After almost 30 years of pastoral counseling and teaching, I chose teaching. Why? Any pastor knows teaching is often less emotionally demanding than counseling. But my feelings arose not from trying to invest less emotion or time in counseling and more in teaching. Rather, after observing a continual crisis in family ministry, I saw the need to seek proactive ways to help families prevent heartbreak and "get it right" instead of continually seeking reactive ways to cope with or mend broken lives.
For decades the church has focused (and necessarily so) on developing ministries that react to family problems, such as counseling centers, support groups, divorce-recovery ministries and 12-step programs. More proactive ministry needs to occur in congregations that focus on building strong marital, parenting and family relationships.
For years my wife, Judi, and I have worked nationally and internationally in marriage, parenting and family ministry. We often ask the question, "Who in this group has ever been equipped in groups, courses or ministry settings to have a strong, healthy, Spirit-filled marriage, home or family?" Usually the response is dismal. People spend more time getting equipped to drive a vehicle than to fulfill God's design for marriage and family!
Nehemiah exhorts, "fight for your...families" (Neh. 4:14, NLT). We must strategize now to build strong families. What is your congregation's strategic plan to build strong marital, parenting and family relationships?
Yes, Presence-filled worship, cell groups, prayer ministry and pastoral counseling are a beginning. But more is needed. Consider taking these steps:
**Implement in-depth discipleship groups and classes for marriage, parenting and family, teaching spouses and parents healthy, biblical life-skills and equipping young people for marriage and parenting.
**Preach and teach from the pulpit in substantive series each year on practically living out the biblical truths regarding marriage, parenting and family.
**Regularly conduct seminars, workshops, conferences and community outreach events.
**Have in your bookstore or on your book table excellent resources for reading and studying on marriage, parenting and family issues.
**Offer marriage and family counseling that not only does crisis intervention, but also offers supportive and equipping groups. Raise the awareness of your people of the need to get counseling before chronic problems become relationship cancers.
**Offer--even require--premarital and pre-parenting classes.
**Take time to teach on biblical stewardship and responsible financial management before receiving tithes and offerings. Have discipleship settings for equipping youth to manage money and to stay debt-free. Equip adults in classes and seminars to become good stewards of their financial resources.
**Become familiar with and use the resources of ministries that offer excellent equipping in family ministry, such as University of the Family (www.marriage.org), Focus on the Family (www.family.org), Family Builders Ministries (www.familybuilders.net) and books provided by publishers such as Charisma House (www.charismahouse.com). This list is just a beginning.
Finally, know the devices of the enemy. Satan's first attack was against marriage and family, and he hasn't stopped.
As pastors and church leaders, now is the time to equip and empower our people to build strong marriages and families, which in turn build strong churches. Fight for the family!
Larry Keefauver is co-pastor of The Gathering Place Worship Center in Lake Mary, Florida, and the author of more than 40 books, including Inviting God's Presence (Warner Faith) and Lord, I Wish My Teenager Would Talk With Me (Charisma House).
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