Ron Deal: FamilyLife’s Online Blended Ministry Certificate
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Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
FamilyLife’s self-driven, online ministry certificate course helps you create & sustain thriving stepfamily ministry and lead transformative experiences.
Ron Deal: FamilyLife’s Online Blended Ministry Certificate
Ann: Have you ever done an online course?
Dave: Yes, I have.
Ann: Oh, really?
Dave: It was called P90X. [Laughter]
Ann: Do you consider that a course?—kind of; I guess.
Dave: It was; it was years ago. I’m sort of kidding, but I’m not. I remember I became an advocate/an evangelist for P90X because it was a new way to do workouts; you know? You put it on your screen; you work out with this guy, and it’s a great workout. You have 90 days to see the before and after.
Ann: You’re right. That was kind of new then, but now—
Dave: But I don’t think that is what you are talking about.
Ann: No; I think, now with Covid hitting, that is really pretty common for many people to do an online course.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: If Covid taught us anything: there is a whole different, and new, and great way to do ministry. Online courses became something that people didn’t go: “Oh, that’s not as good as a live thing”; they actually went: “Wow, it is as good.”
Ann: —and it’s so convenient.
Dave: Yes; we have Ron Deal in the studio, on FamilyLife Today, talking about some online courses that you are a part of, Ron, who directs our blended ministry with FamilyLife. Ron, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Ron: Thank you. It’s always good to be with you guys.
Dave: So here is a question for you: “Have you done an online course?”
Ron: I have; I’ve done a bunch of them. You know, as a therapist, you need continuing education; and more and more of that is available online these days, so that’s pretty frequent for me.
Dave: I just want to know if you can do ten pull ups. [Laughter]
Ron: Um, no.
Dave: So obviously, we’re talking about more like blended courses.
Ann: Back to the topic. [Laughter]
Ron: We want to help people get in shape in their relationships.
Dave: I was setting you up for that.
Ron: That’s what we want to do. FamilyLife has created a number of online courses. Guys, you know how this works: people can log on and, from the convenience of their own home, go through these online courses on-demand. What that means is you can go through it at your pace. You can work a little while at it, and pause, and come back a week later—and you know, you’ve chased kids and done all sorts of things in between—and just pick up where you left off. We’ve [FamilyLife’s] got courses about money; courses about marriage; courses about manhood and what it is to be a husband, leading your family.
We’ve got two courses now specifically on the topic of blended families. One of them is designed for couples; it is called Well-Blended, and that is going to help you build your marriage and your family. But the one we are talking about today is called Our Certificate in Blended Family Ministry. It is an online course pulled from the best of the best presentations from our annual Summit on Stepfamily Ministry—you know, that in-person two-day event we do every fall—where people can come and meet other folks doing stepfamily ministry and learn all about it.
And we’ve pulled out some of those key—call them the 101 courses, if you will—and bundled them together and created this blended family ministry course. It’s going to help somebody understand the basics of ministering to stepfamilies in a local church. We’re going to try to help you think through how you get your ministry started. We’re really excited about this, because not everybody can come to our annual Summit. We still want you to do that—because there are things you are going to learn every year; there is new material every fall—but this is really a great place to start.
Dave: I remember—I don’t know if you remember, Ron—speaking at that, I think in D.C./I think it was near Washington when I spoke.
Ron: That’s right.
Dave: And I remember, as I sat in front of those couples in the room, I thought, “Man, they are committed, not just to their blended family, but to training and helping other blended,”—it was a room of people, saying, “I don’t just want to do our family well; I want to help others, and I want to be trained in how to do that.” It was really an equipping thing. So now, you can do this online—perfect!
Ann: Well, and I’ll say, too, we have a woman at church that took the course online with her new husband; and they were blending a family. She was on our staff, and she started this incredible ministry at our church for blended families; it was brand-new. So many people started attending.
Ron, are you saying this course would be for someone like her—like she’s a leader, and she wants to have this ministry—or is this for everyone?
Ron: You’ve got it; it’s really for everyone:
- Lay leaders, like this couple that you are talking about: it’s perfect for them.
- As well as, I’ve just got to say, all the way up to senior pastors, who are trying to get a vision for the audience they are speaking to every weekend: “Who am I talking to? What are their lives? What are they living, day in and day out? I need to understand that better.”
- Youth ministry leaders, children ministry leaders—who are working with kids all the time who are, maybe, in your children’s program once a month because they are moving back and forth between two households—like, “How can you be sensitive toward that?”
That’s the kind of stuff and those are the people who this would be appropriate for.
- Premarital counselors: people who are just trying to get a sense of ministering to couples, and families, and individuals in this day and age.
