Traditionally, churches and youth leaders focus on creating and managing events and activities exclusively for teenagers. They develop an experience with each other isolated from the rest of the church and their own families. Indeed, many of us who walk with the Lord today have fond memories of youth group trips and regular weekly meetings, but often there was very little adult or parental involvement. Such traditional models of ministry tend to be program or activity-driven models. However, current trends indicate that some churches and leaders now venture into a more comprehensive student ministry model for the student and his family as a part of the church. These newer approaches offer varying degrees of parental and adult volunteer involvement as part of intentional efforts to encourage spiritual formation of students, families, and adult leaders. This is not a new concept. Instead, it is a return to a more faithful biblical model for student and family ministry. Training parents and adult volunteers in sound doctrine brings strength and faithfulness in individuals, families, churches, and communities. Most importantly, the students themselves enjoy the long term benefits. Adults growing in their own faith in the context of a student and family ministry have a lasting impact on the lives of today’s teenagers, just as Paul addressed the need for and benefits of “training” individuals in his personal letter to Timothy.
Paul set before Timothy his own teaching strategy among believers by writing, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:6-7, ESV). Paul encouraged Timothy at this point to focus more on personal spiritual nourishment, which would ensure that Timothy remained faithful in a process of sanctification. However, his use of the phrase “put these things before the brothers” (and previous passages that have made a strong metaphorical connection between the pastoral leaders in the church and the father’s leadership in the home) indicate that Paul clearly wrote to Timothy so that the contents of the letter would be read and taught to the church. Paul’s wisdom to Timothy, concerning the value of ongoing spiritual nurture (training) in his personal life, also applies to the manner in which a modern church encourages church leaders and parents in their spiritual growth.
As churches and student pastors consider opportunities for encouraging spiritual formation in the lives of parents and adult leaders of students, Paul’s word in the 1 Timothy 4:6 brings a focused effort for comprehensive ministry. The term that the ESV translates “being trained in” is also translated as “nourished in” or “nourished by” in other translations (NKJV, NIV, HCSB, NASB). A good servant of the Lord is nourished in God’s Word consistently, and through that faithful nourishment, he or she experiences the sustaining grace of God. According to Kelly, nourishment for Timothy and by implication for church leaders and for leaders in the families was based on diligent daily study and perseverance in practicing the application of biblical truths. Read the Bible a lot, and obey it even more. Student pastors and family leaders have a responsibility to nourish their spiritual lives daily through the study and application of the Word of God in much the same way they would nourish themselves physically by eating meals.
A local church’s family ministry approach proves neglectful if there is not teaching, modeling, and facilitating individual spiritual nurture among the leaders in the church and in the home. A church or student pastor encourages this type of practice by providing materials, communicating an expectation that all adults should be involved in a small study or accountability group, facilitating family discussions of things taught at church by providing printed or electronic resources, and modeling all of this through the lives of the church leaders.
As churches and student pastors pursue a comprehensive student ministry characterized by adult leaders and parents growing strong in their faith, we must hold the banner high for a commitment to intentional training within the context of the church and the home. In times of evaluating ministry effectiveness, student pastors should include: What am I doing to intentionally foster the spiritual formation of the parents of our students, the adult leaders serving with our students, and in my own personal life. The answer to that question can provide guidance in how a church includes a comprehensive ministry to students and families.
George W. Knight, III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International
Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1992), 193.
J.N.D. Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles, Black’s New Testament Commentary 14 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1960), 98.