FAMILY MINISTRY FIELD STUDY
By Sheneka Land
Jennifer Callahan is a busy mother of twenty-one-year-old twin daughters, Abby and Kelsey, who are full-time college students, and she is wife to their father Troy. She is an advanced director with The Pampered Chef company, while Troy serves as a customer service tech with a local telephone company. The Callahan family has been attending their current home church for ten years.
In our interview, Jennifer described her home church as being influential to her family in a number of ways. Jennifer credits the series-style sermons and teachings as having been most beneficial to her and her husband because of the spiritual accountability and protection this style of Christian instruction has provided. Within this environment, Jennifer says that she finds peace, joy, and comfort that would not exist in a secular community. She greatly appreciates the fact that the church leadership is committed to providing spiritual nurture not only through sermons but through small group Bible studies and fellowship meetings as well. In this way, members of the community commit to guard and protect each other.
The church governs most of its family programs through the work of volunteers. The entire Callahan family volunteers in various arms of ministry at their home church. While Troy volunteers to run computers in the worship arts department, Jennifer and the girls serve in the children’s ministries. Jennifer works at the sign-in desk in the children’s worship building and she loves the weekly interaction she has with the kids and their parents. Jennifer describes volunteer work as fulfilling because it gives her a sense of belonging and allows her to use her talents for God’s glory. Twins, Kelsey and Abby, appreciate the coordination that occurs before they ever arrive at church to volunteer. Each person is well-trained and informed of his or her specific responsibility weeks before beginning to serve.
Each family member described points of dis-equilibrium that occasionally become problematic for volunteers. For instance, present volunteers can become overcommitted while gifts and talents of others seeking to find a place to serve go unrecognized. Jennifer believes that a better plan to discover gifts and talents should be implemented by church leaders and then opportunities should be given to serve by personal one-on-one invitations. Jennifer believes this will generate a desire to volunteer in church ministry so that “the faithful few won’t be overworked and stressed.”
The family as a whole testified to the stress of overcrowded personal and family schedules as a result of a lack of volunteers within the church. Because of this lack, Jennifer speaks of times past in which she allowed a sense of guilt and obligation to overrule a sense of balance in regard to volunteer work.
Troy speaks of the financial burden that sometimes occurs if a family such as his own lives a distance from the church. During a time of unemployment, volunteer work became quite burdensome for his family due to lack of gas money. Preparation throughout the week required him and the girls to spend time at the church before Sunday worship. Troy also acknowledged a lack of quality family time because he spent evenings volunteering at church when he should have been home with his family instead.
Abby and Kelsey echo their mother’s concern that people are not serving because gifts and talents are going unnoticed. They believe that leadership becomes satisfied with “the faithful few” because they are getting the job done and the need to discover gifts and talents throughout the congregation goes unnoticed.
The noted bond among the family members warms the heart. Jennifer credits their family unity to the church community who has nurtured and strengthened their family through times of marital trials and parental stress. Though the girls are adult, they continue to worship with their parents as a family unit in the early service before volunteering in their various positions in the late service. Though Troy is busy running the computer, his wife and daughters sit close behind him in fold-up chairs. They share easy smiles with each other and their commitment to each other and the church community is clearly indisputable.
Outside the church setting, the Callahans are avid bikers and lovers of the outdoors. They are seen in an almost equal mix of acquaintances from within and outside the church community. While they are influenced by the church community, they do not allow their church relationships to dictate outside relationships and activities. The Callahans seem to have grasped how to allow the family to influence the church and to allow the church to influence the family. Family and church equilibrium is practiced.
The Callahans are the type of family who influences others for Christ’s sake because they are aware of the importance of balanced family ministry within and without the church walls.
Filed Study Project
1. Father: Bro. Jerry
2. Mother: Sis. Michelle
3. Son: Gerald
• Bro. Jerry: Couples Ministry
• Sis. Michelle: Couples Ministry
• Son: Youth Ministry
Location: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
1. How does your family feel about your being in the ministry?
Jerry: I have been raised to believe that family is your first ministry. Yes, Jesus is absolutely first, but I believe family should be a priority.
Michelle: I agree with Jerry.
Gerald: I think my parents are right.
2. How do you personally go about establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries between church and family?
Jerry: God has called me to shepherd my family. If do not diligently attain to this calling, then I cannot be a faithful leader of the church. To be honest, I am struggling in keeping the healthy boundaries between family and church. My job involves responding to fire and medical emergencies on aircraft and I work 12-hour shifts which I have been doing for the past 5 years. There are some benefits to working nights, which include being able to get personal business done during normal office hours, but having a social life is difficult as we work weekends, bank holidays and Christmas so we do miss out on events, church and family gatherings.
Michelle: Well, I am working in insurance company with fixed hours and only morning shift so I don’t have problems such as my husband. However, I really feel bad if he is not with us during special events. I am also worry about his spiritual growth as his job requirements also affecting his church attendance and ministerial involvements.
3. How do you resolve conflict in your personal life and family matters?
Jerry: Since we don’t have any assigned counselor in our current church setting, therefore, most of the time we try to resolve conflicts within our own family system.
Michelle: I strongly feel that we our leaders / pastors should have the professional counseling skills.
4. Describe your views on traditional versus contemporary music.
Jerry: The music ministry of the church is meant to serve and foster the teaching of the Word. If the music distracts from the gospel, then the music is a hindrance. With being said, the style of the music does not matter to me.
