Family Ministry

By Diana Garland
InterVarsity. 1999. 600 pp. $ 34.99. ISBN 0-8308-1585-6

Reviewed by Mary Anne Fowlkes, Richmond, Va.


Diana Garland has produced a comprehensive guide to family ministry. Based on her expertise in teaching and research, she presents social, cultural, psychological and historical understandings of family.

The heart of her book, however, is found in the biblical themes and narratives shaping her own understanding of “faith families.” In her definition, family is composed of those who choose to be followers of Christ and who are caregivers of one another.

These family constellations are connected as brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers in Christ. Adoption, more than kinship, characterizes the connection among members. Faith families are the arena for primary intimate relationships and often, but not always, are members of the same household.

Garland uses Jesus’ special relationships with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, or the inner circle of disciples, as prototypes of faith families. Faith families differ from the broader community of faith in which the congregation serves as extended family, and in so doing provides the context of family ministry.

Family ministry is defined as any activity of a church that directly or indirectly:

a. develops faith families in congregations;

b. increases the Christlikeness of family relationships;

c. equips and supports Christians who use their families as a channel of ministry to others.

The book’s scope is extensive. The six sections include: Families Today, Processes of Family Life, History of Families and the Church, Biblical Foundations, followed by a practical section on Planning and Leading Family Ministry. The closing section deals with Special Family Relations (single adults, marriage and divorce, parents and children and, finally, family crises with special attention to family violence). I only wish that this section included more emphasis on families with teen-agers.

In addition to serving as a textbook for family ministry courses, this volume could be a rich resource for pastors and educators. It would be invaluable to those responsible for family ministry in congregations, because it guides the reader in defining, planning and evaluating family ministry as well as providing material on family support systems and family life education.

As a single adult, this reviewer particularly appreciated the author’s special attention to the variety of single adults in a congregation — young adults, single parents, never married, widows and divorcees — and how they can become members of faith families.