Issues in Children’s and Family Ministry

The conference season is done. Finished. Completed. Over. It is time to take what I have learned, work through it, and begin to make sense of it all, especially where there are conflicts in ideas. This is especially true of ministry to children and their families. Tomorrow I will finalize the first draft of my dissertation proposal and email it to the powers-that-be for consideration. I plan to wrestle with the issues related to family ministry, especially in terms of the disparate, yet common approaches. I desire to investigate the apparent disconnect between an emphasis on parent-directed approaches and campus-based approaches, especially as they pertain to the cultural dynamics of home-schooling and affluent two-parent homes as opposed to less affluent homes and a reliance on public schools. But that only touches the surface of the issues, as I now see it. I think there are deeper corollary dynamics at play, not least what I perceive to be a fundamental exercise in selective hermenuetics.

For example, the home-based, parent-led camp emphasizes the Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (esp vs 8, 9, & 20) passage, citing the holistic aspect of parents nurturing their kids in the faith. And rightly so. This is an attractive and compelling passage which argues strongly for lifestyle spiritual formation in the home throughout the normal rythms of daily life. I personally am very attracted to all that it implies. But I have begun to wrestle with an obvious question: Is the text only referring to our modern definition of the nuclear family? Read verse 2 again: “…so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God…” Three generations are indicated here by way of providing context for the remainder of the passage. For the Israelites, family meant father, mother, children, grandparents (if alive), also possibly aunts, uncles, and so on. Extended family was family. Wealthy families also had servants. Or they may have had employees, all of whom functioned in familial ways. It could be argued that they all fell within the perview of this context, seeing to it that the children being raised up knew the commands and followed them.

Consider Jesus’ words as he inquired as to who his mother and brothers actually were in Matthew’s gospel (12:46-48). The writer then goes on to say, “Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers” (49). What if this was not a radical new idea, as some have suggested? What if Jesus was simply living up to his fulfillment of Torah by calling their attention to what it means truly to live in family? Did he disown his family? Of course not. The Fourth Evangelist clarifies that he perceived his mother still to be his mother, but nuances the understanding of the Matthean text by adding, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). Thus, for Jesus, family included blood ties to be sure, but also embraced the broader community, not only blood ties, but common love for God, akin to a sense of adoption.

Having written this, I perceive a risk of imbalance in over-emphasizing the Deuteronomy passage, especially through a Western interpretive lense and to the exclusion of the New Testament milieu, especially as it relates to Jesus’ own teaching and example. While it is understandable why we should feel drawn to the natural rythms of the text, we should also be alert to our interpretive grid as we seek to apply its principles. For in our potentially narrow interpretations, we risk excluding where Jesus was busy including. For me, this is a sobering thought, one that requires deeper thinking and more careful investigation.

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