CFLE in Context: Family Life Education in a Faith Community
Pursuing a degree in family studies has turned out to be more of a blessing to my ministry than I expected. But there is a story that leads up to this and it started with the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This is a question I have asked and sought to answer many times throughout my life. At an early age I did not know what I wanted to be. I have continued to grow in my understanding of the gifts, abilities, and desires the Lord has given me. I didn't always want to be a pastor, and when I did choose that path, I had no idea how my focus would change over the next 25 years.
Furthering my education and educating others was the last thing on my mind as a high school senior. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Even though I only served for four years, the discipline, pride, and integrity instilled in me have helped shape who I am. Upon discharge, I knew I needed to go to college, but had no idea what I wanted be when I grew up. I attended three different schools switching majors until I was led to pursue being a pastor. That decision was the result of having the opportunity to share my faith with a couple of classmates. When I discussed the experiences with my own pastor, he encouraged me to transfer to a Christian college and begin preparing for the ministry.
I was raised in a Christian family and have always been a Christian. I was born on a Monday. My parents took me to church the next Sunday. The following Sunday I was baptized. Worship, Sunday School, Bible reading, prayer, and service to others were normal routine growing up. After receiving my Bachelors degree with a major in religious studies and a minor in Greek from Concordia College, Ann Arbor, Michigan, I attended Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri. In 1988 I received a Masters of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
I served as a sole pastor in two small congregations, first Oklahoma and then in Chicago. After eight years I had the opportunity to serve in a team ministry at a church in the Minneapolis area. I was the associate pastor in charge of youth ministry as well as all the other pastoral responsibilities. During my years at the seminary I volunteered at a congregation helping with the high school youth group, and during my one year internship I was the high school youth minister. I enjoyed being able to work with youth, but after five years I asked myself the question again. What do you want to be when you grow up?
This soul searching was brought on by parents asking me questions about challenges they were having with their children. I started meeting with parents more regularly and realized that it might be more helpful to families to teach parents when their children are younger, in order to be better prepared for the teenage years. I knew that I needed to further my education, so I enrolled in an online Masters program in Family Studies at Concordia University, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I learned that upon completion of the degree I could apply to become a Certified Family Life Educator.
Soon I realized what a blessing it was that I enrolled in an online program. Six months into it, I received a call to serve as the Family Life Pastor at Saint John's Lutheran Church in Napa, California. This was a new position in a congregation that worships about 325 on Sunday mornings, and has a school (pre-school thru 8th grade) with 280 students. The initial ministry description for the position was very brief in order to allow the position to grow with my gifts. Over the past twelve years I have had the opportunity to be constantly developing family ministry to meet the needs of the congregation and the community. Moving in the middle of a degree program certainly had its challenges. Starting a new ministry required me to put my Capstone Project on hold after completing the course work. I was able to finish everything and receive my Masters of Arts in Family Studies in 2007. In 2012 I completed all the requirements to be fully certified as a Family Life Educator.
At Saint John's, I serve with our Lead Pastor, Hispanic Ministry Pastor, Principal, Director of Children's Ministry, Director of Youth Ministry, Teachers, and support staff. As a pastor I do all the usual pastoral tasks: worship planning, preaching, teaching Bible classes, spiritual counseling, visitation, pre-marriage counseling, etc. As Family Life Pastor my primary responsibility is member care. This includes education through various classes, providing resources for specific family needs, coordination of visitation ministries, and overseeing the parish nurse ministry.
One of the advantages of being a CFLE in a parish setting is that I have the opportunity to teach classes to various age groups covering several of the Family Life Education Content Areas. In addition, I have also been able to implement and oversee care ministries to our congregational members, as well as people in the community.
During my first years as Family Life Pastor I led a variety of parenting classes on the topics of discipline strategies, kids and stress, boundaries, and talking confidently with your child about sex. We have since hired a Director of Children's Ministry who now teaches most of the parenting classes. I continue to offer a class to parents about how to use the Learning About Sex series by Concordia Publishing House in the home. The age-appropriate books in the series assist parents in talking to their children about sex beginning in the preschool years and continuing through adolescence and into the young adult years. I also assist in the sex education program with our 7th and 8th grade students at our school.
