THE CHURCH AS EXTENDED FAMILY–AN IMPORTANT REMINDER

BrownsBY STEVE DUNN

Churches often advertise themselves as a “family.”  Some churches literally are family with a significant portion of its people related by birth or marriage.

Chuck Swindoll long ago affirmed the family as the place “where life makes up its mind.”  And the Bible makes its clear that the family is one of two institutions ordained by God to help with the formation of people as spiritual beings connected to one another, but more particularly to Him.  In a child dedications service, parents affirm their responsibility to teach and to model the faith that their children need to choose for themselves some day.

Back when the world lived on Walton’s Mountain, families and their offspring and their families often lived within a very few miles of each other–went to church together, ate together, might even have worked together.  Parents raising their children were never alone in  their task.  There were grandparents, aunts and uncles or others to help in the life lessons taught and the spiritual formation of their children. Much of this occurred almost daily. The church was the place where life lessons and spiritual formation were reinforced by pastors, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders and other significant adults.

Increasingly, we live in a world where the extended family extends hundreds if not thousands of miles.  Some family members may still live on Walton’s Mountain but many of their younger members might as well live on Mars for all the daily interaction or blending o lives that might occur.  Increasingly, a biological extended family has no real opportunity or impact upon the lives of various family units.

In this case, the church finds itself on the front line of this effort of helping the families raise children and helping children find faith.  And this is handcuffed because of tendency to split or compartmentalize generations.  Older people in a church are often guilty of feeling no sense of responsibility of helping raise the children of their church.  They grieve the distance of their own children and grandchildren, but make no effort to end the “emotional” distance between themselves and the younger families in their own church community.

Grandparents who would sit in hot sweaty gyms to watch their grandkid play ball, or would drop everything to spend time with those kids, or when seeing their own adult children struggle would be the first to offer help (even without being asked) remain amazingly detached from the young families in their church to whom they are spiritually related.  Or if they are willing to connect at all, they want those younger families to enter their world instead of the other way around.  I still remember the man who told me, “If those young people want a relationship with me, they can come to my service (which you know was highly traditional) but I’m not going to theirs.”

But here’s the truth.  Young families who choose intergenerational churches want relationships with older people.  They want their mentoring and friendship.  They want their help in the difficult task of child-raising and spiritual nurture.  Yes, many of them choose to worship in  more contemporary services because those services best help them and their children connect with God.  Many of them have busy schedules and aren’t always interested in coming to church events where they will essentially to have focus on watching their own kids and maybe get some spiritual nourishment in between trips to the bathroom.  But sometimes, it is to stay home and do this because they were unable to connect with God at church without distraction anyway

In my next post we will discuss: WAYS TO TRULY BE AN EXTENDED FAMILY

(c) 2013 BY STEVE DUNN

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