Engaging the Whole Family 3

What is the Family?

The value of defining the family for our contemporary content is that it gives us orientation in our engagement. If we can’t name the thing that we encounter, how can we have a meaningful experience? We have a word for God that has some meaning, and that concept seems a lot more complex than family.

So tell me, what is the family? I want to know because, for the life of me, I can’t find one definition that does justice to the multiple realities of family that I experience. For example, I’ve seen heads of households be single, biological parents, biological grandparents with single parents, two biological parents, two legal parents with no biological relation, one legal parent with no biological relation, two legal parents who are also the biological uncle and aunt, and the list could go on. And then try to account for sibling relationships, and I almost want to give up on ever finding a definition.

But what if we moved away from a sociological or structural definition? What if we tried a theological definition?

Here is my stab at it:

Family – a supportive and formative group of people, connected through a common biological lineage or covenant, who are meant to learn and practice the worship of God through their relationships with God, each other, and the world.

Does that definition sound familiar? I hope so because the definition is derived from a definition of the church. And here is my bias in favor of this definition. I think the church is called to be the family of faith for the world.

I also think the definition helps youth and family ministers imagine that the goal of families is to become “little churches,” in the words of Jonathan Edwards. And the concept of families becoming little churches corresponds to Diana Garland’s sociological research of more than 100 families. Her research revealed faith practices as an essential element of family life. As a complement to that research, Marjorie Thompson’s book argues that spiritual formation naturally happens in families in both positive and negative ways. Therefore, we can conclude that families are going to worship something. It is the role of the church to be the family of faith that invite them into the worship of God.

Questions to Consider:
What is your definition of family?
What do you think about the above definition of family?
What do we do with this definition of family?

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Paul Sheneman
Paul Sheneman is an author, speaker and youth pastor. He serves with the Macedonia Methodist Church in Ohio. He drinks way too much coffee for his own good. His main interest is exploring Christian formation. You can follow most of his ramblings on his blog at www.discipleshipremix.com or on Twitter @PaulSheneman.