Monday, January 11, 2010

"Perspectives on Family Ministry"

I just finished "Perspectives on Family Ministry" by Paul Renfro, Brandon Shields and Jay Strother (foreword by Randy Stinson) and thought that this was a fascinating overview of various family ministry models in the church today. I posted a review here on Amazon, but I'm posting it here as well. It's a good book.


Having just finished reading this book, I was satisfied to find that all three writers in the discussion, Paul Renfro, Brandon Shields and Jay Strother, all presented fair and comprehensive arguments for differing models of what family ministry should be. Yet at the same time, I felt that so much more could have been said and discussed about the issue. There's still plenty of good discussions, responses, and rebuttals, though, to make this a fascinating read.

I thought that Paul Renfro opened up with an excellent presentation and defense of the Family-Integrated model, and indeed there is much good that can be said of this structure of worship. Yet at the same time, as the counter-discussions dig into this model (namely Brandon Shield's counter) the arguments strike that this model doesn't address the community at large, or fractured families. There might be something to this, in the fact that there can be a niche quality some family-integrated churches. Don't get me wrong: as someone personally with a large family, it can be wonderful to be a part of a congregation that is largely family focused and oriented. But at the same time, in this day and culture of fragmented families, the counter-arguments seem to challenge if the family-integrated model does the most to reach those alienated demographics (such as fractured families, singles, etc).

Brandon Shields presents the Family-Based Ministry model, one seemingly more culturally emersed (and at the same time, criticized by some for being too much of the culture.) I did find it commendable that Shield's took time to dig in with a critical view of some of the earlier research as to why children are leaving the church (p. 104) and also, in light of things such as the regulative principle, how Scripture does present non-traditional methods of ministry (p.116). Absent from this model, though, as Renfro points out, is mention of father leadership and the importance thereof - a strong feature of the family integrated model.

Jay Strother followed with a convincing overview of the family-equipping ministry model, which in a nutshell is built around restructuring church roles to work more with parents. One thing noteworthy about Strother's section (as well as with the other writers) was the inclusion of practical examples of the particular ministry model in practice. I think this helped a lot, as sometimes the writers try to describe each individual system, but often what is the most helpful is reading about a realistic example described.

Ultimately the take-away for me was that there are pros and cons to each model of family ministry. I thing that each writer presented a fair case for the different models, as well as a decent challenge to the other viewpoints. While the models of family worship did all have notable differences, it was equally noteworthy to read about the similarities as well (particularly family-based and family-equipping.) The discussions and responses were all cordial and focused on being informative discussions moreso than heavily confrontational, which was greatly appreciated.

One of the things missing, though, that I would have liked to see Paul Renfro take on a little more deeply, was the FIC focus on large families (e.g. families with more than a two kids), and the need to change the child perception paradigm to reflect Biblical principles of children as blessing, instead of the church just mirroring culture's viewpoint that children are a hindrance to material pleasure. To me, large families seem to go hand in hand with the family integrated model, and I would have at least liked to see this addressed (if for no other reason than to verify this conception) and to see how the other models (family-based and family-equipping) approach this view as well. If anything, this seemed to be a sorely missing topic and would have added a richer dimension to the text for me. Renfro would likely have trumped the other two models on this topic, and I can't help but think that addressing the topic of large families, as a key component to the family-integrated model, would have been a fascinating aspect of the debate.

Now slightly off the beaten track, but still noteworthy: what does the cover image of a subway track have to do with this topic? I'm thinking instead that maybe the book should have featured the image of a Sunday School classroom, or a group of school kids, or even a church congregation. So where does the subway come in? Family-based churches that meet on trains? :)

Also, what good does the Latin footnote on pg. 21 do to those who can't read Latin? It looks classy, sure, but means nothing to the monolingual reader.

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