Here is a single, comprehensive volume on family ministry, one that pastors can use with church leaders and parents. Timothy Paul Jones, in Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples (FMFG), provides an impressive array of biblical theology and practical ideas for helping churches train, involve, and equip parents to be the disciple-makers God has called them to be.
Timothy Paul Jones is a professor of leadership and church ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously served as a student pastor and a senior pastor. He is a prolific writer who has published works on theology, church history, apologetics, and practical ministry. FMFG is a mature work that draws on Jones’s experience. He successfully unites biblical theology and statistical research—a combination rarely done well! His practical suggestions and experiences give readers a well-rounded volume on family ministry.
As the title indicates, the book covers a range of topics that move from biblical truths on parenting to the painstaking process of implementing family ministries. The book is broken into five sections, which Jones labels “foundations.”
Foundation 1 supplies the need for reevaluating the way churches are ministering to families. Basing his preliminary observations on statistical data, Jones observes what families are and are not doing. He stresses the need for family worship to begin in the home and shows from two surveys how this is not a priority in most Christian homes. For church leaders, the survey forms are included in two appendices in the back of the book.
Foundation 2 tackles motives. Jones rightly perceives the reason why we do something is as important as the thing we do. So he explains that there are many wrong reasons to do “family ministry.” One such motivation he debunks is the prevalent but misunderstood belief that 90 percent of all youth drop out of church after high school. He shows where these numbers came from, then shows how these statistics fail to tell the whole story.
Foundation 3, which tackles the biblical data, perceptively shows how the discipling work of parents and churches has been unhelpfully subdivided. Thus, he challenges parents to know who their children are as boys and girls made in God’s image (creation) and who suffer the effects of sin (fall). But he argues that parents must also see how children fit into God’s larger story of redemption and new creation (74–79). Parents who focus on behavior control address only the first two parts of the story.
Scripture calls parents to train and nurture their children’s faith. How can churches best equip families to disciple their children?
Family ministry expert Dr. Timothy Paul Jones gives church leaders a practical plan to equip parents to be the primary faith trainers in their children’s lives, moving beyond mere programming into genuine spiritual transformation.
Foundation 4 focuses on the parents. From Jones’s research, the problem is not parental ignorance or unwillingness to train their children in the things of the Lord. Rather, the problem is time and training. No time is left to disciple, because parents have permitted school, sports, and other activities to consume all waking hours. While parents hope their children trust Christ, they often settle for “happy, well-paid adults” (102).
If parents have failed to prioritize their time to disciple children in the home, churches have failed to train parents so that they would be “equipped” for the task. Jones’s “family-equipping” model is born here.
Jones gives a helpful schematic that unites these two God-ordained institutions. He writes,
The church provides a context where parents are equipped to train their children in God’s ways, where children learn to live their faith in a larger community and through which believers are sent share the gospel throughout the world.
Parents disciple and train their children in ways that guide their children toward the gospel and leverage their children’s lives for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. (114)
With this twofold approach, FMFG encourages parents and churches to step up to the plate. Without berating or being programmatic, it biblically instructs church leaders how they can reorient existing ministries to help parents disciple their children.
Foundation 5 provides the nuts and bolts of transitioning a church to a family-equipping model. Since the goal of the book is to enculturate the gospel in homes and churches, he does not give a prescribed method or program. Instead, he offers a series of ideas to reorient people to “be” something new.
In the last chapter Jones reiterates the point that his “model” is not a “program” to be implemented but a series of priorities to be cultivated. He includes a helpful mnemonic device, “TIE,” to help churches think through the process of reorienting previous ministries into those that “Train,” “Involve,” and/or “Equip” parents (188-89). The suggestions can be easily assimilated into congregations that love the gospel of Jesus Christ. While they require rethinking and reorganization, Jones provides a compelling vision of family ministry for those who desire to see the next generation know the Lord.
Evaluation and Use
Family Ministry Field Guide is not a cure-all for family ministry, and it doesn’t claim to be. Therefore, anyone who comes to this book looking for all the Bible says about families will be disappointed. But so will the person who comes looking to find a new and improved program to upload at his church. Instead, Jones lays out a vision for family ministry that takes off from the Bible (Deut 6:6–9; Ps 78:1–8; Eph 6:1–4) and lands in the trenches of the Christian home and local church. In short, the book provides both precepts and practices, thus living up to its title as a field guide.
Perhaps the greatest strength of FMFG is the way that Jones construes family ministry as culture-shaping. Grounding his arguments in the gospel ministry of the home and the church, Jones beckons church members to not just “do” something new for families, but also to “be” the new creations God has made them to be. Jones calls for radical reorientation that “ties” together the work of parents and church leaders, resulting in an ethos of disciple-making and disciple-makers.
Some readers who are knowledgeable of the debates between family-integrated, family-based, family-equipping, and non-family models may be wondering why Jones does not argue against these other models. This was my concern until I realized that his non-polemical approach wisely speaks into the other branches of family-ministry, while not overwhelming church leaders with superfluous debates. In other words, FMFG is devoid of theoretical speculation, so that parents and church volunteers can hear the case for family-equipping without getting bogged down with tertiary considerations. Those discussions are needed, but Jones sticks to providing the reader with a useable handbook.
The approach of FMFG is so effective thanks to the realistic nature of its strategies. For instance, when it comes to implementing “family talks” Jones suggests one per week. While some overzealous pastors—myself included—might challenge parents to be in the Word with their family every single day, Jones reasons that this weekly routine protects families from being “overburdened with unreal expectations.” In time this frequency may grow as families become more accustomed to this new discipline (156).
On the whole, Timothy Paul Jones has given the 21st-century church an excellent guide for families and churches committed to sharing the gospel with the next generation. Jones is a theologically grounded practitioner, one who builds his model on the rock of God’s Word, wisely implementing strategies for helping parents and pastors cultivate communities of faith that train, involve, and equip parents to do the work God has called them to do—make disciples of the next generation.