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2005 Ministries to Families

Presented by the Commission on Christian Action, adopted by the delegates to the 120th Covenant Annual Meeting.

Overview

Families and family relationships are among the basic blessings and challenges of human life. By God’s design, families exist not just to meet our needs for companionship and nurture, but also to equip us to care for others. As Christians, we believe God uses family relationships—in hard times as well as good times—to transform us into the likeness of Christ and call us into service. The Bible uses marriage and parenthood as illustrations of God’s faithfulness and costly love for us (Jeremiah 31:32, Luke 11:13). In the circle of family relationships, we learn the importance of humility, respect, and bearing one another’s burdens—values that prepare us to love and serve in our churches, our communities, and the world (Colossians 3:12-14, 1 Peter 3:8).

Biblical Understandings of Family

Biblical teaching about the family begins with the core relationships of marriage and parenthood. God’s observation that “it is not good for the man to be alone” introduces God’s provision of marriage as a lifetime union between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:18), a relationship guarded by fidelity (Exodus 20:14) and mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). God also gives direction for the relationship between parents and children. Parents receive children as a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3), and are responsible for their children’s spiritual as well as physical nurture (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Children are reminded to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12); parents are reminded to show gentleness and respect in relationship with their children (Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:20-21).

The family as described in the Bible is not limited to the nuclear family. God’s provision for family life includes people in a variety of circumstances: adult siblings (John 11:1-2), widows (Acts 6:1, 1 Timothy 5:3-16), in-laws (Ruth 1:15-17), grandparents and grandchildren (2 Timothy 1:5), and the relationships of “brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and children” experienced in the church family (Mark 10:29-30, John 19:25-28). The Bible also specifically affirms unmarried people, reminding us that unmarried people can have special opportunities to serve God and others (1 Corinthians 7:32-38, Matthew 19:10-12).

In God’s purposes, family transcends biology, as God can create family bonds where none existed before. God advanced salvation by working through the responsive hearts of Pharaoh’s daughter toward a vulnerable baby Moses (Exodus 2:1-10), and of Joseph toward a fatherless baby Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25). In the New Testament, adoption becomes a key image for understanding our identity as children of God (Rom. 8:14-15, Galatians 4:3-7, Ephesians 1:5-6), as we join in a growing family being built not primarily by human plans but by God’s Spirit (John 1:12-13).

Challenges Families Face

Affirming the beauty of God’s design does not blind us to the fact that human sin profoundly affects family life. Families reflect our brokenness, and tragically at times, become a channel of it. Ministry to families is not based on the illusion that Christian families are perfect, but on the power of Christ’s healing love. Because we have experienced Christ’s love and forgiveness, we have hope for broken people and broken relationships. Sometimes, ministry to families requires us to speak truths that may be unpopular; and we must pray for boldness to do so. But at all times, the Bible teaches us to speak and act in humility and love, not posturing as those who “have all the answers,” or laying burdens on families or individuals, but serving one another with gentleness and respect (Matthew 23:4, 1 Peter 3:15).

In addition to voices that openly challenge marriage as a holy covenant, or undermine the authority and responsibility of parents for raising their children, there are powerful but subtle cultural pressures that tend to disrupt family bonds. These include fast-paced schedules, obsession with image and attractiveness, materialism, and a “me-first” attitude variously expressed in feelings of entitlement and irresponsible behavior. Families are also undermined by lack of effective preparation for marriage and parenting, leading to relationship failures and wounds that could have been avoided. In such situations, children are most at risk and most vulnerable to the choices of others.

Nearly all local churches are involved in some kind of ministry to families; and most probably feel their efforts are inadequate. Few can offer ministries specifically tailored to every family structure (singles, married, single parents, blended families, empty nest, retired, etc.) or provide a “one-stop shop” with resources or counseling available for every situation. But most churches can provide biblical teaching, service opportunities, and authentic Christian community where individuals and families can minister to each other on the basis of their gifts and experiences.

Our Response

Our goal in ministering to families is to strengthen, encourage, and spiritually equip families whatever their structure, or their current struggles. We realize that our sufficiency for this ministry is based on God’s wisdom and power, not on our own knowledge and resources, which are often inadequate to the task (2 Corinthians 3:5). Therefore, in response to God’s mercy and the needs of this generation:

1) Be it resolved that we will uphold the importance of heterosexual marriage, fidelity in marriage, and mutual submission and forgiveness in the marriage relationship; and we share these values and their implications with our children and youth.

2) Be it resolved that we will support and equip parents to be spiritual mentors for their children, with a uniquely important role in helping children and young people become fully devoted followers of Christ.

3) Be it resolved that we will encourage families to set healthy, biblical priorities for their time and finances, using and investing these with God’s kingdom in mind (Matthew 6:33). At times, this must involve breaking the “consumer” mindset to release our families from asking the church how it can serve them, to seeking instead to serve as agents of God’s love in our community and world.

4) Be it resolved that we will provide Christian teaching and counsel for those preparing for marriage and parenthood, or experiencing family crisis, recognizing that in some situations it may be more appropriate to refer individuals or families to counselors outside the local church.

5) Be it resolved that we will be attentive to the variety of families represented in our churches and make an effort to make our ministries accessible and relevant to a wide range of families.

6) Be it resolved that we will invite all generations, children through senior adults, to participate in church life and service; and we will encourage fellowship and mutual honor among generations, remembering that all of us are still growing in the likeness of Christ.

7) Be it resolved that we will be diligent, following God’s leading, in allowing our local churches and our Covenant fellowship to function as authentic Christian communities where we truly bear one another’s burdens, finding the freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13-14).