The blame game. We’ve all played it. Ever since Adam blamed God for giving him that woman who made him sin. The blame game has been employed a lot in recent decades in regard to students who leave the church after high school with little desire to return. Parents want to blame the church (specifically youth ministers), as they should’ve done more for their children. Youth ministers want to blame parents, as they should’ve done more to fulfill their God-given role in the home.
The truth is that the blame lies with both. Both parents and also the church have a part in helping children and teens grow in their relationship with God. Playing the blame game is not productive since it forces everyone to focus solely on the negative. Instead, both church and home need to concentrate on working together to discover biblical ways in which to help teens become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.
Tim Kimmel seeks to do just that in his recent work Connecting Church & Home: A Grace-Based Partnership. Seeking to promote grace-based parenting and family ministry, Kimmel advocates using God’s gracious relationship with us as a model of how we—parents and the church—should minister to our kids and teens. “Grace-based parenting and grace-based family ministry is simply treating the people in your (church) family the way God treats the people in his. It’s treating your children the way he treats his” (64-65).
Grace-Based Parenting and Ministry
Kimmel has authored several books, founded Family Matters, and speaks at the D6 conference. From the start you can sense his passion to connect families and the church with the goal of helping children and teens encounter the radical grace of Jesus. Kimmel firmly believes it’s only by God’s grace that children and teens will come to know him. Additionally, Kimmel encourages us consider the family as a “domestic church” and the church as a “gathering of domestic churches” (1). He emphasizes the God-given role of parents in ministering to their children, observing that parents have “subcontracted” this role out to the church for far too long.
Much of what Kimmel writes has been covered many times in multiple works over the past decade. There’s not much new here, yet I found few references to other works he may have drawn from. In fact, very few endnotes or references appear at all. The idea of a “domestic church,” for example, has been around for centuries. Even Jonathan Edwards called the home a “little church.” Rabbis for millennia have recognized the home as a “small sanctuary” or “miniature temple” that’s “set apart” (holy) for special purposes. References to such readily available information are curiously absent in Connecting Church & Home.
Kimmel proceeds to provide the quickest history of modern-day family ministry I’ve ever read (about two and a half paragraphs) in order to demonstrate why and how parents have moved away from spiritual leadership in the home. Parents began abdicating their God-given role to the “professionals” in the church and “became uniformly distracted from their higher biblical role” (5). Kimmel observes that a movement to the other extreme has emerged in recent years in an attempt to correct this course. He’s referencing the work of advocates for Family Driven Faith (or what’s been termed “Family Integrated Ministry”). Kimmel applauds their efforts but desires to find a better way to partner the home and church so that others in the community of faith can aid parents in this very important task. While I agree with Kimmel, I wish he’d helped his readers understand this movement more fully and perhaps quoted from some works that espouse this view.
He continues by advocating a new philosophy for both parents and churches. A parent’s philosophy must be to connect to their child’s heart so that the child can more easily connect to God’s (21). In turn, the churches’ philosophy must be “to connect to the heart of each individual family leader in such a way that it better prepares those parents to develop a heart connection to their kids that subsequently inclines those kids towards a deeper love for the Lord and kindness toward others” (23).
The rest of the book is Kimmel’s attempt to outline a grace-based philosophy of ministry to children and teens for parents and churches alike. He explains how parents and churches can work together to spiritually raise kids in healthy family and church environments. Kimmel breaks down four dimensions of grace-based parenting and ministry: greatness, character, freedoms, and inner needs.
While I don’t disagree with his premise, much of what I read can be found in numerous self-help books. I kept wondering, in other words, how this is any different from teaching we find in secular thought. Though Kimmel shares several verses to demonstrate his points, the book largely leaves readers taking him at his word. He also makes some concerning statements:
God calls most pastors to minister to a particular church. He reserves a handful to minister to the Church in general. . . . Our job is to do the work that a typical pastor would love to do but can’t because he or she is up to his or her elbows in the goo of people’s broken lives. (83)
I feel my responsibility is to do homework for overworked servants of the Lord. . . . In so many of the books I’ve written, I’ve tried to write chapters that are outlined, biblically annotated, and illustrated—a chapter that a pastor can easily grab on Saturday afternoon or evening and have something encouraging to say the next morning. (83-84)
As I read these statements I couldn’t help but write in the margins Travesty!, for I found myself reading an endorsement of the very mindset I’m consistently denouncing in my seminary classes. How do we know there’s this subset of ministers outside church ministry whose job is to make ministers’ jobs easier? Why would we ever want to remove from a minister the work of study and preparation for delivering the precious message of the gospel?
Passion and Direction
Overall, I believe Connecting Church & Home has merit in presenting a brief overview of what grace-based parenting and ministry could look like in the local church. His chapter on “The Happiest Most Gracious Place on Earth” was valuable as he suggested resources for parents and churches to further develop grace-based parenting and ministry. Yet I wouldn’t place this book at the top of my list to recommend. There are several other works I believe can present much of what Kimmel provided with greater detail and more references for further study. (I’d recommend A Theology for Family Ministry edited by Michael and Michelle Anthony or Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples by Timothy Paul Jones, to name a couple.) The book left me wondering how this grace-based ministry and parenting happens practically.
Nevertheless, I loved Kimmel’s emphasis on grace as a guide for ministering to children and teens. You can sense his own love for God and desire to help families and churches fall in love with God as well. He is rightly fed up with parents and churches simply teaching children and teens morality and character/behavioral change without ever mentioning gospel grace. I’m grateful to find a fellow minister with such passion and direction.