What if life was like curling?

Over the winter my wife and I took up curling. Curling is that Winter Olympic sport that is televised on the 8 broadcast channel, and if you’re like me you’ll spend the whole Olympic season relearning the rules and strategy that come with that game that looks something like bowling and shuffleboard.

Anyhow, I’m loving it. It good exercise; it’s fun; it makes me think; and when someone makes an excellent shot, it’s exhilarating. But more than that, the game is proving to be a great way to make social connection. As the club members told us in the Learn to Curl class, there’s one universal rule in curling. That is that after a good game of curling, everyone is expected to participate in broom stacking. This is true from rookie club level to the Olympics. Everyone stacks their brooms up outside the “warm room” and the winners, buy the first drink, losers buy the second, and by the 3rd, no one cares who won or lost.

It’s this practice that makes curling what it is. It’s the most forgiving sport I’ve ever seen. No. The ice isn’t forgiving. It causes all kinds of problems for the learner and for the veteran. But the people practice great sportsmanship. The curlers call their own fouls. The curlers judge their own scoring. And when someone trips over a rock, their is an interesting practice that nearly always works out for the best.

First, the one causing an infraction quickly points it out. At that point, the rule is that the rock should be moved back to where is was when tripped on or where it was going when touched. Of course, no one can possibly judge these things with precision. So in theory, the two sides work out the position, but in practice, the infringing side allow the other side to decide. And in theory, the deciding side could say whatever they want, but because you’re going to have to buy a beer and drink it with the other party in a few minutes, I’ve noticed (from club level up to the World championships) the spot is usually chosen fairly, but when necessary, conservatively in favor of the infringing team so that no one is left feeling that they have been taken advantage of.

What if marriage and churches and all society realized the practice of broom stacking. We’re going to have to drink together? Let’s learn to live together in a way where we aren’t striving to take advantage over the other people. Call out your infracting (confession). Allow those that you hurt to tell you how hurt they are (repentance). Then exercise their right to not claim all of your rights and advantages when you have been fouled (grace).

Curling is a fun sport. Players take it seriously. But winning is always secondary to doing what is right to maintain sportsmanship.

By the way, my club has a learn to curl in a few weeks. Check it out. When you come, I’ll buy the first drink.

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5 ways to not get caught up in me during the holidays

Good morning blog. I know you’ve sat idle for some time and I’ll get back to why and what I’m doing about that. Today I’ll wake it up because recently I was asked a question that I think many parents will be considering this season.

Q: “What can my family do to take the focus off of ourselves and our own needs this Christmas season?”

I didn’t have a ready answer for this question. Instead I hummed and hawed with some response like “I’m more confused about that than ever.” And I am. But after giving the question a thought, I present you with these ideas.

1. Don’t do what you wouldn’t do all year.

The temptation for many is to make this the season when they volunteer at a homeless shelter, or start family times, or host some large scale outreach.

I’m not saying avoid traditional Christmas celebrations and activities. I’m saying avoid introducing new things to you family/church calendar with the hope of making a major corrective. The problem with these seasonally introduced activities is that they are often more ME directed than they should be. Homeless shelters need volunteers all year, but in this season, volunteers can become a burden to them as they get so many who come out for the holidays. Often these are driven by guilt or feelings of self satisfaction.

2. Don’t participate in the fullness of the commercialized season.

I’m not going to say to avoid it all together, but where you can, simplify. Shop locally. Buy no more than one or two small gifts per person. Make gifts special rather than trying to get everything on a child’s wish list.

3. Talk to your church leaders about points where the season (or Jesus) just becomes another commercial product.

Too many churches have taken a posture that the way to compete with the noise that the world makes in this season is to make more noise. Church leaders and church members should find quiet ways to speak of the Prince of Peace. One example is to shut down big church events and invite families to make a regular time of meeting with their neighbors.

4. Invite your neighbors over for egg nog (and then make this a regular practice).

Hang out. Cook dinner. Watch a game. Play a game. (Don’t start with a Bible study.)

5. Downsize.

Make a plan to downsize in the next year. That might mean selling one TV (rather than buying another). It might mean selling that $40,000 car and buying a $20,000 used car. It might mean selling your 3600 square foot McMansion in the hip part of town, to move into a 1400 square foot home in the more diverse neighborhood. Don’t use my ideas. Consider where your family can downsize. [Note: Don’t do this in the holiday season. See number 1. Plan it for the next year or so.] Once you downsize, figure out ways that you can use the money and time saved to be more of a neighbor to the people around you.