Michelle: The words and the message are most important. I believe that congregation worship is enriched when praises are song from both the past and the present. I find great benefit from singing old hymns (like Come thou Fount or A Mighty Fortress) and from singing newer songs (like In Christ Alone by Sovereign Grace or Our God by Chris Tomlin). I would be happy serving in any setting—whether it is traditional, blended, or contemporary.
Gerald: I like contemporary music.
5. What do you see as the most effective forms of discipleship (e.g., Friday School, one on one mentoring, group studies)?
Jerry: I believe that each one of these forms of discipleship have their benefits. However, I have personally seen the effectiveness of small groups in a church. These groups allow for members to discuss their personal walk with the Lord and foster accountability.
Michelle: I agree with Jerry.
6. What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing our culture today? And how should the church of Jesus Christ meet it?
Jerry: The early church was known for its teachers. We need teachers who will help those who want to be disciples to understand what it means to follow Christ, and in the process will help us avoid false doctrine.
Michelle: Most of our leaders are good preachers, gifted communicators and good expositors of the Word. But we need leaders with vision who can lead the church into the future. I believe this is the apostolic gift--and it's more than merely planting churches. Apostles should effectively motivate people around God's vision. For the church to be strong, we must have strong apostolic leadership.
7. How do you see the role of youth ministry in church?
Jerry: To empower young people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in our world today.
Michelle: Today's youth are plunged into the distracting worlds of consumerism and technological isolation, which damages relationships including both familial ties and a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. We must show our youth that the Church maintains a culture of love and discipleship.
Jerald: It is important for youth to go beyond their family, parish, and school communities to serve the greater community. Our youth leaders should plan for short term mission trips for us to know about the real challenges in mission filed.
8. What do you say about the performance of our youth ministry leadership?
Jerry: I am not sure
Michelle: I am not happy.
Jerald: I think they need to restructure their programs through various forms of communication (personal relationships, media, technology, etc.) We don’t have any interrelatedness with other ministries.
9. What about our discipleship programs?
Jerry: We should have more qualified teachers to conduct seminars, workshops and proper teaching classes.
Michelle: I agree with Jerry.
10. Do you believe in egalitarian marriage?
11. How does egalitarian marriage works in your marriage?
Jerry: In our case, we make all major decisions together. Since each of us starts out willing to yield to the other, any disagreements are usually resolved in favor of who the issue is more important to. But if we disagree, we have to talk and pray until we find consensus.
Michelle: We have our goals and dreams together– and we have our goals and dreams as individuals. We each support the other in both.
12. Do you want to have more than one child?
Michelle: I am fine with one child and do not wish to have another child.
13. How do you handle your finances?
Jerry: I do have my personal account but my wife think that I am not good in handling finances so I gave it up and let her handle our mutual funds. However, we still sometime disagree on the utilization of money.
Michelle: I take the lead in the everyday finances, because he’s not that good with figures.
The filed study illustrates that tensions and possibilities the church and congregation faces in terms of “Families in the family of God.” This case study also shows that many of the ministries that are explicitly identified as oriented to the support and nurture of families in fact failed to play important roles in the church’s relations to families.
Through the metaphor of the church as sanctuary, the study shows how the congregation seeks to be a place of hope and renewal for the strengthening and support of families in crisis, transition, and challenge.
Things have changed since the global recession, with international markets stabilizing to differing extents. United Arab Emirates, in particular, has enjoyed a robust recovery and continues to attract expatriates from all over. However, there are still challenges, many businesses are still less likely to offer expatriates luxury contracts, continuing the cautious stance made necessary by the financial crisis. This means that expats need to be better than the competition and, in some cases, willing to compromise on their demands. In Jerry’s case, I have noticed that he is also struggling in meeting the demands of his job and in result his involvement in the church activities and participation in the ministry has been compromised.
Spending and sharing money with one's spouse is probably the most challenging aspect of marriage. It can be so destructive to a relationship or it can be a source of closeness. This field study revealed that though they did not have many problems about handling of finances entirely by one spouse but still there is an open space for conflict. These financial strains often cause greater stress upon the family than any other pressure in the ministry.
Ministry in the Home: Home ministry is the God-given role we have as husbands or wives to love our spouses as God loves us. If we are parents, it includes our role to love and raise our children according to His truth. The Bible commands us to invest in our spouse and children by nurturing them, helping them develop intellectually, physically, relationally, and spiritually (Psalms 78:2-7). This requires maintaining an intimate relationship with each family member through consistent time with one another. But we also have the additional typical responsibilities of holding a job that provides for the family and do basic maintenance things on our house, car, etc. Needless to say, this all adds up to a considerable time investment. There is even more!
Ministry in the Church: God not only speaks to our role in the family, but is equally clear that part of walking with him includes serving him in the church with the resources He's given us – our money, spiritual gifts, time, etc. When we speak of church ministry, we'll be referring to the ministry role(s) we fill in the body of Christ according to our spiritual gifts and burdens (Ephesians 4:1, 11, 12). This includes the time we spend developing friendships with non-Christians so that we may share the Gospel. Additionally, personal spiritual growth (character transformation) also requires investing time in prayer, service, and individual study of the Word, developing relationships with Christians who can help us grow, and going to teachings. These are all provisions from God that are necessary for our growth. It's not surprising that attempting to balance home and church ministry can produce tension and at times, anxiety. But balance them we must.