Last year my congregation established a new ministry staff position, that of “Child, Youth & Household Ministry (CYHM) Coordinator“. Why use the term “household ministry” instead of “family ministry”? Let me explain.
All Households of Faith are Called to Minister to our Children/Youth: The word “family” conjures up for many a picture of dad and/or mum and children and/or youth. While children, youth and their families are the key focus of our CYHM, ministering to them is the responsibility and privilege of all who are part of our community of faith. That includes those who live alone, unrelated adults sharing a house, and couples without children. It includes single young adults and single seniors. All “households” are part of the picture, whether or not they include children and/or youth.
The Term “Household” Reaches Beyond Birth and Adoptive Ties: When people think of “family”, they usually think of those to whom they are legally related, either through birth or adoption. In our congregational ministry to families, our aim is to grow family members in living out and sharing faith with one another. But we also desire for each family to become a relational unit of mission and ministry to others … neighbours, friends, work colleagues. We want our homes to become more than isolated havens for family members. We want them to be places of care and hospitality and affirmation for those who are not legally family, but are welcomed as if they were.
The Term “Household” Better Reflects the Language of Scripture: As is explained by Diana Garland in the quote below (Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide), the word “family” as we largely understand it today is not mirrored in the Scriptures. Bible characters certainly had immediate families, but the key relational unit was not the immediate family but the wider household or clan.
Stephen Finlan (The Family Metaphor in Jesus’ Teaching) further explains:
Families in Jesus’ time were not the nuclear family of the modern West, with the mother and father being the only two adults in the home and the children moving out when they become adults. In the Hellenistic world, including Judea, most households centered around the father of an extended family, with his unmarried children and his married sons and their families living in the same household, along with some of the father’s unmarried brothers and sisters. The biblical phrase “the father’s house” refers to this extended family, often situated in several houses around a common courtyard. Married daughters would have moved out to live in the households of their husbands’ fathers. Slaves, if there were any, were a part of the household, but did not figure in matters of lineage and inheritance. Nor was the home a thoroughly private place to which the members could go to escape from the workaday world. The home was a much more public place than that; it was “the place where much work was done, even among aristocrats,” who also had to “entertain important people and conduct public business” there.
The “household” of Biblical times was more open, fluid and public in nature than the modern Western family. While I am certainly not suggesting that this social configuration was ideal or worthy of recovery (e.g. the ancient household was strongly patriarchal), I wonder if we might recover the notion of the home as a place of connectivity with the wider community and a context for offering care to the socially perilous. Perhaps the word “household” might be better suited for that purpose than the word “family”.
The Term “Household” Applies to the Whole Community of Faith: In undertaking child, youth and household ministry, our vision is to incorporate and embrace children and young people within the wider body of Christ – people of all ages worshipping and serving together as brothers and sisters in Jesus, one household of faith (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15) where all belong irrespective of family of origin. While it is common to talk about the local church as a “family” or a “family of families”, doing so can in some ways be restrictive or counter-productive (cf. Tony Robinson, “Quit thinking of the church as a family“). Referring to the church as a “household” may circumvent some of the negative “baggage” that can arise from use of the word “family”.
What do you think? I welcome your comments and reflections …