Dr. Rob Rienow has a chapter titled “Building a Theology of Family Ministry” in the book Collaborate: Family + Church. Reading this chapter brought to light some Biblical passages that I had not given a lot of thought to before with respect to family ministry.
Genesis: 18:18-19 – The LORD said, “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
God is promising that he will do a great thing through Abraham, and that this will bring great blessings to the whole world. And the starting point for that is Abraham’s faithfulness as a parent – he is chosen so that he will guide his children and household (extended family, servants etc.) in following the Lord and living in right and just ways. God’s covenantal plan to form a nation to serve and proclaim him had family ministry at its very heart!
Malachi 2:15 – “Has not the LORD made the two of you one? You belong to him in body and spirit. And why has he made you one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.” Here God speaks to the people of Israel about divorce. God makes husband and wife “one” and their union belongs to him in body and in spirit. Breakdown of any marriage saddens God, and there are a number of Biblical passages that speak to this issue. But what is particularly interesting here is the reason God gives for making “two of you one” … it is “because he was seeking godly offpsring”. Where husband and wife are united spiritually and working together to pass on faith to their children, their influence can be deep and profound. But when become divided in spirit, there are spiritual effects on their children. Family ministry can make an important contribution to helping married couples foster their relationship, to grown together spiritually, and to deal with their marital issues and problems in healthy ways. Where divorce or breakdown occurs, congregations have a particular calling to provide spiritual support to those involved and to resource parents to nurture their children in faith in their new and challenging circumstances.
Acts 2:38-39 – Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Peter is addressing the crowd gathered at the first Pentecost. The promise he speaks of is the Gospel, and it is “for you and your children and for all who are far off.” Rienow calls this the “three-fold move of the Gospel”. The sequence is worth pondering on. The Gospel is given to engage our hearts, to change and enliven us. It is then to flow onto our children, and from there to the wider world. However, where parents are not invested in continuously hearing the Gospel and being transformed by it, their capacity to ‘share the promise’ with their children is diminished. It is also diminished when they give more attention and focus to those who are “far off” than to their own spiritual roles as father or mothers. The logic is this – God wants to transform parents to transform their families to transform their communities.
Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” While this verse is addressed to fathers, I believe that it applies equally to both parents, and to their spiritual partnership in the home. “Training” and “instruction” implies intentionality-over-time – the use and application of spiritual practices such as worship, prayer, service and faith-talk within the home. The absence of an intentional spritual focus within the home “exasperates” the spiritual development of children. A congregation or school can provide support for the faith nurture of children, but they can never adequately substitute for parents in the spiritual “training and instruction” of their offspring.