What fortifies a parent’s resolve to take their kids to church before they can sit still? What empowers those same parents to take the lead on teaching the faith, to ensure their kids feel comfortable praying, reading scripture and asking questions? The answers will vary as greatly as every family in every community.
When you see (and hear) a family with small children in church, it probably brings you more joy than the
parents realize. As they struggle through loud noises, escape attempts and other awkward moments, it might
not be obvious that what the people around them hear is the sound of the congregation growing. Most families simply don’t realize is how deeply most people want families with young children to tough it out and bring their little ones to church, even with all the challenges that entails. More alarmingly, many parents underestimate their role in helping their children learn the faith and know Jesus. The ones who want to take that leadership don’t always feel equipped to take that on.
To tackle these issues, the Missouri District hosted Tell the Next Generation: A Family Ministry Conference on March 9, 2019 in St. Charles. The conference brought together DCEs, Sunday School teachers, volunteers, pastors, parents and more to share best practices, ideas and tools to implement in their family ministries.
Approximately 150 attendees came from 50 Missouri District congregations, as well as one attendee who traveled from Ft. Smith, AR.
Missouri District President, Rev. Dr. Lee Hagan says, “The theme, ‘Tell the Next Generation,’ comes from Psalm 78 where God describes how the faith is passed down from one generation to the next, even to children yet to be born.”
President Hagan says, “Family ministry is vitally important because parents are the primary influences in the lives of their children. Churches of any size can help parents teach the faith to their children. I hope that can assisting parents in that task can be one of the things for which congregations across Missouri District are known. The Bible and the Small Catechism both clearly describe the role of parents in faith formation.”
Dr. Kim Marxhausen served as the keynote speaker, as well as leading a sectional entitled “Faith Development.” Dr. Marxhausen is a renowned expert in Lutheran education, with more than 30 years of experience. While teaching early childhood, she earned a Masters in Literacy Instruction and then a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. She currently teaches and designs classes for graduate programs and presents for teachers all over the country. Kim has published two books through Concordia Publishing House. She writes Parent Pages for LCMS School Ministry and her third book, Weary Joy: God’s Blessings for Caregivers should be available later this year. You are welcome to check out her parenting blog, devotional blog, and ministry resources at kim.marxhausen.net.
Dr. Marxhausen found the diversity of people and topics at Tell the Next Generation unique.
She said, “I spoke with lay leaders, pastors, DCEs teachers, counselors, and health practitioners. We were all united in our understanding that child and family ministry is not only essential but requires workers from every corner of the Church. I am confident that this variety made for an excellent participant experience as it created better discussions and sharing of ideas from people with different perspectives.”
Other topics explored in the 18 sectionals included techniques for rural and small-town congregations, music as a tool, equipping parents, alternatives to Sunday school, post-baptism engagement, family ministry options
for a tight budget and more.
DCE Andrew Nelson, the Youth and Family Life Director for Chapel of the Cross Lutheran Church, first heard about the event on Facebook. He then attended a Partners in Ministry event at the Missouri District office, where President Hagan spoke about the conference. Even though he has two young children at home and it’s not necessarily easy to get away for a Saturday, he says this event “hit all the marks of what we’re trying to accomplish as a church.”
DCE Nelson said one of his biggest takeaways came from Dr. Marxhausen. He says her message about centering the Gospel as a method of helping children learn and explore—of seeing the Gospel as important to a child’s entire learning process—really resonated with him. He was also quite pleased with “the amount of resources and people
and other things available in the Missouri District. It’s astounding to have this in our backyard and to have access to it.”
DCE Nelson led a sectional with DCE Jolene Siebarth (Immanuel Lutheran in St. Charles) about kids in worship services. Afterwards, a pastor from another part of the state came over and said that his congregation was on a five-to-seven-year plan to hire a staff person for family ministry. This pastor was excited, because until he attended the conference, he thought they would have to wait until then to start working on family ministry. DCE Nelson noticed a similar sense of momentum and energy throughout the building as the conference unfolded.
Dr. Marxhausen also noticed how eager people were to jump start or ramp up their work in family ministry.
She said, “The comment [from attendees] that stuck out for me was ‘I never thought of it that way before.’ That is the comment of a person ready to learn! It also suggests that people were not only exposed to new ideas but to new models for viewing ministry possibilities.”
The Missouri District hosts several key events on a rotating basis. The current plan is to host another family ministry conference in early 2021. There will also be presentations about family ministry in the E2 (Equip and Encourage)
conferences this fall and winter.
Thank you to the LCEF, who partnered with us in making Tell the Next Generation: A Family Ministry Conference possible!