of intentionally and persistently realigning a congregation's proclamation and practices so that parents – and especially fathers – are acknowledged, trained and held accountable as the persons primarily responsible for the discipleship of their children." See Dr. Jones forthcoming book "Perspectives on Family Ministry" (B&H Academic, 2009). Stinson and Jones agree that the strength of the model is its emphasis on the particular responsibility which Scripture bestows upon fathers in the discipleship of their families.

Stinson said the local church tested, and theologically grounded model differs from the Family-Integrated Church Model (FIC) that has become popular in some circles. "The FIC essentially does away with youth pastors and age-graded ministry," he said. "The Family Equipping Ministry Model, while advocating a restructuring of the various ministries of the church, utilizes various trained pastoral positions and does not do away with age-graded ministry."

Southern's paradigm for family ministry will be on display in a conference called "Connecting Home and Church," set for March 20-21 at Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville, Tenn. For more information on this conference, see last week's preview post on Gender Blog.

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