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Viable Family Ministry Models Part 2 of 4

This is the much delayed (many months, sorry) second post in a four part series discussing different models of family ministry. In our first post, we talked about how two scholars (Timothy Paul Jones and Denise Kjesbo) have defined family ministry. In this post, I’ll break down the elements Etchea’s mode. It is important to note that Etchea’s model was first develop when I was working with the National Center for Biblical Parenting as part of the 4-14 Family Initiative. Both agency have continued to develop their ideas of these concepts. NCBP contemplates them through the Four Concepts of Family Ministry.

Age-grade ministry

In the mid-1900s, because of new studies in educational theory, many churches began a movement toward age-graded learning. Teaching the Bible by age groups has provided a good way to help children understand the Bible and its principles. Certainly these age-based classes are an effective form of discipleship at the academic level. Unfortunately, this method alone is not the most effective means for reaching the heart, or maintaining a long-term faith. Knowledge is passed, but the faith does not always follow knowledge. One key to helping churches to move from age-graded to more family-friendly ministries is to introduce measures that break down the walls between generations. Another key is to develop measures that connect discipleship in the church with the home. In the end, the best age-graded ministries will be echoes of the work that parents do at home and will be highly relational. Further, the priority of age-graded ministry is to serve children whose parents will not or cannot pass the faith to them.

Educational

When we talk about the Education model, we are talking about the education of parents. This model of family ministry focuses on providing training and encouragement for parents, as parents and as married couples. The educational model focuses on the discipleship of the parents first, with the expectation that it will trickle down to the children. 

Often the educational and therapeutic models overlap. This may manifest itself in a philosophy that the church has an obligation to save the institution of the family from the pitfalls and degradation of this world. As discipleship, this falls short. In itself, the protection of the family is noble, but the gospel of reconciliation becomes lost and rescue becomes the message. While it is important to work within and through family structures we must remember that the work of the Church is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to new generations. When preaching family wholeness become too central to our work, the gospel looses it’s appropriate position in the center of our work. Teaching parents to be good moral educators in their homes and working to strengthen marriages is an important task of the church, but it is not the primary task of making disciples. The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. Making disciples is a matter of speaking the gospel, from one generation to the next.

The Intergenerational Church as a Family of Families

The family of families model works off of New Testament language that calls the church the Family of God. At the same time, the New Testament acknowledges the connectedness of the household. Intergenerational ministry highlights that a healthy family finds value in all members, and members in all communities. One value of the family of families model is that children learn from watching their parents interact with the faith community. Another value is that children make valuable relationships with people of all generations. A third value is that older generations are invigorated by youthful involvement. 

The danger of the intergenerational model comes when the interaction between generations devolves to taste and preference. It is difficult to get all generations together without one or more age groups feeling slighted and ignored, or even disrespected. The key is that before age groups are joined, the church needs to develop a culture that recognizes all members, young and old, as valuable to every other member. Growing relational connections between generations opens the door to older generations telling the story of Christ and the church to the younger generations in a universal way.

Home-Centered/Church-Supported

The home-centered/church-supported model is the goal and culmination of all the other family ministry models. Many will look at this model and think that it is a dissemination of all church authority. This isn’t true. The authority of the church must maintain as strong as ever if this model is to work. Home-centered discipleship is important because home is where children are. In a normal week, a child may attend from 1 to 3 hours of church ministry. That is a reasonable time to interact with a child at a certain level. In the same week, that child will be in the care of the family for more than 120 hours. The influence of the home will always be greater than the influence of the church just because of the vast difference in time. We need to train our parents and grandparents to make the most of this time, because every moment is a discipleship opportunity.

The home-centered/church-supported model is not a programmatic model. It is a shift in culture, and a biblical shift. Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 4 contain the foundation for this model. In Deuteronomy 6 we see that children should be taught the law well, but that teaching is natural in everyday life. When church teachers creatively search for illustrations to demonstrate biblical principles, children face real-life situations that naturally develop teaching opportunities. It is wise for parents to lead the way in demonstrating the principles at the time of the events. Furthermore, Ephesian 4 makes it clear that the work of the leadership of the church is preparing those who do ministry. As parents are the ministers in this model, they are the ones that the church must support by helping them to develop their discipleship skills. 

As we move our churches toward a home-centered/church-supported model of family ministry, children see the faith of their parents in a natural light. They will witness a consistency between faith at church, faith at home, and faith lived out in the world. Home-centered/church-supported ministry is missional as it challenges people to be faithful in their natural interaction. This model of ministry moves faithful people out the door of the church and into their communities.

