The annual Family Ministries Leadership Training (FMLT) programme took place virtually for the first time this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on “Understanding, supporting, and reaching families”.
The training event was conducted by speakers from across the Trans-European Division (TED) and Inter-European Division (EUD), beginning on Friday, 9 April with a devotional on the theme of “I WILL GO – Families reaching Families" by Dr Willie and Elaine Oliver, the Family Ministries Directors at General Conference, and concluding on 14 April with closing remarks by TED and EUD Family Ministries directors, Karen Holford and Rainer Wanitschek.
This year, up to 70 people met on Zoom for each session – almost doubling the face-to-face participants of previous years. This increase was possible because of the decision to extend a one-off invitation to any pastor or family ministry leader within the two Divisions who wanted to participate.
The FMLT programme has been designed for family ministries leaders, pastors, and laypeople interested in furthering their knowledge about families and relationships. It is a 3-year rolling programme containing 12 modules, providing participants with information and materials to help them deliver family ministry seminars and effective family-based outreach in their communities.
The 2021 training covered four topics: Family Evangelism, Families in Society, Human Development, and Making Sabbath a Delight. In the opinion of the participants, the sessions were highly professional and practical. Despite being delivered by Zoom, the training included working in groups, exchanging ideas, and even multisensory learning experiences. The presenters turned out to be not only specialists in their fields, but also professional communicators, who provided research-based, accessible material, and who supported the theory with practical examples from their personal experiences and ministry.
During the opening worship Willie and Elaine Oliver pointed out that a family with a relationship of love and genuine spirituality is one of the most attractive testimonies for the Gospel. Inviting visitors to such a home is a powerful factor in leading people to Christ.
Each year, a different aspect of family spirituality is taught on the Sabbath, and this year Karen Holford led out in a morning of activities exploring Sabbath as a day of delight. This included an online interactive webinar in which participants could use simple, everyday materials to experience the blessing and wonder of Sabbath through their different senses.
Sunday’s workshops concentrated on “Family Evangelism”. Dr Gábor Mihalec, who has written books on relationships, shared how families can become the means for growing the church and, later on, Dr László Szabó in his presentation, showed how family dynamics are never the same as in the previous generations.
As always, Dr Mihalec combined a deep analysis of the Scriptures with the experience gained through his dynamic ministry. He encouraged a serious change in our approach to winning people for Christ, with the goal of winning not only the interested individual, but the entire family. He showed that in the New Testament there are a number of stories of conversions, the consequence of which is the acceptance of Christ by all the household (“oikos” factor). He emphasised that the lack of such an attitude often causes us to divide marriages and families at a time when conscious action could help them come to Christ, or at least become more sympathetic to converted family members.
Julia Wanitschek raised the topic of building a bond with a child in the early stages of its development, realising that underdevelopment in this area will not only affect an individual, but will bring consequences in future generations. Conscious assessment of dysfunctions and working with God's help can bring about positive changes and enable the building of healthy relationships.
In a stimulating speech, Cornelia Dell’mour showed the dangers in the area of the functioning of the human mind as well as social relations and spiritual life resulting from the use of electronic devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets). By exposing the dangers, she inspired people to consciously choose life in the real world.
Holford raised the very difficult, but important topic, of domestic violence. Her presentation was a substantive inspiration to see such problems among our church members (not to sweep them under the rug), but also to speak about it skilfully and help skilfully. An important element of Holford’s presentation were suggestions on how to support victims of violence so as not to harm them even more, especially when the violence is related to restriction of freedom and is a threat to the victim's life.
Drs Claudio & Pamela Consuegra, Family Ministry directors at the North American Division, talked about single parenting. By asking questions to the audience, and commenting on their statements, they presented the realities of a single mother and father, their struggles, and the ways in which the church community can support these parents.
Karsten Stank from Germany spoke about parenthood, respect for children, and non-violent communication. He supported what he presented with many examples from his family and the practice of a pastor and family counsellor. An important point of this presentation was that parents may feel burdened, or even exhausted, during child-rearing, and that we should do everything possible to support and help them as they are shaping the next generation.
Dr Patrick Johnson shared the journey of faith development to help us understand how faith grows, how we can nurture faith development, and the conflicts that can happen between people at the different stages.
Here are some of the “golden” messages that participants took away from this year’s inspiring FMLT presentations:
- We live in a time when restoring relations in families are crucial as we read in Luke 1:17 that this is a time "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children". It is also the right time to redefine our attitude to evangelism and engage whole families in ministering to other families.
- The two gifts from Eden are Sabbath and marriage. There is marriage crisis in the world. Our mission is to concentrate on building flourishing relations between the couples and share our experiences outside the church.
- 80% of baptised young people are children of parents who are actively involved in church ministry. We should change the mindset among the believers that church is for consumers. All people should be encouraged to engage in small groups and practical ministries.
- As a church we need to concentrate on the whole family when trying to reduce technology addictions. Addiction is a matter of a lack of alternatives, and we need positive role-models and real-life experiences to help us navigate these challenges.
- There are six stages of bonding: proximity, sameness, belonging, significance, love, and being known.
- 80% of the assessment of our children is our own projection of their behaviour and motives, and not what they are really thinking and doing. This should teach us to be restrained in drawing conclusions about other people, especially church members, with whom we do not associate as often as we do with our children.
- There are numerous kinds of domestic abuse and it always prevents a victim from developing their potential, distorts their image of God, destroys their relationships with other people.
- The story of creation teaches us that Adam and Eve didn't have to deserve to rest. We often think that we need to “deserve” something, and this is often the way we teach our children.
- All the values in our life as Christians are based on a foundation – our faith, our personal relationship with Jesus.
- Teenagers need 10 ways of being loved: comfort, acceptance, affection, appreciation, attention, respect, encouragement, security, being loved, and being supported. These are Biblical dimensions of love that everyone can appreciate.
An important point, often emphasised during the training, was that family ministries is not always about teaching people and providing more information, because today people can often find out what they need to know. The challenge of family ministries is helping people to apply the theoretical knowledge in practical ways that enrich their everyday lives and relationships.
Special thanks are due to the programme moderators: Karen Holford (TED), Rainer Wanitschek (EUD), Gábor Mihalec (TED), together with Heidi Kamal Kendel (TED) providing administrative support and Rebeca Dierolf (EUD) who coordinated the technical side of the programme.
Despite the successful conference, all the participants missed the special experience of the ‘live’ training sessions, where there is plenty of time to have inspiring conversations, to hug, to shake hands, to share ideas over a meal, or enjoy a walk together.