Late to church again, Jared and Ashley found a parking spot and rushed inside with their toddler and second grader. After stopping at the restroom, checking into Sunday school, and waiting for the ushers to allow latecomers to be seated, dad and mom plopped down in the back of the sanctuary with one prayer in mind—“Lord, please keep our keep our son’s ID number off the side-screens for once!” For the remainder of the service, Jared and Ashley shared similar thoughts:
- How can I be present in the worship service after such a chaotic morning?
- Why did we sign up to be monthly parent helpers? We can hardly get here!
- Should we just take a break from church for a season while life settles down a bit?
You don’t need to have kids to identify with frazzled family life. A sermon on “The Ten Best Behaviors of Biblical Families” is hardly helpful. Many parents want to faithfully participate in church, but being constantly tardy and overwhelmed is defeating. Sadly, a lot of families feel frustrated and alone even inside church walls. Ministry leaders don’t mean to pressure parents or push them away, but it happens.
Pastors have a weekly opportunity to draw in and love on families. One tactic is to paint a picture of ideal moms and dads or vent about misguided parental priorities. A better approach is to offer forgiveness—to extend God’s grace and truth to families.
Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Families need your forgiveness, not added frustration. They need the body of believers to bear with them, not bear down on them. To build a strong, lasting, spiritual bridge between church and home, live out Colossians 3 with moms and dads in your ministry. Here are five ways to get your started:
- Don’t shame families for being busy.
It’s tempting to point fingers at parents for taxiing kids from here to there, not taking church seriously, and so on. This is a good way to blow off steam, but a terrible way to love on busy families. Resist heaping additional guilt on moms and dads. They truly believe they’re doing the best they can and agree with pastors that, even on their best days, it’s not perfect or enough.
- Share your frustrations and failures.
If you’re a pastor that’s also a parent or grandparent, play a role in spiritually mentoring the moms and dads your congregation reaches. Less and less families live near extended relatives. Parents need spiritual support from surrogate moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles in their family of faith. Sharing honest stories from the pulpit, in classes, through newsletters, and even on Twitter or Facebook, can speak words of life and hope into a struggling mom or dad’s day.
- Encourage families through relational consistency.
The world families live in is constantly changing. How can church provide stability for parents that are tired of turbulent waters? Think twice before overhauling another area of ministry, phasing out a program, or shifting pastoral staff. Strengthen families by building up long-term ministry leaders and teams, communicating clearly and frequently, and being physically present to personally connect as often as possible.
- Invite families to engage at their own pace.
Rather than create a one-size fits all approach to programming, establish several ways for moms and dads at various stages of discipleship to connect with ministries and people in the church. Create a parent pathway with multiple on ramps like midweek meet-ups, Bible study groups, date nights, short-term classes, single-parent mentoring, and family serving opportunities. You don’t need to start everything at once, just don’t limit your church to one way for families to participate.
- Never give up on a family’s kids.
Even if parents drive you crazy, never stop reaching and discipling their kids. The body of Christ is responsible to make disciples of all ages. Families play an important but incomplete spiritual role in children’s lives. One outstanding way you can serve moms and dads is to know, love, and serve their kids in the way of Jesus. This investment communicates your willingness to forgive a family’s faults for the spiritual sake of their children. Take children’s and youth ministry seriously in your church and families will follow your lead.
Dan Lovaglia is an author, speaker, and children’s ministry catalyst at Awana. He is passionate about propelling relational discipleship forward in the lives of kids, families, and leaders through the local church. He and his wife live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with their two fantastic teenage sons and rescue dog Rookie.