The State of “This Holy Estate”–Part Two

Part One ended with more questions than answers about the current state of marriage and family life. I’d shared someone’s observation that the problem is not divorce itself, but “the failure to form families”. I asked for suggestions of who and what are effective in forming “strong, healthy, stable, nurturing, life-giving families”. I wondered where this whole issue fits into the mission of the church to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”, as we United Methodists put it.

I’ve become increasingly convinced that supporting and modeling consistent, faithful marriage and family life is a core element in our countercultural witness as the Body of Christ. Jesus models, and invites us to share, a Way of self-emptying love in all our relationships. Marriage can be defined as  a “micro-church”. Two followers of Jesus form a miniature faith community. Children grow that community a bit larger. Together they learn and teach one another Jesus’ way. Children raised in the “micro-church” of a Christian family experience unconditional love that prepares them to experience God’s unconditional love in Christ. They begin learning the lifestyle of discipleship long before they can articulate it. The family’s very presence in the world as a faith community of agape love proclaims an alternative lifestyle to the relentless torrent of “me-first” messages we experience every waking moment. Supporting family life as a seedbed for growing disciples is crucial for our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ…”, .

“Easier said than done,” you’ve already said multiple times as you’ve been reading. The membership of the micro-church of marriage and family is composed of sinful human beings. The disciples of Jesus we meet in the New Testament are wonderfully, painfully human–and nothing’s changed on that front! We don’t always get it right, even with those we love most. Then consider that every era has unique challenges for families. Many would call our era uniquely unique! Multiple intense economic and social pressures combine to pull families apart or to prevent them from forming with a chance of even surviving, let alone thriving. [I’m in Las Vegas right now awaiting the birth of a new granddaughter. This community’s 24-hour lifestyle exerts additional pressures on families besides those we’ve already mentioned.}

Consider also that “family” ain’t what it used to be. Today’s families come in many configurations besides working Dad, stay-at-home Mom, 2.3 children, a dog, and a minivan. Supporting families today means supporting single-parent families, grandparents raising grandchildren, divorced and blended families (imagine how agape love could transform custody/visitation struggles!), multi-generation families, and households composed of unrelated folks who share life together with various arrangements for various reasons.

How can the church help people “form family”? A good first step is simply to affirm families in all their diversity. Say frequently and publicly that families come in many different shapes and sizes today and all of them share the same mission of caring for one another as miniature Christian communities. All of them share the critical role of “forming family” around their most vulnerable members. A next step might be for church leaders who don’t have children at home to LISTEN to families in their midst and in their neighborhood. What’s life like for you? How can we support you? Meet folks on their turf before expecting them to come onto your church’s “turf”. Try volunteering at a neighborhood school or a Little League or other sports program. Yes, put yourself through the hassle and indignity of a background check, including fingerprints if necessary. Show parents you care that much about keeping their kids safe.  Volunteer in order to serve (great discipleship, according to Jesus) and develop authentic relationships. Don’t volunteer intending to take over and run things and get people into your church.  Other steps include specific ministries for specific groups, mentoring relationships, etc. The possibilities are endless. A thoughtful and prayerful assessment will reveal the first steps that make sense in a particular setting.

I’m concerned  because I see very few churches being intentional about supporting and nurturing families through every aspect of their ministry. It doesn’t happen automatically. It takes some careful planning and some constructive change. Forming a partnership with families multiplies the effectiveness of ministry. We often ignore the obvious–the church has children for  a couple of hours a week, while the family has them most of the rest of that time. Leadership Network has some helpful resources for building this parnership. Their paper “Equipping Parents to Be Spiritual Champions in Their Homes” describes three churches’ efforts in this field and lists a wealth of resources.

Supporting the process of “forming family” is crucial for the future of children and our whole society. It’s a core element of the church’s mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. Who do you know that’s making it happen? What will you do to help it happen effectively in your part of God’s world?

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