Doing family 21st century style

At my local gift shop they have a “family values word cloud” picture for sale.  Words like love, respect, warmth, safety, mum, dad and kids. Another one I found on the net included genealogy, bloodlines, life. It set me to thinking about how we talk about and model family in church. At my church the “models” of family that are presented from “the front” are the smiling pictures of the missionary families we support with their 3,4 or 5 children that are usually being home schooled by the not-working-outside-the-home-mother. Our two ministers have wives working in demanding roles outside the home, but rarely do we hear much about the struggle of juggling ministry, parenting, work and family life. Well, sometimes at morning tea there are snipes from stressed congregation members about how one of the ministers was unable to attend a certain meeting because they were taking their son to swimming lessons early afternoon* like “what normal working parent has the luxury to do that?”

Family life has changed out of all recognition from my growing up years in the 60’s and early 70’s when most families were intact, working mothers were rather frowned on in some circles, and after school activities were limited to playing in the street or the bush (depending on where you lived) or cubs or brownies if you were lucky. Wind the clock forward 30 years to when I was raising my own children: working mothers were much more the norm though not universal and most children were involved in a number of out of school sports and activities. Even then though there was a subtle (or not so subtle) message from Christian/church teaching that a mother’s role was in the home being the lynch pin of the Christian family.

I don’t want to argue here the rationale for working mothers, rather to accept that this is the social environment we live in, related to a mix of change in social values linked with the increasing unaffordability of housing in Australian cities (according to a recent Government report, median house prices in 84% of Sydney’s local government areas are unaffordable for workers like police and nurses).

So how do we set about thinking/speaking/preaching about individual family values as Christians? Even turning to scripture has its hermeneutical challenges as we seek to glean ideas and principles from documents written thousands of years ago when “doing life and family” was set in a completely different social milieu.

Firstly we need to recognise that just as we live in a multi-cultural society related to ethnic and social background, so too there is a wide variety of ways of doing family that are all valid and need to be accepted and affirmed. But conversely, there are ways that cannot be supported: for example the family where the parent fails to care adequately for their children or spouse because of their self-focused interest in work/sport/alcohol/friends/family of origin etc.

Some family focused websites suggest that each family draws up its own set of family values – what does this family, at this stage of its life, want to be prioritised by its members. This has the benefit of recognising that family lasts long beyond the intensely close years of child raising, and similar conversations could be had with the extended family. Having a clear set of values is useful as they can then be applied to a range of ways of “doing” family and are less prescriptive than a rule that says “we must all sit down to a meal each night”.

In my experience, some key family values are respect, cohesiveness, communication and flexibility. Balancing respect and cohesiveness allows for difference, but recognises that there is value in the family unit which needs to be tended and nurtured to allow it to continue well. Flexibility acknowledges the need for some structure in a family, but ensures that the unit can cope with change and negotiate new ways of being when there are external and internal stressors. How many families have adapted family patterns during the HSC period! It goes without saying that good communication is a pre requisite for fostering a climate of respect and cohesion, but equally, it is the time spent together and the respect and love that family members have for each other that underpin good communication.

The next challenge then is to think and work through a set of values for your church family…..

 

* details changed to protect identities!

Nicky Lock, BSc(hons) Grad Dip EFT PACFA reg., Senior Counsellor and Clinical Consultant, and a lecturer and author of counselling courses.

Comments (24)

Please sign in or register to add a comment.

  • Dianne Howard
    October 24, 11 - 2:11am
    Hi Nicky

    You said: So how do we set about thinking/speaking/preaching about individual family values as Christians? Even turning to scripture has its hermeneutical challenges as we seek to glean ideas and principles from documents written thousands of years ago when “doing life and family” was set in a completely different social milieu.
    I found this comment disturbing. Do you think God's values have changed over time? Are not God's values in Christ clear?

    Family life, like all of life, is to be about living by the word of God. Every aspect of our lives ought to be brought under God’s word. And God’s word does address all of life. And so it is for church.

    The knowledge of God creates our ‘values’ for family, church, ministry, what work to do (at home or earning money for....)...everything in life.

    Christ’s ‘values’ are to be our values.

