“Rabbis, like parents, always had their eyes on the future” – Gordon MacDonald, Going Deep.
There is no doubt that “family” is an issue for the church in the 21st century. Having said that, it has probably been an issue for the church in any century. The question that is evolving now is how do we as the church effectively minister to the current iterations of family that surround us now.
I’m not sure about the accuracy of this, but test it for yourself – I have been told that there are some 32 possible expressions or combinations of what could comprise a “family.” The point is simply that things are not as they were. The nuclear family comprised of mum, dad and 2.5 kids is no longer the predominant model.
The big question that arises from this is how do we, the church, respond. One possibility is to lament the loss of the past certainties and try to revert back to something we once knew. This course of action, besides being virtually impossible, bypasses a host of underlying debatable assumptions about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of past and present models.
Another response could be to minister to the “families” as we find them, in whatever combination.
Alan J. Roxburgh in his book Missional Map Making proposes that to be effective we need to understand our context well. I strongly agree with his point, as did 33 others who attended the “Family in NZ Society” block course provided by Carey Baptist College in September.
Led by Dr Carlton Johnstone and supported by high quality guest lecturers, the course covered a range of relevant topics including biblical and theological perspectives on family; the changing nature of family; the impact of divorce; family; and work and cultural influences.
I was encouraged by the number of people up-skilling themselves in this important area of ministry. I think it also points to an increasing recognition that the church community needs further education.
I recently asked a group of parents of young children this question: “If you could wave a magic wand over our church to get the support, encouragement, assistance for your parenting role, what would be top of the list?”
An interesting debate followed including ideas around transitioning faith to the next generation, practical task support, provision of goods and services, and respite provision. The final conclusion was a clear request: Teach us how to parent. We want to be wise, informed, capable, God-honouring parents. The agreement was that these other things will mostly be managed or mitigated by parenting wisdom.
Unfortunately, I have misplaced my magic wand and so can’t wave it and produce the desired response in your context. But the call is clear. Who is going to teach the art of parenting to the young parents in your faith community? Who is going to teach a faith-centred perspective on parenting in your wider community? Young parents are asking for it.
I wonder sometimes if, in our faith communities, we are too focused on the present and immediate and not as focused on the future generations as we need to be. The writer of Psalm 78 has a four-generational view on this, as does Gordon MacDonald.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this and related issues with you. Contact me if you would like to engage in further conversation.