What is Family?

If you have been wrestling with the question of trying to define family ministry, you likely have come to realize that the definitions are varied. I doubt that will ever change. But it raises a critically important question which deserves serious consideration. What is family? Dad, mom and at least one child? Dad, mom, children and grandparents? What about uncles and aunts? Nieces and nephews? How about extended family? In-laws? Single parent homes? Homes with no children? Are they any less of a family? Widows, orphans and foster kids? Caring friends? Or even singles who live in the margins of the culture and who feel that no one cares about them until they get a ring on their fingers? What about them? Why do we think first to create isolated ministries designed primarily to help them be around other singles with the unspoken hope that they will grow up and “settle down?” (Such a dreadful expression to the vast swath of never married adults).

What is family? In my view, all of these and more. Sure, there is a natural nurturing closeness to our birth families, and rightly so. Yet, I have also experienced the privilege of closeness with families in which I was not placed by birth. I sense it is a taste of what Jesus intended when he asked his disciples, “Who are my mother and brothers?” And then pointed to the packed room indicating that all present were included.

What is family? When we discover the answer to that question, we will be better equipped to plan and implement effective expressions of family ministry.


4 thoughts on “What is Family?

  1. Very interesting observations. I often wonder at the term “family” and what it means in the broader context of the body of Christ.

    There is so much rhetoric “out there” that is inclusive to “blood-born” relatives as family.

    It the movie, “Wyatt Earp” there was a memorable quote from the patriarch of the Earp family, “Nothing counts so much as blood. The rest are just strangers.”

    So where does that leave adopted family members? No, family does not mean those related by immediate bloodlines. Family is not just biology.

    Good post, and an important question. Thanks

  2. Thanks David. Technically, we are all blood related as humans created by God. So in that sense, we have a response to the blood relations argument. The Wyatt Earp reference smacks of a typical individualistic frame of reference. Being part of the larger community family implies a responsibility to each other. Social justice and community go hand-in-hand with an ethic of mutual care for the other, rather than only one’s own small immediate sphere of blood relations. The early church modelled this by virtue of giving to everyone as they had need. I personally have benefitted from this sort of thing in my own church when they have helped me when I was in need.

  3. My only caution when people discuss the definition of family is to be careful that it limits a family to what Scripture limits a family to. For example, If a homosexual couple can fit the definition, then maybe we have gone too far. There are relationships and groups that have family-like characteristics, but it might be wise to not call them families.

    I tend to think of the family as people joined by birth, marriage or adoption.

    In some states, my definition would now include groups that I would wish to exclude (homosexual couples), but I would respond that the problem lies with an error by those states, not in the definition.

  4. Scott,

    Thanks for the comment. You raise a valid issue. The point I was trying to make is that in community, we have a responsibility to each other that extends beyond blood relations. Simple as that. I was not attempting to innovate definitions of family beyond the biblical parameters. Again, I point us to Jesus’ words as he asked the people in the room, “Who are my mothers and my brothers?” He went on to point to those in the room as a way of showing they are included in his family.

    Speaking more precisely to your point about homosexual couples, while I would not recognize homosexual couples as family with each other in the sense of marriage union sanctified by God, I do care for homosexual individuals in the sense of treating them with respect and decency, as I would any human being. Also, I attempt to live out the life of Christ in their midst with the hope of winning some to faith in Jesus, rather than drawing battle lines as many Evangelicals do, which typically drives them away from the Lord and the church.

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