As I travel around the country and speak at mid-sized churches I have been introduced to those who have the title of Family Pastor. Interestingly, when I ask them to describe their responsibilities, I hear varied answers.
In larger churches, the title is usually given to a young person who is responsible to minister to the youth and oversee the children’s ministry. He also might be given other roles that accompany an associate pastor. But his primary responsibility is to oversee the children and youth.
As one who has a heart for family discipleship and as a former lead pastor, I would like to think through this. Might we be changing the name without changing the philosophy? Perhaps we should keep calling those who oversee youth and children’s ministry what they are – Pastor of Children and Youth. But if we call a person a Family Pastor, then I would propose that it include an additional responsibility – the family.
In one sense, all pastors are to be family pastors. God tells us that a pastor is to “manage his own household well seeing that his children obey him with proper respect” (1 Timothy 3:4). Godliness is lived out in the home. This starts with the homes of the leaders.
But if this is true for leaders it is also true for the flock. The family is the first arena that I live out the gospel. Sin affects our homes. Godliness will play out in our homes also.
So a family pastor will, in the spirit of Ephesians 4:12, equip the flock to live the gospel out in their homes and interactions throughout the week.
If a church is small, then this might be one of the many hats that a lead pastor wears. But if possible, the church can ask a leader, whether paid or not, to initiate this ministry emphasis.
Focuses for a Family Pastor
This brings us back to the paid family pastor. What I am suggesting is that there are two (and perhaps 3) different focuses of ministry for a family pastor:
1. Individual equipping about God and godliness (e.g. children’s ministry, youth ministry).
2. Individual equipping of adults about the family – equipping that helps the family glorify God the other six days of the week. This is ministry, aimed not at children or young people, but aimed at helping strengthen marriages, parenting, and family discipleship.
3. Catalyzing family interactions – This third type of equiping does not see to equip individuals and then send them home to interact. Rather this type of equipping seeks to facilitate and catalyze growth on the spot. This is the difference between a marriage class and a marriage retreat. Other examples could include teaching to both parents and teens with a guided discussion time afterwards.
The Older Family Pastor
If a family pastor takes on this responsibility it raises the question of the how. A young man with young children may have the heart for this ministry but he doesn’t have the weight, authority, and experience. A forty-two year-old man with a problem teen has a hard time listening to a 32 year-old who only sees his son one night a week. The truth is that while we do have the powerful Scriptures, we still minister best to those who are at the same stage or behind us in live.
Thus, the best family pastor to equip families for the trials of family life is one who is actually living it. Perhaps his children are in the teen years or older. His family has weathered storms. He is able to speak to other parents with wisdom and authority.
The Younger Family Pastor
What then of the enthusiastic 30 year-old hired to oversee the youth but with a burden for the families? All is not lost! You don’t have to wait another ten years. You can facilitate ministry by finding a couple who fits the above description. Encourage them and give them a platform of ministry. Put resources in their hands that articulate things they may do or have done by intuition. Partner with them.
The amount of teaching and shepherding they do may depend on their gifting. You may even bring in help via proxy by having a video series and then letting the couple(s) comment on it. You are equipping families to live the gospel in their homes even while recognizing your youth.
But the older family pastor who is in the middle of the child-rearing years has a perfect opportunity to equip other families to live out Christilkeness in the home. The first title for a church leader is elder. Elder means older, meaning one who is an example and further down the road. As an “older” I have a responsibility to look beside me and behind me chronologically and see who I can shepherd.
A church can and should give oversight to ministry to individuals. Children’s ministry, youth ministry, men’s and women’s ministry all are helpful. But if you are a family pastor, don’t just limit your ministry to this. Think about how you can equip the marriages and parents in your church. If you are young, catalyze older saints. If you are in the midst of family life, gather others with you.
A godly home adorns the gospel, displaying it to the world. Pastors, we need your help equipping us in this area.