FEATURE: Strong Families Make Strong Churches—Larry Duncan
06/07/2011 04:49:00 PM
The family is God’s primary institution on earth. A God-centered family within a vibrant local church is the best place on earth for teaching, nurturing, evangelizing, making disciples, building relationships, equipping for service, instilling godly principles, living out the Great Commandment, and fulfilling the Great Commission.
Local churches become stronger as they place a renewed emphasis on healthy families. While the church can offer a variety of ministries and programs, the best service the church can provide is to help families help themselves. The church should teach and model basic biblical principles and then encourage each family to apply and live out these principles in daily life.
The Need for Family Ministry
Families are in crisis, and they need help. Unfortunately, the church doesn’t always function as an authentic community bound together by the intimacy of Godly love. Therefore, the church hasn’t always been equipped to meet those needs.
This is reflected in the fact that even though we’ve stood strongly in opposition to divorce, it has now invaded our families and churches in proportions barely distinguishable from the rest of society. As we move into the second decade of the twenty-first century, concerns about the destruction of marriage and the breakdown of families have moved to center stage. Sadly, very few voices, even those of religious leaders, have dared to speak up.
Biblical teaching aside, the breakdown of marriage has social consequences.
The disappearance of a marriage culture, and its replacement by a post-marital culture, is the driving force behind almost all the gravest societal problems—crime, poverty, welfare dependence, homelessness, spousal abuse, child abuse, educational stagnation, and economic instability.
The rapid decline of marriage is based on a central myth sold by intellectuals, politicians, feminists, psychologists, lawyers, and even some ministers—that it’s not declining, but merely changing for the better. We’re told that marriages are happier and healthier, children are better off, and people have more freedom and choices now that the taboos against divorce, same-sex marriage, and unwed motherhood have been discarded.
As society accepts these myths, the implications are clear: marriage has become disposable. If we believe divorce, the break-up of families, and illegitimacy are inevitable, then no one needs to take responsibility for the devastation. And if there’s no solution, there really is no problem. So we tend to treat the collapse of marriage like a natural disaster such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, or floods—all of which cause pain and destruction that cannot be prevented, only relieved somewhat after the fact.
Local Churches Ministering to Families
Ministry to the family must become a major issue for our local churches. However, effective ministry can’t be provided simply by expanding the church’s roster of activities, or by appointing an individual to oversee family ministries. There must be a change in the mindset of the pastor and local church if ministry to families is to become effective.
Family ministry must have a two-fold focus—to care for, support, nurture, and empower families, and to bring people together as a body of believers in a way that enables authentic, biblical community to take place.
There are several key elements that are required for a local church to begin formulating a response to the needs of families.
• A theology of family—a fully-developed statement that documents what we believe the Bible teaches concerning marriage and the family.
One reason why many churches have been such poor caretakers of marriage is because they have never had a fully-developed theology of marriage. If we can’t explain why marriage really matters theologically, why maleness and femaleness have real meaning, and how marriage is God's way of completing these two sides of humanity, then the only posture we will have to stand against the tidal wave of divorce, the rise of illegitimate births, and the homosexual onslaught is one of personal prejudice.
A theology of marriage must be more than a list of Scripture verses on the topic. We must develop and draw from a comprehensive understanding of God's creation of male and female, why and how “the two become one flesh,” and how this “mystery,” as Paul calls it, is so significant as to represent Christ's relationship with His church. If we don’t live from this position, we are no different from the world around us.
Other elements needed for an effective local church ministry to families include the following:
• A mission of family ministries—a statement of why ministry to the family exists in the local church. This statement may also be accompanied by specific objectives that are expected to be fulfilled through the mission.
• A vision of family ministries—a statement of how things would look if the church were effectively carrying out its mission of ministering to families.
• A passion for families—a burning desire to see families grow spiritually, relationally, and emotionally.
• A champion of families—an individual, or group, within the local church who is committed without reservation to the welfare and growth of families. Ideally, the pastor would be the primary champion of the family in each church, but there should be others as well. The pastor sets the agenda.
• A mindset for families—a way of understanding what church is all about that takes into account the centrality of families.
Notice that none of these elements are programmatic. Programs aimed at families will not, by themselves, achieve the objective of building strong, stable families. Activities and programs aren’t the foundation of family ministry; intimate, loving relationships are.
Most often, a local church is a collection of ministries and programs designed to be supported by families. In order to become most effective, however, the church must become a network of families supported by the church’s ministries and programs.
Such thinking is a radical departure from our current understanding of church. For many years, we’ve relied on our strong stand against divorce to ensure strong families, and while we should stand firmly on scriptural principles regarding the sanctity of marriage, that by itself has proven to be ineffective in saving our families from stress and break-up.
We’ve now reached a point at which what we do must match what we believe. It’s not enough to be against divorce; we must be for families, and that means reinventing church in such a way that the needs of families are considered in the design and operation of all we do. This doesn’t mean that the church becomes the focus of the family, but rather that the family becomes the focus of the church.
George Barna suggests that a key principle the church must keep in mind is to equip the family to minister to itself. His contention is that most churches attempt to solve the problems of troubled families instead of helping families solve their own problems. This creates a co-dependency, or addiction, in which the family never becomes able to function on its own without intervention by the church. Family crises don’t occur at the church, so families must be equipped to deal with crises when and where they happen—in real life.
The church must enable the family to meet its own needs so the family, in turn, can bring life and strength to the church. In this way, families become contributors to the life of the local church rather than consumers of the church’s resources.
There’s so much work to be done. Satan is attacking families more heavily than at any other time. Again, I believe this is because he knows that families are at the very heart of God’s purposes here on earth. The enemy knows that if he can destroy marriages and families, he has gone a long way toward destroying the church. Please join us in the fight for our families.
The time has come when we are going to have to put our beliefs into action and bring all our resources to bear in the fight against the forces that are bent on destroying God’s primary institution, the family. Together, with God’s help, we can do it.
Larry Duncan, Pastor