You know, it occurs to me, we have to start this series with a theology of stepfamily ministry. That’s important; because we always need to go to the Scriptures and say: “Alright, what do we find here that are principles that will help us move forward in how we minister to people?” One of the messages that we really want to bring to people—we’re going to start with a clip from this message from Pastor Rob Bugh who, at the time, was senior pastor of Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago.
A little background before we roll into this clip: his first wife died of cancer. He later married Rhonda, who’s first husband had also died. Then they blended a family of seven kids; so Rob and Rhonda blended a family with seven kids. Now, in the first part of Rob’s presentation, he shares that they had a rough process integrating their family in their home. Like many stepfamilies, they found it harder than they anticipated.
Then he shared some of the stats that we know about stepfamilies:
- 40 percent of parents raising kids are blended families;
- 62 percent of couples in the US, under age 55, have a step relationship with either a stepparent or a stepchild connected to their relationship;
- and about a third of all weddings in the US today—at least a third; I think that’s a low estimate—of weddings in the US form blended families.
He shared all of that to kind of set up what you are about to hear. Then he begins to make a case for stepfamily ministry. Let’s listen.
[Excerpt from Our Certificate in Blended Family Ministry]
Rob: So why stepfamily ministry? First, stepfamily life can be hard. Second, it’s a pervasive cultural reality. Now, third, it’s a river of mercy that flows from the fountain of God’s mercy to a world that increasingly wonders if there is any mercy. The God of the Bible is not a single-person God, who like a great uncle, is distant and indifferent. No, the God of the Bible—we know, from the beginning of the Bible through the end of the Bible—is a Triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, who has eternally existed in perfection and majesty as well as compassion and love.
We ask the question: “Why did this Triune God create the world?” Was it not so the Father could share His love for the Son with others, through the Spirit, so that we, as His people, might share in loving the Father, as the Son loves the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells us. This infinite, this unstoppable, this unfailing love—directed toward sinful, fallen human beings—is what the Bible calls mercy. The third reason we give ourselves to stepfamily ministry—the reason we are intentional; we’re sacrificial in stepfamily ministry [because] it’s often tough sledding/hard going—the reason we give ourselves to this ministry is because it’s a tangible expression of God’s mercy.
Dave: There is a truth that you rarely think about. I mean Rob hit it; it’s like: “Yes, this is what/when you minister to families like that, you are a tangible expression of God’s mercy.” That’s a beautiful point.
Ron: I was so struck by his statement: “It’s a river of mercy to a world that doubts if there is any mercy leftover for anybody.” When we act with God’s love and favor toward other people, we are communicating God’s mercy that He has given to us.
It’s a little odd to me—but on rare occasions, I’ve had somebody say something to me/something like—“Aren’t people in blended families there because of their own sinfulness?” As if to say: “Well, you made your bed. You’re just kind of stuck in it all by yourself; too bad for you.” I don’t really get that; because that’s a person who, on some level, has received God’s mercy; and then is sort of refusing to pass it on to anybody else.
If we have been touched by His mercy, shouldn’t we want to pay it forward/to give it others? Micah, Chapter 6, verse 8: “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” You’re not supposed to just kind of be merciful or tolerate mercy. You’re supposed to love mercy, love other people, [giving] the same gift that you have received.
To me, that is what stepfamily ministry is. We do this in a lot of ways in church work and local church ministry: ministering to people, who are down on their luck financially, or living in hard situations, or got kicked out by a spouse and left destitute, or all kinds of circumstances people find themselves in. We say: “Come. You are welcome here. This is the church; this is the body of Christ. This is where you belong. Imperfect people are welcome here.”
Well, that’s what stepfamily ministry is. That’s the theological foundation for it—that we start this certificate course in blended family ministry with just that foundation—that’s what we stand on. That’s what we’re trying to do in a local church, and we go from there.
Dave: I remember, Ron, we had this conversation, decades ago, standing on the stage at my church, and apologizing to the blended families; because I had sort of missed that. I was often ministering, in my mind to the married families—to the one-husband/one-wife, to even singles—and forgetting there is a whole—it’s amazing, because I was in a blended family as a young boy—a good part of our church is a blended family; and often, I’m not speaking to their situation.
You and I talked about that—then, as I sat there at the Summit as you are training people how to minister to them—I’m like I put my hand up, like: “Train me,” because I could be easily one—I didn’t feel like I didn’t want to give them mercy—but I just looked past. I felt like I needed to apologize and say: “I see you, because God sees you. God’s mercy is extended to you.” The way you are going to feel that is when we, the people of God, extend that mercy.
What a beautiful way to start—with the foundational theology—but I’m guessing you get real practical as well.
