There is a distinction between doing family ministry and ministering to families.
To use the parable of the Sower and the Seed as our model, doing family ministry is offering “good seed” through opportunities, programs, and events targeted to families. It means making sure schedules are “family-friendly,” and that families feel welcome and included at Mass and at your parish in general.
Ministering to families is cultivating the soil so that those seeds can grow. It means making sure that parish families and each member in them know that they are seen, and known, and loved. It means creating a parish culture where families can meet one another, become friends, and walk to Jesus together through all the ups and downs of life.
Planting seeds and cultivating soil – both are good, and both are necessary. But are both happening?
Each person’s heart is “soil” that needs cultivating, and each person’s heart is entrusted to a family. It is within the day-to-day of family life, more than anywhere else, that hearts are tilled and cultivated, so that seeds of faith can take root and grow, transforming the soil and everything around it.
And the Church is the vast field of soil, in need of constant weeding, watering, and cultivating, in which all of the seeds sown by our good Father have potential to take root and grow in the lives of His children. And so the Church becomes a garden, full of a variety of plants, big and small, beautiful all. A source of food for the world.
Even the best seed needs good soil if it is to grow.
Ministering to families, cultivating Christ-centered relationships, and empowering families to do so at home, allows our hearts, our families, our parishes to become good soil. And we simply cannot assume this will happen on its own. Even rich soil needs churning up and tilling.
Ministering is personal. It is specific and intentional. It recognizes that what softens and strengthens the soil of one person’s heart might not be the same thing needed to soften and strengthen another’s.
In short, ministering to families doesn’t happen when the soil of a parish is just a smattering of dates and events and programs on a calendar. It doesn’t happen when we hand parents religion books, even good ones, and tell them to teach their kids at the dining room table. It doesn’t happen by shouting the Truths of our faith louder or with more bells and whistles.
It happens when a parish itself becomes good ground, a place where people genuinely love one another. When people are encouraged to come to know one another by name, and are given the opportunity to do so. When a parish spends time and energy helping families to build friendships with one another. When a parish “sees” their families, knowing that each person and each family is in a different stage of growth, but together they are becoming a diverse and beautiful garden. It happens when a parish helps families to truly “see” their own members, how God created each one unique and unrepeatable, and helps families to cultivate the heart-soil of each person so that the seeds of faith can truly take root and transform that soil forever.
It happens when a parish becomes not just a place, but a family itself. Truly, a home where all the children of the Father are seen, known, and loved. It is precisely in this rich soil that the good seed of God’s Word can grow, and grow in abundance.