It is time for some truth. Here’s the tough reality: neither our churches nor our world is currently set up to family. That’s the hard position from which we at Vibrant Faith are sending out this urgent call to re-focus on this central task of Christian life. We are not pretending that anything less than an act of God lived out through God’s people will change American Christianity’s ability to family the current and next generation.
Why does being structured to family matter? Because familying is the relational process that the Spirit uses to form faith.
We know that as you continue re-claim this powerful focus for forming faith, there are significant challenges that might get in the way:
People no longer connect faith in Jesus with a “know and be known” community. It’s American individualism; it’s our mobile society; it’s a failure of the church to be church; it’s the results of a “me and Jesus” Christianity. It’s all those things. The number of people living in extended families has dissipated until it is no longer the norm and often physically just very hard to do. At the same time our churches have more and more lost the ability to BE defining community for people.
But have you ever stopped to wonder about what drives the popularity of several television hits of the last 15 years? Friends, Modern Family, Parenthood, Downton Abbey… These are all examples of extended families in action, and we love watching them. People connect with these families at a deep level because these shows reflect our heart’s desire. Maybe familying is simply built into us. That wouldn’t be surprising, since familying reflects what it means to be made in the image of this triune God of ours.
As you face the challenges of structuring to family, you will need to re-connect people’s faith in Jesus to their deeply buried desire to know and be known, and help them find that in and through extended family-like Christian community.
People believe that the nuclear family is the key family unit. Those people who have nuclear families, that is. The nuclear family (one set of parents and their children) is currently the default American picture of family. When the church talks about strengthening and encouraging families, we too focus on the nuclear family. But living in an intact nuclear family is a life situation that people in our country are as likely NOT to have as they may have. In 2013, almost half the children born in the United States were born outside of marriages. The divorce rate still hovers between 40 and 50 percent.
As you face the challenges of structuring to family, the moving target that is the nuclear family will be a challenge for the intentional creation of families of faith. However, structuring churches to develop and nurture families of faith will become a welcome gift — for both a vibrant faith in Jesus and for human thriving.
This is where we get to most profoundly re-connect to who we are as followers of Jesus. Have you noticed that the story of Jesus shows him familying from birth? Much of the biblical narrative tells of his drawing together, sharing his days with and profoundly changing the lives very disparate people–including but moving beyond his blood family. Even in death, in his last words, Jesus was familying from the cross:
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
John 19: 26-27
Familying is inherently challenging. Structuring to family will be too. But creating and tending families of faith will change everything.