How Much Should We Focus on the Family?

Business Odyssey 001 This past weekend, I spent some time at Pepperdine University attending the Family of Faith Network conference–sponsored by the Boone Center for the Family and the Graduate School of Education and Psychology. I was there to teach a class and serve on a panel, but conferences are always a good opportunity to learn from those smarter than oneself. That's what I did.

Family life ministry in the church is an odd bird. There are very few true family-life ministers in churches of Christ. We have youth ministers, children's ministers, campus ministers, etc…but rarely "family life ministers" unless it needs to be added as a tag onto another job in order for us to feel good about hiring someone to do something else. That's too bad.

When it comes to family life ministry, churches tend to either silo things into age brackets with little cross-pollination across generations, or go relatively "family-centered" with everything. I have a beef with both approaches for different reasons. I believe that when we silo ministry areas, we impoverish our spiritual formation and create a flabby, over-programmed church system that isolates parent, child, and church. This is why I generally prefer the "Orange" concept to others out there…though I wrestle with it in parts.

The family-centered approach, however, also has it's problems. It's too dependent on traditional family models, and has the propensity to exalt the family unit itself to a place higher than it deserves. Christians and churches should always put God first and see the family as a context in which God shapes us spiritually and a place for us to worship God with our lives as we love and serve one another. The family is an extension of worship, not an object of worship.

Mark Holman and Francis Chan gave back-to-back keynotes on Thursday nights and offered two somewhat different perspectives. I'll try to boil their messages down (I hope I do them justice).

  • Mark Holmen argued that churches rely too heavily on programs and need to focus their efforts on preparing families for "faith at home." His talk was full of statistics demonstrating that parents were most influential in the lifelong faith development in their children. So, parents need to take that calling extremely seriously and the church needs to help equip them for that calling.
  • Francis Chan said that family life is best when the family is focused outwardly on the cause of Christ—as we aren't called to focus on the family, but to focus the family on Christ and living out His mission. He believes we hold our families too tightly and that idolatry causes us take our families so seriously that we forget our highest calling and responsibility is to Jesus Christ and His cause in the world.

Personally, I agreed with the core of both presentations. I think some parents outsource their responsibility to shape their children to the church while others worship the family instead of the Lord of the family. However, I actually believe that the latter is the faster growing problem in today's world.

Which do you think is the bigger problem? What is the church's role in addressing each: lack of focus on the family, and tunnel-vision on the family?

The family is certainly important enough to warrant such an ongoing discussion…and I'm thankful to Ken Canfield and the Boone Center for the Family for facilitating it.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

6 thoughts on “How Much Should We Focus on the Family?

  1. I really don’t have any original thoughts to contribute to the most interesting questions that you pose here, Tim. Your discussion of the family, however, reminded me that we haven’t gotten any Norah updates on this blog in awhile, not even a recent pic. Some of us don’t live in SoCal anymore (unfortunately) & can’t swing by NCCC to see how she’s growing. Just sayin… 🙂

  2. Brice – I would add that a man can’t REALLY provide for his family the way he needs to if Christ isn’t first in his life.
    I see 1 Timothy 5:8 and Luke 14:26 in harmony in that way. The word translated “hate” simply means to love less in the context of that sentence – not to literally hate (you probably already know that, but for the benefit of other readers …).

  3. Thanks for posting this. I have been thinking a little about this over the last couple of months. The key question to me is this, “How can we as leadership of a congregation help our families to grow and mature in their faith in the 99% of their time that is away from the building?” If we can answer that question then I think people are going to grow. If we don’t even consider any of this that you are talking about then many of our families are going to die on the vine.

  4. Tim,
    I really enjoyed your thoughts this weekend. As a “part-time” minister to young families I would argue not that we exalt the family too high, but the more likely culprit is our desire to exalt our children to an unhealthy altitude. The numbers of divorces aren’t going down, even in the church, which you might expect if we were putting “too” much emphasis on family. But when we as parents place our children and their activities above our commitment to God, and our commitment to our spouse, we end up with a lose, lose, lose. You end up with parents who are more committed to their children than their marriage, resulting in greater, not fewer, divorces. In support of Mark we can look at Paul who tells us in 1 Tim. 5:8, that those who fail to provide for their own families are worse than unbelievers. But don’t linger long because Francis can find support in Luke 14:26 and there you’ll see another story. I think we need to help our families learn to focus on Christ, that parents need to lead their children in understanding and practice of Mark 10:43-45. We need to be the example to them, show our love for them, and demonstrate a healthy family but lifting up our God, honoring our spouse, and nurturing our children, as children, not rock stars.

  5. I think that I’m with Francis, too, at least in emphasis. Why does everything have to have the label “family” in the church? Family is an important calling for many in the church, but when we exalt that model of life to the exclusion of discipleship in the unified body of christ, I think we are very exclusive to other callings.
    I love that language of not focusing on the family, but focusing the family on Christ. Great words to address the issue.