The Family Ministry Field Guide

This is a guest post by Jared Kennedy, Pastor for Children's Ministry at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.  He blogs at http://sojournkids.com One of the privileges I have in serving at Sojourn is laboring alongside faithful brothers in ministry who are strong leaders—locally and nationally--in various areas of ministry.  One of those brothers is Dr. Timothy Paul Jones (pictured at right), Associate Professor of Discipleship and Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I recently had the honor of reading a draft of his new book, The Family Ministry Field Guide, that will be published this Spring.  Since I just finished reading the manuscript, I want to take some time while writing for Life2Gether to ask Dr. Jones a few questions about his work.  The book offers a ton of practical advice for pastors and parents.  Dr. Jones gracious enough to entertain my questions, and I’ll be posting his answers in a series of three posts.

Dr. Jones, you are a professor at Southern Seminary, and you are a member of Sojourn Community Church, which has affiliations with Acts 29 and the SBC.  For the most part, this is a Reformed and Baptist world that you work and serve in, but your latest book, The Family Ministry Field Guide, is going to be published by the Wesleyan Publishing House.  Could you tell us a little bit about the project as well as how that happened? The idea for The Family Ministry Field Guide grew out of two concerns that emerged during the first couple of years that I was developing the foundations for family ministry programs at Southern Seminary: The first concern was that I saw the discussions veering toward pragmatism. What I was hearing was, "We are losing most of our church youth after high school; we need to change what we're doing. Do family ministry and you will retain more of your youth." That's a false line of reasoning at several levels. The second concern was that I began to catch myself saying things like, "The church should be family-centered" or "let's make our ministries family-focused." I became convicted of the very real possibility of family becoming an idol. This book was intended to provide a very practical guide to family ministry that is centered in and motivated by the gospel.

When it comes to the publishing of the book, it may be that the contracting of books is like the making of sermons and sausages--the less you know about the process, the easier it is to swallow. But, in truth, Wesleyan Publishing House has a strong commitment to resources that help churches to equip parents. I think they saw that, though I am writing from an unabashedly Reformed point of view, this could be a helpful resource for churches in the Holiness tradition as well. I was eager to work with them because their involvement both broadened the audience and provided an opportunity for me to be sharpened by fellow-believers whose theology differs somewhat from my own. I am also glad that I worked with them because I read many of John Wesley's sermons, to include some quotations from Wesley in the book, and found a rich trove that I would otherwise have missed. If George Whitefield could work harmoniously with the Wesley brothers and their heirs, so can I.

In the acknowledgments section, you described how a seasoned student minister corrected you when you were moderating a panel at a family ministry conference.  Later, you described that moment to me as the beginning of a theological journey toward the perspective laid out in this book.  Could you relate that story and what you’ve learned for our readers? I began to sketch out this book after being corrected in a family ministry question-and-answer forum that I moderated. I asked the panel something like, "Practically speaking, how can churches become more family-centered?” At this point, a pastor—a practitioner who’s just as passionate about family ministry as I am—jumped in and said, “I don’t want a family-centered church! I want a Gospel-centered church that mobilizes families for the glory of God.” He apologized afterward for critiquing my choice of words, but there was no need for apology. He was right, and his statement set me to thinking about how we can do family ministry without making healthy families our goal. If family becomes our goal, family has become an idol--and the idolatry of family is no less  despicable in God's sight than the Asherah poles of ancient Israel or the materialist consumerism of contemporary Western culture. That drove me toward a far more gospel-centered vision for family ministry.

When will the book be out and where can we get it? It will be on bookstore shelves in spring of next year. It is already available for pre-order at Amazon.com.