This book by Diana Garland is a good read that has a good focus on families who give more than receive. In this impression I look at the purpose of the book, stories that move us to action and a simple plan for empowering churches to empower their people to serve.
The purpose of the book was clear: “the heart of family ministry is equipping families together for a life of Christian service to others beyond themselves, to turn themselves inside out in a calling larger than their own daily life together” (11). This helps families stay stuck to the church. The goal is “to focus your attention on ministry through families more than ministry to families” (11). While it is true that we do need to minister to families, there is a profound difference here I think. As families determine to put aside a victim mentality where the church and community must serve them, they can put on a mentality of service that ushers them into God’s grand narrative of restoring all people to himself. This gives me tingles!
Stories communicate more than principles by themselves ever will. This book had good stories to move the reader to action. “The stories they have told have so much more meaning than if they had tried to distill the stories into some central truth that shapes their lives, such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”…When Jesus was asked to teach, he told stories” (19). “Stories are particularly powerful in shaping our understanding of God, our world, and ourselves. The meaning of Bible stories is seldom transparent or unidimensional, and so they provide rich opportunity for community conversation, conflict, and deeper understanding over time. These stories invite us to wonder and explore, and then to struggle with how the stories connect with our own life stories. Stories communicate truths that cannot be captured by a proverb” (29-30). I don’t think the church has ever inspired anyone without good storytelling. Consider the example in Acts 6 and addressing the need for serving tables (30ff). Where do stories come from other than a life of faith? This starts with a deep down personal relationship with Jesus that moves us to serve.
Stories do not come when we hunker in our bunkers.
I think we’re called to strategically get into the crossfire. And this isn’t stupid faith, this is planned efforts to engage in a very real battle realizing there will be a personal cost to ourselves, perhaps even our lives (as well documented today by organizations such as VOM). Other stories include biographies, Brad and Lisa finding various means to serve (13ff), Schindler’s List (40-41), Heather and Jim playing with children at a playground (48ff), Susan and Mark selling their house to be closer to kids they could tutor (59-61), etc. These stories can move people to action. “These families were not motivated to serve because they thought they could meet the needs of the world. But they did see an opportunity to do something that would be genuinely helpful; the service they could provide made sense and might really help those they would serve” (58). People can become “restless, wanting faith to count for more” (62) or as Bill Hybels describes it, find your holy discontent and do something about it. When Wes Stafford asked,
What can move you to tears in ten seconds?
one of my answers is children whose parents can’t take care of them. I was building towers with my daughter and another girl 2 1/2 year old girl who’s fostering with us briefly right now. I could’ve balled right there. They were giggling and shrieking with laughter every time the tower fell. Then I thought how my Selah always has me for this, but this other little girl, as far as I know, may never know a strong affection from her parents. And then I think of God’s embrace on her life and I pray that somehow, God will help her to know that he’s always there for her.
INSIDE OUT CONGREGATIONS
I appreciated the breakdown of the final chapter for making this practical for congregations. 1) Look for catalysts. 2) The congregation helps determine the fit. 3) The congregation evaluates capacity. 4.) The congregation decides whether or not to commit to a given project/program. 5) Begin with good structures. Then Diana also shares insights for sustaining and developing and a very practical briefing/debriefing guide. Something as simple as “useless” donations (129) makes sense, but it needs to be said so people can think about that. There’s a good book that has impacted staff and members of our church that expands on this idea of serving people, while also being productive and not weakening. It’s called When Helping Hurts. I think it’s great when people just dive in and want to help and serve, but let’s also do it with careful thought as well so we are not debilitating the people we are hoping to help. Other benefits of serving she mentions are gift development, exposure to different kinds of people and perseverance through conflict.
Overall, this is a good book for moving families and churches into a life of service.
Great review Steven. The idea of equipping families to minister to the community has been on my mind a lot recently. How are you guys seeing that work at your church?
Thanks for the comment David!
Well our church has been having an emphasis on community outreach and service, but we’re really just starting to push for this. I’m hoping that we can begin to include families serving together as a part of this thought process. So we’re really not seeing this work from a church level as much as the occasional family doing something together. We have had families serve at the Salvation Army in the past at Christmas time. My family fosters and that is a family thing, some families will bring meals, etc. and their kids go along with them, I’ve seen some kids serving with their parent in the children’s ministry. But like you it’s now on my mind more and we’ll see where that takes us. I recently interviewed a church that helps families find service opportunities by linking them with community organizations. I think parents can best pass faith on to their children when the whole family is engaged in serving the world in Jesus’ name.
Thanks Steven! It sounds like you are in a good place with some families and the church at large already catching the vision of serving the community. I like the idea of equipping families to go out and serve together in an organic decentralized way (perhaps the hardest part when we want to own our centralized programs). I’d love to hear how your vision unfolds along the way.