Churches must reach out and equip a new generation of children and families, said Michelle Anthony, who explained that the foundation for ministry must always be the gospel.
“The gospel is at the center of everything,” said Anthony, who serves as family ministry architect for David C. Cook, a non-profit organization that produces leadership resources for family ministry leaders with a strong desire to make disciples.
“Sometimes I missed that, at the center of why I went into ministry, is the gospel story.”
Anthony spoke in February during a family ministry conference that was hosted by David C. Cook in Charlotte. Anthony said she has experienced times throughout ministry when her focus became programs and not advancing the Kingdom and sharing the gospel.
Michelle Anthony explains that the core of any ministry should be the gospel. “Our commission is to be living testaments of what Christ has done in our lives,” she said.
“Our commission is to be living testaments of what Christ has done in our lives,” Anthony said. “We get distracted; we get too busy doing things for God, and we get deceived. There is a deceiver, and he has been deceiving God’s people for all of history.”
Anthony shared with conference participants, which included several Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) staff, that family ministry begins when leaders understand that they should be living in the “upper” story and not the “lower” story.
The “upper” story is God’s story and God’s perspective, which is holistic, divine and Kingdom-focused. The “lower” story is about the here and now, life’s challenges, and the never-ending struggle to find delight and joy in the temporal things of this world.
“We have a fixation with the lower story, and this is where we often find our families,” Anthony said.
When families focus on the “lower” story they are hindered from seeing the larger narrative of God’s redemption. They doubt God’s goodness and they define God from their own viewpoint and experiences, she said.
Yet, when leaders help families focus on the “upper” story, they begin to understand that everything exists for God’s glory – not their own – and they are able to live in abundant freedom. They recognize God is sovereign and will one day restore all things for His glory.
“Make the gospel personal, not a rehearsed speech,” Anthony said. “We are ambassadors of reconciliation. We have to be ambassadors of what is real and transformative. Are we actually giving our families Jesus? If not, we’re just giving them what the world gives them.”
Cheryl Markland, childhood ministry consultant for the BSC, said the conference helped her refocus on the truth and power of the gospel.
“Dr. Anthony challenged each of us as parents and leaders to make sure our families understand their role in God’s big story,” she said. “As we focus ourselves and our families on God’s desire for us to have a relationship with Him, we can trust Him more fully and look for His hand in the shaping of our lives. We are called to teach our children that they can live joyfully and with confidence that whatever comes our way God already knows and has a plan for our lives.”
Ministry leaders must understand the culture influencing families. Anthony shared that this generation is often more focused on fun and pursuing individual happiness than pursuing a relationship with Jesus.
When family ministries try to make programs fun, to the neglect of teaching biblical truth, “we play into the very habits that are drawing their hearts away from God in the first place,” Anthony said.
This generation, defined as those born after 1997, is known as the “Plurals” and is the first generation predicted to become pluralistic, meaning no single ethnicity will be the majority. The Plurals are also characterized by an openness and accepting nature to different ideas, including ideas of faith and religion.
Plurals are savvy with technology and social media, and consume nearly seven hours of media a day.
With a generation so connected to the world’s ideals, parents and church leaders must be more intentional than ever before in pointing them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Church and Family Connect
The BSC seeks to help family ministry leaders through its Church and Family Connect ministry, which is designed to help church leaders and parents answer questions about how to make fruitful disciples of the next generation.
“Church and Family Connect offers practical resources to help churches partner with parents to build intentional discipleship,” said Eddie Thompson, who also attended the conference. Thompson is a family ministry consultant with the BSC.
In recent decades too much responsibility has been placed on the church to disciple children, and BSC staff like Thompson and Markland seek to help equip parents and church leaders to work together.
For more information about Church and Family Connect, visit www.churchandfamilync.org.