    Our values will be seen in all our choices. Our choices are to reflect the knowledge of God. So often we create/adopt values that reflect the desires of this world rather than those of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    May we all grow in the knowledge of God and may he grant us grace to live his way, for it is a way that is difficult and very different to that of this world culture.

    cont...
  • Dianne Howard
    October 24, 11 - 2:13am
    2 Peter 1

    His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

    For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


    cont...
  • Dianne Howard
    October 24, 11 - 2:14am
    Therefore I (Peter) intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (2 Peter)
  • Robert James Elliott
    October 24, 11 - 2:50am
    Nicky, this raises some interesting issues that arose on another post about living simply and greed. I think there is something about modern life, its constant activity, that makes difficult our ability to take time out for our family and other real people. This has led to fraying family ties. I cannot prove this - just a feeling I have. I enjoy reading your articles. Robert
  • Steve Carlisle
    October 24, 11 - 5:05am
    Hmmm
    Well, sometimes at morning tea there are snipes from stressed congregation members about how one of the ministers was unable to attend a certain meeting because they were taking their son to swimming lessons early afternoon* like “what normal working parent has the luxury to do that?”


    As a minister, can I ask how prevalent in churches is this way of thinking, in your opinion?
  • Nicky Lock
    October 24, 11 - 6:30am
    @ Diane, so sorry that i disturbed you! No, I am not suggesting that God's values have changed over time but sometimes I see l hear people simplistically take some pattern of "doing family" from a Bible story without passing it through a hermeutical lens: not attempting to understand what that meant for both the original readers and for us as readers in the 21st century.
  • Nicky Lock
    October 24, 11 - 6:36am
    @ Steve - I couldn't attempt to quantify what I have heard, but I have heard similar comments over the years from parishioners who in some sense feel not understood by their minister in terms of the pressures that are on them in family living: time wise and job security wise. Maybe some of the criticisms come from not understanding what the role of a minister is - there is a remarkable lack of accountability in the role which is uncommon in other work situations and has its own advantages and disadvantages. Maybe we need to educate the congregations more about what the role entails?
  • Nicky Lock
    October 24, 11 - 6:43am
    @ Robert - yes we could complain about the way of life now, and yes as Christians we are meant to have a distinctiveness about how we do life - but are we to separate ourselves from life as it is lived as, say, the Amish do, or are we to seek to be "in the world but not of the world" and work out ways to live Christianly within mainstream culture when that is not causing major clashes with Christian values?
  • Craig Schwarze
    October 24, 11 - 7:51am
    @Steve - how is the Burgh treating you, mate?

    I've certainly seen resentment of the sort Nicky mentions. There are some ways in which our stipendary staff are insulated from various pressures that the pew-sitters face. This is doubtless a blessing, but you need to be sensitive about it.

    I think if you wake up every morning and thank God for the enormous privilege of preaching the gospel for a living, then you will be fine!
  • Steve Carlisle
    October 24, 11 - 8:32am
    @Craig

    The burgh is going great, great place, great church and area.
    I agree with all you have said and in no way want to diminish the privelege I have. I desire to be sensitive in as many ways as I can, I want to learn, understand and be gracious and generous, especially to those who work and commute long distances.
    I do feel pressure in this area though, like at times feeling like hiding when I am seen in those sorts of places through the week just in case someone gets the wrong idea and gets resentful. And I am deeply desirous to work hard, to give it my all. But then again, thats my fear of man issues. I need to please God first and be diligent in that hey?
  • Stephen Davis
    October 26, 11 - 1:34am
    Ministers are people with families and the associated responsibilities that go with having a family and those who have a whinge about the type of stuff mentioned in the beginning of Nicky's post really need to get off their high horse and come back to earth. It really is that simple!
  • Craig Schwarze
    October 26, 11 - 1:54am
    Stephen, the issue is not minister's having family lives, but minister's being insensitive to the flexibility their jobs provide, and how that differs from many of their parishioners.

