We live in a era when the basic building block society — the family — is breaking down. This family disfunction is invading the church. Different segments of the church have recognized different aspects of the problem and are addressing it in different ways. Here is a brief survey of family approaches I’m familiar with:
- The Vision Forum/Conservative Calvinist Approach — Some of the best Christian family resources available today are produced by a group called the Vision Forum. Doug Phillips and his team are producing a seemingly endless stream of resources to help rebuild families from the ground up. Their mindset is based on the Calvinist covenantal worldview. This view makes a direct correlation between the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church. In Israel, everything was about family. Training your natural children was the future. The weakness of this approach in the New Testament era is that it tends to substitute family expectations for evangelistic expectations. A kind of Amish worldview develops where reaching or touching the outside world is secondary to training your children and your family. With time, the family line becomes more important than the Gospel witness, and you have a new culture (like the Amish) developed out of it, instead of a changed world.
- The Baptist/Assemblies of God Approach — In the Baptist worldview, everything is about evangelism. Where the calvinist emphasizes the covenant, and therefore often the infant in Baptism, the Baptists emphasize the believer in baptism, and therefore the Kingdom. The Baptists evangelize, including their children. They build schools, because they recognize the humanistic values of culture, and this helps a lot. Where they fall short however, is in the connection between the parents and the children. The idea of discipling their children through lifelong personal connection is weak, just as their idea of discipling believers is weak. The Assemblies of God is somewhat similar, except that they build colleges instead of schools to protect their children, which is also a major help but not a solution.
- The Prophetic/Charismatic Approach — Charismatics are often comprised of those who most needed a touch from God. Partly because of the isolating nature of this journey, Charismatics have tended to be very individualistic in their approach to life, and because what matters most is an spiritual encounter with God, this is what they seek to give their children. Charismatic churches often have 45 minute+ worship, including all ages followed by a “Kids church” which may include exposing or encouraging the children to move in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. A few things seem to work strongly against Charismatic children though. First, the counter-intuitive way that Charismatics understand God as working can be damaging to children. “God told us” can include a wide variety of things which God may not have said, and when they don’t happen God seems fake, or gets the blame. Second, Charismatics place a lot of emphasis on women leading ministry, but very little on father’s leading homes. Combined with the flakey behavior, this usually means the father is checked out. Third, while exposure to the Spirit for children is very desirable, it is only one part of a comprehensive child raising strategy.
- The Sheherding/Charismatic Approach — The Sheperding Movement was like an antidote to the prophetic wing, but an antidote that was usually applied in such degree that it acted more like a poison. All Charismatics can be described by finding their place on the continuum between the two. In the Shepherding Movement, discipleship is everything. This includes family. The man runs the family, and it must be properly ordered as a primary qualification for ministry. Because the Shepherds valued authority and discipleship, they eliminated the charismatic problems, but ushered in a different kind of problem — over-involvement and control. Just as they violated the boundary of conscience with their disciples, so they also violate their children’s consciences.
This is only a starting point for a discussion, but a few observations emerge for me.
- First, a complementarian view of men and women’s roles is essential to the health of the family. Groups that emphasize women’s leadership at the expense of men fundamentally damage the family. Exactly what men’s and women’s roles are is a topic for another post, but I think it’s clear that male leadership is essential to family health.
- Second, emphasis of family cannot be done at the expense of the Kingdom, but as a part of the Kingdom. The vision forum has much to be admired, but I believe the first priority is reaching souls. We do not sacrifice our families for souls, but we engage them in the work. We cannot return to an Old Testament mindset where the family and the Kingdom are the same thing.
- Third, total family care involves a lot more than any single program. It is ministry to the parents, schools, youth groups, kids programs, sunday school etc. In fact, it is ministry to singles and young adults, since they are the building blocks of future families.