The therapeutic aspect of family ministry

Our four levels of family ministry do not include a specific level for counseling and therapeutic ministry. This goes against the grain of most academic family-ministry programs, which tend to focus on the psychology or culture of the family. Those disciplines are important for the family but are insufficient in their ability to make disciples, which is the goal of the church. Further, counseling and therapy tend to focus on the problems caused by sin. That is to say, if we address the problems that result from sin, then we will have stronger families. While this is true to a point, it does not match up well with biblical teaching. The problem is sin, and discipleship as led by the Holy Spirit is the best way to overcome sin so that it affects the family less.

It is important that churches care for the whole person and offer counseling when necessary. We suggest that churches thread wise biblical counseling throughout the ministries of their church. We suggest leaders study and understand the sociology of the family, and teach those points to the family so that they are aware. Finally, we suggest that leaders engage in the study of best psychological and sociological practices. Having that understanding, taken through a biblical grid, can for the first time, provide a language for families from outside the church to engage with the faith that we desire to pass along to our children, and to our neighbors, as well.

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Are there effective ways to raise the next generation?

If you ask me what is the most efficient way to teach my children to be spiritually whole, to be mature in their humanity, or to be disciples of Jesus Christ, you will stump me.

Why am I stumped? Because that question will have created a conundrum. To be human, to be spiritual, and to be a disciple are not matters that can be accomplished with efficiency. In fact, efficiency may be the greatest barrier or even the exact opposite of those goals.

If you want the next generation to be spiritual, human, and followers of Christ, you need to give up efficiency and be committed to a long struggle with them. You cannot attempt to do so with all of them or many of them. This creates a need for efficiency again. Rather, you should identify a few who are already in your midst or who come in to your life in a special way, then commit to those few until the end. Don’t worry about the masses that you cannot choose to help. Allow God room to provide someone else to lead them. You’re better off doing good with a few than stunting the growth of many.

Oh yeah. One more thing. Start with your own spiritual and human growth. You cannot help them grow into a fruitful plant if you’re a withering weed.

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Viable Family Ministry Models Part 1 of 4

[This is the first of a 4 part series discussing different models of family ministry.]

After serving as a youth pastor in a small church for half a dozen years, Bobby received a call from the church of his childhood. They were replacing their previous youth ministry leader and thought he would be a great fit. The change seemed right for both Bobby and the church so he accepted their call.

Shortly after Bobby started his new ministry, he called me. The transition was going well, but there was something about his new title that had been bothering him. Rather than going with a straight title of Youth Pastor, the new church had written it as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries. In our first conversation Bobby said, “the youth part I understand, but I have no idea what ‘and Family Ministries’ means.” I asked him if the leadership or his job description had helped him to know what they had envisioned.  To his dismay, all he could say was that people seemed to think that the family needed to be addressed, but no one was sure what that meant.

Family ministry is a growing concentration in churches. Several well publicized studies have created the path for groups like the ReThink group, Sticky Faith, and D6. Many more churches are seeking to develop their family ministry. Now, with the development of the 4/14 Window initiative, it seems that this trend will only grow.

For most, family ministry is a shift in paradigm. With any change of this nature, church leaders need to understand the possibilities and different aspects of ministry. Change always comes with difficulties and a learning curve. Churches considering a change from traditional ministries to family ministry should think about the paths that they may take- from low-impact changes to current ministries to more drastic philosophic changes- these all adjust the way a church may think about programs and relationships.

Analysis of Family Ministry Models

The definition of family ministry is still wide open and up for debate. Timothy Paul Jones of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Denise Kjesbo of Bethel Seminary have both attempted to identify specific models of family ministry. Both have used overlapping language in their descriptions. Looking at the definitions of either will help church leaders  clarify their thinking about family ministry.

Jones has clearly identified three models of family ministry. He calls them Family-Integrated, Family-Based, and Family-Equipping. The Family-Integrated model is a dissolution of age-graded ministries so that church gatherings, whether public worship or  discipleship, would become intergenerational. Family-Based ministry is a form that keeps the same ministries that are common in churches today–children, youth, young adults, etc–but do so with the addition of certain intergenerational elements. Finally, the Family-Equipping model is a form of family ministry where the parents take the primary responsibility for the spiritual development of the children, and the church’s role becomes more directed towards equipping the parents to do their work at home.

Denise Kjesbo identifies 5 models of family ministry. She calls them Educational, Home-Centered/Church supported, Counseling/Therapeutic, Family of Families, and Family in Service. She acknowledges a 6th model called Age-Graded ministry, which is typical of churches that facilitate most of their discipleship through separate programs offered to children, youth, and adults. She does not accept it as a true form of family ministry.

