Years ago our church made a shift in how we approached age-graded ministry. It is not that what we were doing was bad or sinful, but our convictions revealed that a change was right.
We began shifting from a family-based ministry strategy to a family-equipping strategy. The big differentiator is that within the family-based model the church provides age-focused ministries for everyone and ultimately separates many family members when gathered together for Bible study or worship. This is not necessarily wrong as many like me, grew up in churches that implemented this strategy. The downside is that parents and guardians are rarely strategically led to be the lead disciple-makers of the children within their home. The default is to basically outsource that biblical process to the teachers and leaders of the local church (e.g. Sunday school teachers, youth ministers, children's directors, etc.)
The family-equipping model seeks to come alongside parents and guardians with the intent to lead and enable them to be the lead disciple-makers in their homes. They are then equipped to lead home worship, Bible studies with their family members, and ultimately to be able to share the fullness of the gospel message with those within their homes. Of course, there are families where parents or guardians are not believers and the members of the church then fill that gap, but otherwise, we come alongside parents in this role rather than usurping it completely.
We knew it would be a long transition and this morning I received an email from a former church member who has relocated to another state. While he and his wife were in our church they were blessed with a son and as is the case in many churches we had a parent-child dedication service for them. We began shifting that recognition as well years ago. We now require parents to attend a class that explains the importance of raising their children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord." Then, rather than have a child dedication, we truly have a parent dedication before the church family. It is a special time.
One thing that I present to the family that day, besides a Bible, a book for parents, and a certificate (these are traditional gifts, but good and we believe important) is a letter. This letter is in a sealed envelope and has the child's name printed on the front. The letter is written by me to the child and is intended to be saved until that day when the child surrenders his or her life to Christ as Savior. We are praying for this child to become a Christian and that is part of the church's commitment to the parents.
This morning I received the email from Jay regarding his son's recent surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord. He gave me permission to share it here:
Pastor David,It has been a while since we last spoke. I hope this email finds you well!I am writing you to share the most wonderful news that Jennifer and I were able to have conversations with our son Cooper about Christ and his sacrifice for us and what it means to have a relationship with him eternally. Cooper then asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior.I want to thank you so much for your leadership at FBCOP (First Baptist Church of Orange Park,) for without that, and the meticulous family equipping model, I don’t think I would have been able to talk with Cooper like that. The intentionality of that model equipped Jen and I to feel confident to share our testimony and help lead Cooper to Christ. (This happened on my birthday, I don’t think I’ll ever get such a wonderful present!)I know we have moved from the area, and probably will not ever be back in the North Florida area again (we are loving the small town Muskogee, Oklahoma life!), but I will forever be grateful for your leadership, because I can now call my son Cooper my brother-in-Christ!Tonight we showed him the letter you wrote to him when we dedicated him in 2013. It was so special to us and to him, and he was able to see the full circle of dedication to salvation.I thought I would share with you some pictures of our special day.I will always continue to pray for you and FBCOP. God is so good!Jay Fuller
This email did find me well, to say the least. I was overjoyed to read this and to see the pictures of Cooper. I am so impressed that Jay and Jen were able to keep that sealed letter this long (I guess I'm saying, I would have misplaced it by now.) Nonetheless, this is amazing and while it took years for this process in Cooper's life to come to fruition, I am so thankful that his parents were able to have these very important spiritual conversations with him. This is why we shifted to a family-equipping model. Mom and dad did not have to call the pastor at the church to have this vital conversation with their son. They were equipped by God to do so and I believe based on what Jay wrote, our church played a small role in that.
The Fullers are active members at First Baptist Church of Muskogee, Oklahoma where Kevin Chartney serves as Lead Pastor. I am thankful for faithful, gospel-centered churches like this where we can be confident our former church family members are able to join and serve when relocating to a new home.