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Confronting the Idolatry of Family: A New Vision for the Household of God by Janet Fishburn


Janet Fishburn is Professor of Teaching Ministry at Drew University Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. This book was published by Abingdon Press, Nashville (1991). This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 8: Spiritual Formation Through Family Ministries


When people live together, all are affected by change in the life of one member. Each is affected in a different way. Events at work or school, children leaving home, new interests of one family member, or any change in social relationships will affect family relationships. A life transition like a family move, marriage or divorce, or any event that seems like a "new life" is a time when growth can occur, but it can also be a time of regression. Each member will respond to change in a different way, but the balance of relationships in the "family" will be disturbed.

Good relationships with parents, children, siblings, or life partners are of great importance to most church members. Yet, many congregations, these issues are treated as private or peripheral to the life of faith. Opportunities for deepening faith are lost if members can not bring the joys, tragedies, and ethical ambiguities of family life into their church life. A life transition is a time when people are unusually vulnerable, a time when they can learn to see and trust the power of God’s grace in their lives in some new way.

In a middle-class Victorian home, each age group had its own room or wing of the house. Many churches look that way, with rooms for children, teens, the choir, and a ladies’ parlor. There is usually no place for family groups to learn together and often no place for the men of the congregation. The design of such a church building will influence program planning. Most gatherings are planned for people who are alike in age and marital status. Ironically, a "fellowship hall" presumably intended for mixed gatherings is often a room so large and barren that it discourages fellowship altogether.

When normal life events like teen-parent alienation, marital stress, mid-life crises, and decisions about elderly parents are hidden behind superficial relationships in a congregation, conversations that will encourage families to minister to one another are not likely to happen. It is a travesty of the nature of the church if the programs of a congregation encourage members to pretend that their family has no trouble or tensions. If members are to learn faithful living from one another, they have to know and trust others enough to confide in one another.

Pastoral Care as the Ministry of All Christians

The idolatries of "the family pew" are quietly killing the spirit of Christian faith. A church program with Victorian origins and objectives has little relevance to lives lived in the late-twentieth century. In congregations where one pastor is responsible for preaching, worship, family-related rituals, all pastoral care, and administration, that pastor is doing a disproportionate amount of the work of the church.

Pastors who best fulfill congregational desires for a family chaplain will be least able to grow spiritually through participation in their own families. Every Christian is called to do some of the work of the church. When this does not or cannot happen, the body is bound to be disjointed, even spiritually deformed.

Christian spiritual formation optimally involves lifelong participation in a Christian fellowship where members can learn and practice faithful response to God. The provision of a context in which people can come to appreciate the Lordship of Jesus Christ does not require a major reorganization of a congregation. It does require an evaluation of the extent to which present activities contribute to positive spiritual formation for all age groups in the church. It will probably require thinking about different objectives for existing groups. It will probably mean forming some new groups to give explicit attention to learning through family-related ministries.

It is well known among pastors that many members want only the pastor to call on them when they are in need of pastoral care. But why does pastoral care so often mean care given only by pastors? Why doesn’t it mean the care that all Christians are to give to one another?

If the pastor is the "paid" caller who represents the church, it deprives others of an opportunity for growth through ministry. When the pastor does all of the calling, members never know the blessing that comes from being with one another, of learning from one another in times of trouble, of praying with and for one another.

Many people believe that pastors are trained to give specialized pastoral care. In some cases this is correct. On the other hand, members of a congregation may credit a pastor with far more specialized knowledge than is really the case. Many pastors have very little formal training that would prepare them to respond adequately to the very complicated kinds of issues members may bring to them.

The mystique surrounding pastoral care is another example of dualistic thinking about the church and ministry. When only men were ordained, the pastor’s wife often made calls at the homes of church members. Since there is more equality in ordination, the pastor’s spouse is not as likely to function as an unpaid pastoral assistant. But the idea that the minister is better equipped than anyone else to make home and hospital calls persists because the work of pastoral care has been spiritualized.

The association of family trouble or divorce with the end of a life may imply that an ordained person is more spiritually qualified to be able to help. That may be so, but it does not have to mean that no one else in the congregation is spiritually qualified to engage in pastoral care.