    For example, if someone can't make the prayer meeting because of his daughter's clarinet lesson, the minister want to reflect on the fact that he is not faced with such trade-offs. I think empathy on both sides is what is required.
  • Steve Carlisle
    October 26, 11 - 2:05am
    Its a different kind of flexibility though, isnt it? I cant hang out with the fam on Sundays for example... That can make me sinfully resentful in the reverse of this story....
  • Steve Carlisle
    October 26, 11 - 2:06am
    Thats not a whinge btw, just a reality
  • Nicky Lock
    October 26, 11 - 2:11am
    @ Stephen and Craig - I think this discussion is actually what I was attempting to highlight - that families are not homogenous places where we are all handling life in the same way. So as you say Craig, empathy and understanding all round is required!
  • Nicky Lock
    October 26, 11 - 2:12am
    Sorry - have conflated Stephen and Steve!
  • Stephen Davis
    October 26, 11 - 2:13am
    Craig, you have only said what I was originally saying but in a different way.
  • Stephen Davis
    October 26, 11 - 2:15am
    HHHEEEELLLPPPP!!!!!!!!!, I've been conflated!!! No, seriously, that's alright Nicky, at least you spelt my name right, so many others don't!
  • Steve Carlisle
    October 26, 11 - 2:18am
    Thats fair Nicky. At the end of the day though, for better or worse, the minsiter is a model of some kind whether they want to be or not, as is their family model. As you say, not the only kind of model, and I want to be generous in that area, (Im ignorant in so many areas of my life, believe me!) but the answer may not be to demolish the 'ministerial' example as 'out of touch' with the real world I wouldnt have thought.
    The answer is not to value families on their 'activity' like what they do (or dont do), their flexibility or so forth, but to value a family on their convictions, and character, on what they believe, how they are implementing that and what fruit is being borne. This is where an example and model is to be found. Too often in this world, value is placed upon our activity, including work, rather than the opposite, competencies are only ever third place in the godliness heirarcy I would have thought.
  • Dianne Howard
    October 26, 11 - 3:15am
    Nicky thanks for responding. You said: ‘sometimes I see l hear people simplistically take some pattern of "doing family" from a Bible story without passing it through a hermeutical lens: not attempting to understand what that meant for both the original readers and for us as readers in the 21st century’.

    How do the writers of the NT evidence this need for knowing ‘social milieu’ in order to understand the knowledge of God, say for example, in relation to family life? Doesn’t the Bible tell us very clearly for all generations what is important for everything?

    You said, ‘I don’t want to argue here the rationale for working mothers, rather to accept that this is the social environment we live in’. Are you advocating a ‘social milieu’ hermeneutic rather than a gospel hermeneutic?

    How do you avoid the culture becoming the interpreter of scripture rather than scripture interpreting culture?

    cheers Di
  • Nicky Lock
    October 26, 11 - 7:59am
    @ Steve - yes it is both the burden and privilege of ministry families to be models for those around them and your comment on
    value a family on their convictions, and character, on what they believe, how they are implementing that and what fruit is being borne
    expands on some of what I say about focusing on values as being what families are really about.
  • Nicky Lock
    October 26, 11 - 8:17am
    @ Di - only being a baby theologian, I hesitate to give a full response to your question - there would be many in the diocese who could answer it much better. My stab at it would be give a quote from Migliore who describes himself as having a "Reformed theological heritage and orientation".
    to read scripture historically is to read it both critically and with sensitivity to the direction in which it moves, rather than with a nostalgia for biblical times
    . He further says
    no event can be fully understood apart from the future that it engenders
    . He then expands this by talking about how we must see in scripture
    God's liberating activity in Christ into our own time and beyond
    . This emphasis of his suggests how the scriptures we read today have relevance for both then and now and into the future: which he tempers by illustrating how the new freedom in Christ was not fully actualised in the time of the early church: there were still slaves on earth in those days. This is the challenge for our preachers as they wrestle with how to interpret scripture for us week by week.
  • Dianne Howard
    October 29, 11 - 4:40pm
    We know from scripture that marriage is about Christ and His church.

    How a man is to act towards his wife is to be as Christ acts towards his people. How a woman is to act towards her husband is as she submits to Christ and as the church submits to her Lord. The more I read the Bible the more this all makes such wonderful sense.

    So ‘values’ of faithfulness, submission and gospel speaking are essential in a family for any culture for any time.

    ‘Family values’ are to come from the knowledge of God revealed in scripture.

    cont...
  • Dianne Howard
    October 29, 11 - 4:42pm
    Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

    Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
    (Ephesians 5)