Family Spirituality: Holistic Discipleship in a Hostile World

Recently my friend rags commented on my post “Conversation About Family Ministry.” He asked two questions, the second of which I attempted to grapple with in the comment section. It is a question that deserves further consideration in a future post as well because it is one of the main challenges to carrying out family ministry which takes into account children in non-believing homes.

The first question he asked was in response to my statement. I said,

“Thanks for dropping by, rags. Always great to hear from you! I think that personal devotion flows best out of an ethos of Christ-centered family spirituality. As we form habits of worship and study in the immediate family and in our community gatherings, young people will emulate what is modeled for them. Think of it as a kind of spiritual formation apprenticeship, or as we more commonly consider it, discipleship mentoring. If we only tell them prescriptively what to do in private devotions, then they will be more likely to abandon the exercise as a lonely quest. But if we infuse Christ-centered spirituality into our family and community gatherings as a part of our regular daily routine, then it will more readily become part of their private devotions as well.”

He replied by asking, “What are the things to consider when doing this?”

Very perceptive question. Here are some thoughts to consider as a foundation for what I will share in the coming days, as this is not a simple question; nor is there a simple answer.

1. The carnality of the world is hostile to Christian spiritual formation. Make no mistake. We are in ongoing spiritual warfare. We grapple with our own inclination to sin, given our sinful nature. We also struggle with the temptations which the world and the evil one attempt to place in our paths. Too often, we do not flee temptation, but we court it. Naturally, this is exacerbated by our collective tendency toward individualism, consumerism, relational disconnectedness, financial and relational duress, and overall busyness in lifestyle, with no easy way out of the grind.

2. The Cartesian stream of philosophy has pervaded the US American worldview (I have no idea if this problem exists in the Majority world) with a dualistic view of spirituality so that we tend to think in terms of dichotomies. Obviously, this relates to the body/soul dualism which Plato and Aristotle espoused in its seminal form, and Descartes later reconceived in a form which continues to influence modernism today. Yet there is a dualistic frame of reference which has bled into other areas of culture. For example, it informs notions of sacred vs. secular, or individualism vs community, and so on. These have profound consequences in our worldview and in how we live in every aspect of our daily lives, not least our spiritual formation.

3.There can be a high level of awkwardness, even in Christian homes (especially in US American Evangelicalism, and certainly mainline and non-denomination contexts as well), when it comes to living out a lifestyle of discipleship which permeates the whole of our daily lives. The reasons are multitudinous, but they often stem from the tug of a hostile world (by that I mean a world hostile to God and to Christian spiritual formation), the temptation to compartmentalize our lives as insulation from family accountability, the challenges of family relationships (even in the best of times; siblings will be siblings and conflict can strain relationships), the sheer busyness of our conflicting family routines, work responsibilities, tired parents, parents who do not feel comfortable in this role, church expectations, community events, sports, music and drama programs, and so on.

Having stated the precis of my concerns above, it becomes clear that solutions are not necessarily as simple as starting a new program or revisioning one that already exists. With Randy Frazee and many others, I think we need an entire new worldview; a new way of living and being in a confusing, hostile culture which is full of beauty, terror, artistry, loneliness and opportunities for beautiful expressions of formative connectedness. Former ways of processing the life are crumbling under the weight of reality. We simply haven’t got the margin to add one more duty, responsibility, or burden on families. Something has to change. Choices have to be made. Some will be hard choices; others less so.

I think the way forward will be birthed out of the existing narratives of personal and family lives. It is through story that people will gain insight into discontinuities which have taken residence in their lives and catch a vision of a preferred future which is more relational, connected, and simple; one that creates margin to infuse the presence of Christ intentionally into the daily routines of family life.

What will it look like? I expect it will express itself in many forms which are contextualized to the cultures, ethnicities and communities in which specific churches and their families reside. The church should be wary of taking a program which has worked well in another church and transplanting it into theirs, without first considering the implications of its appropriateness to their context and also making any necessary adaptations. The cookie-cutter approach to ministry models typically fails, if proper preparations are not taken. Plug and play models of ministry simply do not work (no, that is not a swipe at video curriculum; it is a swipe at lazy leadership, something which I have been guilty of doing in the past). We have to contextualize our ministries, just like missionaries.

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