Pastoral care literature is sometimes written as if people suffering from disappointment in some family relationship need a pastor to lead them through a grief process. In fact, parents can feel that a child who refuses to conform to their way of life is dead. But this way of thinking about the normal patterns and tensions of family life makes it seems like the evils of "the world" have invaded "the Christian home."

Calling in the pastor, then, is something like calling in the tribal shaman to drive away evil spirits. This attitude about the normal life experiences of Christians implicitly denies that new life is always available through participation in a congregation. Probably the area in which members of a congregation can be most helpful in caring for one another is related to the ministry of parenthood.

A pastor can train and supervise lay ministers in virtually every aspect of pastoral care. There are crisis situations where the pastor is expected to have the specialized skill and experience needed. But it is legitimate for the pastor to facilitate home calls and pastoral care by involving members of a congregation who have gifts in pastoral care.

In addition to equipping laity for counseling and calling on members, the pastor can teach members to recognize the capacity of every member for pastoral care. With active encouragement from the pastor, members of the congregation can and should minister to one another out of their own experience with times of transition in family life, work-related issues, illness, and death. This kind of mutual ministry occurs naturally in every congregation between people who are already friends. But they may think of this only as an act of friendship without realizing that all acts of compassion are ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.1

Vocational Guidance as Pastoral Care

Every family can expect to have times of stress when they will need help from other Christians. Those times are so predictable that some congregations have ongoing support groups which members attend when a particular need arises. These groups are issue-oriented and function like a drop-in center. Long-term membership is not expected.

In smaller congregations, people who have already been through some family-related trauma or who have experienced recent bereavement can be encouraged to minister to others in similar situations. These are times when members of a congregation will be more gifted or better prepared than the pastor to give spiritual direction to one another through mutual ministry.

Spiritualizing the nature of pastoral care limits the range of problems considered spiritual enough to merit serious attention. Vocational guidance is not usually treated as a pastoral-care issue, but there is growing recognition that what happens at work deeply affects the lives of church members. It affects their church relationships, and it affects their family life.

Work-related support groups are usually crisis-oriented. Some congregations have groups for people -- usually men -- who are out of work. But men, women, and teens all need help in reflecting about their expectations of work or career. It would come as relief to many to realize that Christians do not have to regard work as satisfying or as fulfilling. Rather, they can learn to see their work in the world as service to God and an opportunity to witness to their faith.

A life obsessed with personal ambition or level of income leaves no room for ministry in the workplace. Church members need opportunities to discuss how they can live their faith where they work. Cultural attitudes about work, especially expectations of achievement, have considerable bearing on the way church members think about the stewardship of life and income in the congregation.

Christian attitudes about work have different meanings for people in different circumstances. There is now an increasingly large group of unemployed women who are former homemakers. Many have been divorced or widowed and are single parents. Many of them lack self-confidence in their ability to gain employment. Cultural stereotypes about the work world of men can affect both women and men in negative ways. In general, however, men attach too much significance to work performance and recognition of their achievement, while women doubt their ability to function in the public work world.

The way many Christians think about work perpetuates unconscious double standards that affect a wide variety of issues related to work in the world and work in the church. Ordination has been spiritualized if ministry in a congregation is considered the only, or the highest, form of Christian vocation. Every Christian has a full-time Christian vocation, not just pastors.

Members will continue to act as if only pastors have been called to a Christian vocation if pastors do not engage them in an examination of the expectations that control their lives. Pastors will continue to resent the amount of work they are doing "for" the congregation if they do not examine their own attitudes about the work of full-time ministry. Some pastors point out that they are the last generalists left among the professions. This may indicate that a pastor likes to believe that he or she can do it all alone.

Everyone learns how to seek the well-being of others by acting on good intentions. It is more important for the spiritual well-being of a congregation that a pastor facilitate mutual ministry than that the pastor became a specialist in pastoral care. When members are involved in caring for others, a foundation has been laid for reflection about all work as Christian vocation. If members experience service to others in the congregation as their ministry, it is much easier for them to see that their work in the world is also service to God.

