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.