Ron: We do. The course gets real practical from there. One of the things that we talk about is understanding the basic underlying dynamics of stepfamily living/of being a blended family. Here is a little clip from a presentation that I often do at our Summits called Understanding Stepfamilies 101. It basically gives leaders the basics in understanding stepfamily living and how it is different than biological families. It helps people check their assumptions at the door and learn what they need to understand about working with blended families. Let’s listen.
[Excerpt from Our Certificate in Blended Family Ministry]
Ron: Now, what I want to do is I want to spend a little time talking about how stepfamily living is different. Again, I’m trying to show you different points of view about complexity—that’s the whole point of this—is understanding complexity. Let’s talk a little bit about biological families/traditional families that you’re probably more familiar with, and how stepfamilies can be different from that, just to give you another snapshot. We’ll do a number of these.
Dripolator and percolator: “What’s that all about?”
Have you heard that phrase: “As goes the marriage, so goes the family”; right?—that makes a lot of sense—that’s a dripolator observation; right? As goes the marriage, it drips down onto the kids—and the parenting, and the process of being a family and doing family life—because you, as the couple, are the leaders/the guides to the family. If your marriage is struggling, and you’re fighting, and you are at odds with one another—not cooperating—then it drips down onto everybody.
In stepfamilies, that is true; but it is also true—the percolator—“As goes the kids and the children, and the parenting, so goes the marriage”; it can go up. I wish I had a nickel for every time a couple has said to me, “Ron, we get along great in our marriage; but when the kids come back from the other home, we fall apart.” That’s percolator, because the kids bring stress/the kids bring something: if they are feeling—whatever it is—“Mom in the other home said so and so…”—now, this kid is coming back; and now, they are being mean to the stepmom.
- The stepmom goes to the husband and says, “What do I do?”
- The husband says, “I don’t know; why are you bothering me with this?”
- “Well, you are my husband. Why are you not on my side? Could you talk to your daughter?”
- “No, I’m not going to talk to my daughter. That’s an issue between her mother [and her].”
- “Well, now, it is an issue between you and me!”
It can just go like that. It starts in the other home, ripples through a kid, into the stepparent relationship. The next thing you know: it’s the marriage.
I would even say there is another dynamic: it can go side to side—so top down; bottom up; and between homes—stress can just ripple in a lot of different directions. It always ends up in the couple’s marriage, because they are the ones who carry the responsibility to figure things out. That’s hard on them; it’s just hard on them. Anything we do to come along and help make sense of that—to support them, encourage them, embolden their relationship/keep them secure with one another—even if they can’t fix anything going on in the other home; but at least, that marriage is holding on—then there is a stabilizing force in the midst of all of that stress.
Here is another assumption that we often have about family life; and that is, that putting the marriage first provides stability and security for the kids. The way we like to say this—have you ever heard: “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother”? That is based in a systemic understanding of relationships: very true; very insightful. When the father loves the kids’ mother, their marriage sets a climate/an environment for him to love his children and for the children to grow up in a healthy environment, where they feel safe and secure because mom and dad are together; and they are safe in their relationship; and they are the leaders and backbone of our home. Everything flows very nicely.
But let me ask you this question: “Would it be also true to say that the best thing a stepfather can do for his stepchildren is to love their mother?”
Dave: That’s a really good question, and I want to know the answer.
Ann: Me too! [Laughter]
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Ron’s answer in just a minute; but if this conversation about blended families is resonating with you, or it’s something that is personal for you, coming up on
October 13-14, we will be having this year’s Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. This year, the focus is on helping ministry leaders better understand loss and grief in blended families. If you want to learn how to come alongside blended families in your church and community, you can find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Ron Deal and whether the best way a stepdad to love his stepchildren is by loving their mother.
Ron: The answer would be: “Eventually, yes; the best thing a stepfather can do for his stepchildren is to love their mother—eventually.” That’s a long-term outcome.
In the beginning, his love for her is potentially a threat to children: “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! That’s my mom. I now have to share my mom with you. I really don’t mind sharing Mom with my dad, because that is all as it should be—there is a unison there in us being a family—but because Mom and Dad are now divorced, I’m now having to share my mom with somebody, whom I like, but I don’t necessarily love. I don’t really know where you fit in my heart; I don’t understand our new family; so it’s a threat for you to love my mom.” What a totally different dynamic.
That’s a foundational difference between blended families and first families. This is why, guys—those of us in marriage ministry, like FamilyLife is all about—we’ve got to be careful about the advice that we give and to whom we give it. That standard: “Go date your spouse” thing—“Your kids will be thrilled when you come home happy,” works in biological families, and it can work in blended families; but in some blended families—especially new ones, where relationships are fresh and fragile—a happy couple is a threat to me as kid. It has a completely different impact on children.
That’s why we talk about these unique differences in blended families.