Churches following Kjesbo’s Education model would provide for parent and marriage seminars as their basis for family ministry. The Home-Centered/Church-Supported model is essentially the same as Jones’ Family-Equipping model. The counseling/therapeutic model addresses the psychological and emotional health issues that come with family dysfunction. The Church as Family model seems to be Kjesbo’s name for the intergenerational church, with flexibility on the amount and style of generational interaction. The Family in Service model is an intergenerational model that focuses on placing families in missional endeavors.

Denise Kjesbo

Timothy P Jones

Steve Johnson

Age-Grade1 Family-Based Level 1 Relational Ministry
Educational Family-Equipping Level 2 Education
Home-Centered/Church-Supported Level 4 Home-Centered/Church-Supported
Counseling/Therapeutic Therapeutic2 Therapeutic
Church as Family Family-Integrated Level 3 Intergenerational/Family of Family
Family in Service  

1–Kjesbo’s opinion is that age-grade ministry should not be a true form of family ministry as it does not have a family perspective.

2–Jones’ opinion is that the Therapeutic model should not be included as a family ministry model because it does not have a true discipleship element.

The goal of a family ministry is appropriate and consistent discipleship of young people. There are many possible definitions of family ministry, but for this paper, it will be defined as the ministry philosophy or movement that focuses on the discipleship of young people, and bridges the church and home in doing so.

The problem that many churches, families, and young people face is that churches have given over the biblical models of discipleship for systems that attract large crowds (often by creating fun), or they have developed structures that focus on one aspect of spiritual formation. Those churches mean well and usually desire real spiritual growth in the children and youth, but as understanding of discipleship develops, many have realized there are elements that can be more intentionally developed to help youth thrive in their faith and to maintain a growing faith into their adult years.

In our next post, we will discuss the elements of Etchea’s model more specifically.

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Teaching your daughters to be preachers

"The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene" by Alexander Ivanov c. 1835

“The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene” by Alexander Ivanov c. 1835

I just accepted an opportunity to speak to a father/son camp this summer, which, of course, got me thinking about how I should talk to dads about discipling their sons. Since I don’t have sons, I started by thinking what a father (me) should be teaching my daughters. As I’ve thought, I’ve realized that what fathers should teach their daughters is no different than what fathers should teach their sons.

In discipling our children, we teach our children the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ, his death, and his resurrection.

The question by so many has been, can a woman preach the gospel? The answer becomes clear to me when I see the first person to preach the good news of the resurrection. It wasn’t a man. It was Mary Magdalene, as we read in Matthew 28:1-10.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” [Emphasis added.]

If I do my job as a discipling parent, my daughters will be preachers of the good news. I don’t mean that they will stand in the pulpit of a church on Sunday mornings. I mean they will be excited to tell others what they know of the risen Lord—and they will do just that.

If you have sons, you can teach them to preach the good news, also.

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Women are marrying down

DN_Marry_DownThe family is changing. A recent Pew report show that women are now more educated than their husbands. This is the first time in history that women surpass their spouses in this category. As one looks at the data, it appears that this trend will only widen the gap between women and men.

What does this mean to the future of family ministry? How does it change what we are doing currently?

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Husbands or wives can be breadwinners in the family

file from http://mrg.bz/DJOzikLet me write this in defense of many good men who, I think, are being led down the wrong path. Let me write this in support of many good women who are being relegated to a singular calling. Let me write this because I’ve experienced this issue myself.

On multiple occasions, I’ve encountered horrible misinterpretation of 1 Timothy 5, and, in each encounter, I’ve felt that the speakers and authors are either undertrained, influenced by singular-minded authorities, or are downright malicious in their reading of the scripture. When I say malicious, I mean it seems that some people are so focused on a certain way of life- that is not otherwise supported by Scripture- that they have purposefully yanked a verse out of context to make their point, knowing full well that they violate all hermeneutical principles.

The verse I’m thinking of specifically is 1 Timothy 5:8, which says: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (ESV).

Influential Christian speakers and writers have misread this verse to mean that a husband must always be the breadwinner in a family, and that any husband or father that is not the bread winner is a sinner. They then say that out of work husbands need to take any job possible for providing for their family so that the women don’t have to work. They have challenged stay at home fathers with this passage. They also encourage young men to take the first job that comes along without long-term consideration of what would be the best path for their family.

First, they make this argument by creating a unique translation of the verse. It reads in their publications, “A man who doesn’t provide for his household is worse than an infidel.” This translation is similar enough, but a quick review of common English translations will show that translators understand the subject of this sentence to be broadly interpreted male or female. (Only the Douay-Rheims translation of 1582 uses the masculine pronoun, but probably without intending only a masculine reading.)