After leading marriage enrichment classes in the topics of communication and conflict resolution for several years, I realized a major issue many couples were dealing with was indebtedness and poor management of financial resources. In 2009 I started facilitating Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. This is a 9 week DVD based curriculum which teaches families how to save, do a monthly budget, get out of debt, and plan for college expenses and retirement. Each weekly session includes an hour lesson via DVD and 45 minutes of discussion and encouragement to put into practice what has been learned. I have offered this course 10 times with over 150 families from the congregation and community participating. The greatest blessing from leading this class is the high percentage of couples who have expressed to me that they can now discuss money and finances without arguing.
The Capstone Project for my master's degree was the development of four workshops to help prevent social isolation among older adults which can result from the natural losses associated with aging. The four workshops are titled: Living with Loss, Actively Retired, Living Arrangements, and Family and Friend Relationships. Since we have a large number of older members in the congregation this has been a helpful series of classes for our seniors and their families.
Over the past several years I have led the development of a Parish Nurse and Health Ministry Program in the congregation. We have employed a part time parish nurse. The parish nurse and volunteers in this ministry provide health and safety education, coordination of community and congregational resources, and preventive education through classes, workshops, health and safety fairs, and newsletter articles. Also under this ministry is our Christ-care Callers, laypeople who are trained to visit those who unable to leave their homes or live in a care facility.
Even though I am able to teach classes to small and large groups, a majority of my time is spent with individuals and families. As a pastor I visit the sick and hospitalized. I take Holy Communion to those who are homebound or living in care facilities. I meet with people who are going through challenges and struggles in their marriages, with their finances, their children, their parents, their career. I spend a lot of time with individuals who are dying, and their families. I walk with survivors through the grief process. In all situations I seek to offer comfort and hope through the promises of God's love for us in Jesus Christ. My religious and family life education training has been a blessing and a benefit as it has enabled me to better understand individual and family needs.
One of the most challenging aspects of my role is that I rarely have a typical day. I can plan my schedule for the day, and it can all change with a single phone call. Someone needs to see me to talk about an issue, someone was in an accident, someone was just diagnosed with cancer, or someone just died. Not only does the day change, but often the whole week. Some days I am doing things and meeting with people all day, and yet, not a single item gets checked off the to-do list for the day. Even though this can be very difficult, it is also what brings me the greatest joy in my work. What does God want me to do today? Who does he want me to help and bring before Him in prayer? What has He enabled me to learn that I can pass on to another?
Pursuing a degree in family studies has turned out to be more of a blessing to my ministry than I expected. The degree provided me with the academic underpinnings I needed to be effective in this field. The certification as a Family Life Educator gave me credibility and ensured that I met the objective requirements as set by a national organization (NCFR). It has become a very natural thing for me to blend spiritual counsel through God's Word along with educational guidance in personal conversations and in group teaching situations. Christianity is not a part of my identity, but is who I am as a follower of Christ. The same is true about being a Family Life Educator. It is not something I do, but it is who I am. The training and the certification added to my expertise to enable me to be truly effective in this role. From my experience, I would encourage those who are in pastoral ministry or studying for it, to pursue a family studies degree either before or after seminary training as it provides the academic foundations to effective family life education.
Recently, the what do you want to be when you grow up question has surfaced again. Our Director of Youth Ministry has moved back to the Midwest. The position will be filled with a Director of Christian Education (DCE) Intern. The one year internship is required to graduate and to receive full certification as a DCE. I will be serving as the supervisor for our Intern. Again, this is not something that I foresaw that I would be doing. I am looking forward to the opportunity to be a mentor and to share the knowledge of youth and families I have learned over the years.
No matter what role we may have as a Family Life Educator, I believe it is important to make good use of the gifts God has given us, to continue to grow in knowledge to be a blessing to others, and to occasionally ask: "What do I want to be when I grow up?"
Rev. Mark G. Heine, CFLE, lives in Napa, California with his wife Diane. They have two sons in college, Joshua and Caleb. He enjoys vacationing with family, working in the yard, and participating in a home winemaking group.