Ann: And I’m so glad you are. As I listened to that—Dave, did you feel this?—man, as leaders at our church, we missed it often by not being able to address these issues and, as leaders, knowing how to address them.
Ron: Yes; makes all the difference, whether it’s taught from the pulpit, or in a marriage class, or a parenting class.
Dave: Yes; so as you are training through this online course, how do you help—[Laughter] I’m laughing because couples like Ann and I that missed it—how do you help them see the blended families that they are around every day, and maybe haven’t seen—and now, that maybe they get to see and have a heart for—they need to know: “Okay, how do I minister to them?”
Ron: So we’re going to end this course: “Turn the corner.” We are going to start with theology, like we talked about; we’re going to talk a little about the unique dynamics of blended families; and then we are going to say, “Practically, what can you do?” We’re going to turn that corner and say: “Alright; in this case about saying: ‘Date your spouse and come home happy,’ we’re going to say, ‘And if you’re in a blended family, recognize that that might actually bring a different response from children. Don’t be surprised, when you come home happy, if one of them is feeling a little envious, or a little jealous, or a little put out; and they act up a little bit. Don’t be surprised by that. You didn’t do the wrong thing by going out on a date.’”
When you just add that little part, all of a sudden, this couple is going: “Oh, okay; yes, it’s still the right thing to do. We might see a different response from our children: it shouldn’t keep us from dating; it shouldn’t keep us from loving each other. And the kids being aware of that; but we do have to step into that space with children and help them process their emotions.” It’s advice-plus, if I could say it that way, to help people.
One of the big things we want to help church leaders do is just see blended families in their church/recognize that they are there. For years, I have suggested that churches on Mother’s Day use the word, “stepmom,”: “Hey, if you are a mom, or a stepmom, or a grandmother, or a foster mom—if you are just volunteering and helping in our children’s ministry program, and you are loving on somebody else’s kid—we want to thank you for the stuff that you do.”
Just use a word like that in a public setting at church goes a long way to affirming the stepmothers in the room. All of a sudden, they feel like: “Wow; it’s okay to be me and to be here. I’m feeling weird about the day, because my stepchildren—I’m not their mother; they wish they were with their mother—they are here with me. They asked all the moms to stand, and I don’t know if I should stand. Do I earn that position on this day?” It’s an awkward day for a lot of people.
When you say something from the pulpit, it helps adults; it helps kids. It’s affirming; it says to them: “You belong here.” Little things like that are a part of the big picture of doing stepfamily ministry.
Dave: Yes; and it is great, even as you say that, I’m thinking of, at least, 30 years of Mother’s Days that I did as a pastor. I always had on my mind, obviously, the moms—but I always made sure and told all our other teaching pastors: “Hey, make sure/for some people, this is a hard day; their mom has died, so mention that,”—I don’t know if I ever said, “And mention stepmoms.” That little thing that you just said is such a little thing, but it is huge.
Ron: I can tell you stories about people who cried, sitting in their church, just hearing that from the pulpit for the very first time, just a passing remark.
Ron: But it affirms: “Alright; we are in the right place. God is with us, and our church is for us.” That is a great, great feeling.
That’s just the beginning of the practical things that we unpack in this course to help people think about ministry. Of course, people can have classes, or small groups, or an annual weekend retreat for couples. We do Blended & Blessed®, here at FamilyLife, which is a live-stream event, every spring that gives your church a weekend thing to do for your couples, where you don’t have to put it all together; we put the content together. You just get to borrow it, if you will, and use it as an opportunity to minister to couples.
It’s very much a partnership—we, at FamilyLife, want to help to empower you and equip you—we have coaches who can come alongside you for free. As I mentioned earlier, our annual fall Summit on Stepfamily Ministry is all about helping you get networked and find the latest resources—what’s new in research—and just connecting with other people, who are also in this space, doing ministry. We’re all about supporting the local church as you love and support families.
Dave: I would just add: “Way to go!” Like you said at the beginning, I don’t know if there is anything in the world like this. You would often have to get on a plane or in a car and get to a Summit, which is awesome—and still something I would encourage people to do—but if you can’t, you can do the next best thing, which is almost the best thing. Do it right in the family room of your home. You could even bring some people over to your house and be trained together through this online course. Way to go; I think it’s great.
Ron: Thanks. If you are listening today, and it’s not you—but it’s someone you know and love—tell your pastor, tell your children’s ministry leader about this online course. Get them interested in it.
Ann: Thanks, Ron.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. You can learn to better minister to blended families and get the Certificate in Blended Family Ministry at FamilyLifeToday.com.
While you are there, don’t forget we’ve got a great discount on all small group kits, including The Smart Stepfamily. Again, that’s at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson meet with Rob Singleton to chat about why social media is a culprit to a loss of our own authenticity. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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