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.