Second, they make this argument by ripping this mistranslated verse out of its context. I boldly say that in context this verse cannot in any way relate to how a husband provides for his wife or family. Unequivocally, this verse cannot relate to the male head of a family for one very clear reason- the man in this passage is dead!

Anyone who reads this scripture in context will quickly note that the verse is a part of a discussion about the care of widows. By definition, a man cannot continue to be the breadwinner for his widow because he is not employable as a dead person. (Of course, today, there are ways in the modern world that a man can support his family after death, such as insurance, or developing a business or legacy income. However, these expositors are not talking about that kind of support at all.)

So what’s the harm with this interpretation? Many things.

First, it is legalism that puts uncalled for pressure on both men and women. As a man who’s had a stent of being underemployed, I know how hard it can be to find employment. I’ve worked hard to get jobs, but we could not have survived without my wife’s income. To make it clear, McDonalds won’t hire me. As a man with a Master’s degree and doctoral work, I’m not a good investment. So, the suggestion that a man should take the first job that comes along just can’t work for a lot of men. I know of many other men who are in a similar boat through the difficult economy. The command for men to be the breadwinner is not a command of God, and therefore is a distraction from the Gospel of Christ.

Second, it takes away from what the Apostle Paul was talking about in this passage. Paul was talking about caring for elderly widows. His point was that families must care for one another; that the family must support their elders. To change this passage into a command for the husband misses the point and weakens what it was intended to say.

Finally, to exercise this kind of hermeneutic destroys our understanding of the Bible. When people pick and choose the way they use scripture, they may appear more holy to those that don’t know better, but they do more harm to the text than one who refuses to use the scripture at all. Surely, if these people want to make a cultural proclamation that is not supported in the Bible, they can and should make it out of an extra-biblical argument, like social research or psychology. In doing so, their arguments could be evaluated on their own merits, without opening scriptural interpretation to all kinds of abuses.

Clearly, it is good for a man to support his family. That can happen in all kinds of ways. Most, I’m sure, would like to have a full-time job that brings income to pay the bills and buys food for the family. Some will stay at home with the children. Some will work towards a carrying out of their low-paid calling. Some will seek a high education that prepares them for carrying out their calling.

As Proverbs 31 shows, women are called in a number of ways too. Sometimes, but not always, in this day, women are called to be the primary bread winners. Those women should rejoice when their incomes are sufficient to free their spouse as God calls.

Irrespective of who makes the most money in a family, the first goal of all is being a light of Christ’s love in the world, especially to the next generation. Our churches should be less about prescribing a single method for making this happen, and focus on the fact that discipleship of the children should be happening consistently in all families and faith communities.

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Discipleship is a human interactive process

I feel better knowing that a human, Joshua DuBois, took interest in Barak Obama’s soul. I’m just as excited to know that the President takes these devotionals seriously.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25456907

Who is waiting our there for your messages of Christ’s love?

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Christ must be the gospel of family ministry

There is a warning, or a concern, I have for the leaders of family ministry. It is a temptation that can overcome anyone, no matter what their ministry focus, but I see it constantly creeping into posts, books, and sermons about family ministry. We must be careful to keep Christ, and his message, as our gospel. We must, therefore avoid the temptation to make the family and preservation of the traditional family into our gospel. This warning is rooted in the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Judaizers in Philippians 3:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:1-11, NIV)

Too frequently we who lead the family ministry movement confuse the gospel of family with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When our goal becomes marriage, we mutilate the flesh with a new expectation that God is more present when man and woman come together. Instead, we should see marriage as normal, but not a necessary step in life, and one that may just as likely draw the couple away from Christ as draw them to him.

When our goal becomes parenting, we mutilate the process by which God works to draw us close to him. Once we have children, we must continue to live in Christ so that our children can see through our lives the work of Jesus Christ. However, we cannot make statements that lead to a conclusion that all good followers of Christ must raise children. Family cannot become a religious means to godliness.

Let’s take Paul’s warning to heart. The religious symbol of the day was circumcision. Circumcision was an excellent practice taught to the Israelites by God in the Old Testament as a sign of his covenant with the people he chose. It became corrupt when it began to be viewed as a religious rite. It became the means of wearing a mark of God instead of seeking God himself. It became absent of God in the end because it became a mark of personal and community pride, rather than a humble sign of God’s love for his people.

Likewise, family ministry can easily become a religious mark. We can easily create steps, systems, and techniques for being more whole through the family. Certainly, God makes his presence known through others who are close to us, but we cannot remove our focus from drawing closer to him as we build up the institution of the family. Our gospel cannot be that the family is the path to salvation.

Our goal in family ministry must be that Christ is our salvation. With that in mind, where we are a family we teach only that Christ is our salvation.

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