Family-related Growth Groups

Jesus tells his followers to "love one another" as he loves them. He also tells them to love their neighbor. There is no indication that Jesus regarded some people as less worthy or less in need of love. Instructions to love your neighbor do not locate the neighbor in any particular place. The neighbor of a Christian is any human being, not just a church member or another Christian. The nearest neighbors are those in close physical proximity. For most people, that will mean family members. For many, it also means co-workers in whose presence much of life is lived.

Faithful family membership is the only ministry held in common by all Christians. Almost everyone has mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, or child. When family is defined as nearest neighbor, this can also include any two people who live together.

Recent statistics about divorce and violence in the home are a fair indication that it is very difficult to really love the nearest neighbor. There is no family relationship that is not subject to feelings of anger, hostility, or even hatred. No family relationship is immune to feelings of alienation.

Most of the family problems pastors hear about are related to a temporary time of stress during which members seek counsel. The most common issues are marital strain, parent-child alienation, and worry about responsibility for aging parents. These are all issues worthy of theological reflection with a group. Church members who bring their problems to the pastor may not realize how many other members in the congregation have had or are having similar experiences. This is especially true where local convention requires keeping up appearances of family harmony.

Many family-related problems can be referred to growth groups organized so church members with similar experience can minister to one another. Every individual has to respond to his or her unique situation. But members are denied access to the spiritual resources of the Christian community if there are no groups where they can get perspective on their issue, where they can pray with and for one another. People no longer feel so terribly alone when they can discuss their feelings and their faith with one another.

There are many ways in which church members can and do reach out to one another in time of trouble: visitation, providing food when there is illness or death, or informally commiserating with one another. But social conventions that keep people from admitting that they are suffering some family-related grief prevent Christians from being able to give God’s love to others in times when they should be able to rely on the Christian community.

The power of these unwritten rules about social life should not be underestimated. A study of congregations with effective Christian education programs suggests there is strong evidence that congregations consisting of adults who do not rely on one another cannot adequately minister to one another.

Many adults don’t experience a sense of well-being, security or peace in their faith. They have trouble seeking spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer and discussion with others. And they do little to serve others through acts of "love and justice."9

The study also indicates that when adults experience a sense of personal well-being, they have been helped to integrate faith with life and to see work, family, social relationships, and political choices as part of religious life.

If the life of a congregation revolves around the one-to-one relationships between pastor and people, the corporate nature of the Christian community is obscured. A congregation cannot be the people of God working together to build up the Body of Christ if people lack opportunities to serve one another in love. If the trend of individualism in the services given by pastors to members of the congregation is not reversed, church members will not know themselves as persons with gifts for ministry. If members do not learn what it means to belong to "the Body of Christ" through service to one another, they will have little inclination to see or believe that the church is called to serve the world.

A spiritual growth group is a learning opportunity for individuals who are experiencing a time of unusual stress.3 The pastor or lay leader with gifts for guiding a particular group should be the organizer and initial leader of the group. Once the pastor or original leader establishes patterns for a growth group around an issue that affects the lives of a number of members, the group can continue with a revolving membership and leadership shared by members.

In one congregation, a group for the middle-aged "children" of aging parents continued for a four-year period with constantly changing membership led by members with small-group skills. As members became comfortable with a format of reflection guided by Scripture and prayer and the needs of members, they took turns leading the group.

A family-issue growth group helps individuals cope with their particular situation. But it is more than just a coping device. They can grow spiritually if they are able to sympathize with and learn from one another. They can grow as they learn to receive help from others. A growth group is a setting where people can learn that traditional spiritual disciplines lend perspective and reassurance when life is confusing and difficult. In this setting, they are motivated to learn to read the Bible as a source of perspective, correction, and encouragement as they participate in a group. This kind of spiritual discipline can train Christians how to rely on God’s grace even when faith would otherwise seem impossible.

When any ongoing group -- like the "Children of Aging Parents" group -- is listed regularly on the church calendar, the group will become a tradition, albeit a new one. A growth group offers spiritual formation for adults who might otherwise seek counseling or simply resort to stoic resignation when troubled. Where there is an ongoing group available to help members respond to particular family issues, the new tradition gives spiritual-formation opportunities to more adults than is usual in many congregations.

Family-related growth groups engage adults in life-changing spiritual formation because this experience can change attitudes about family life. Over time, the availability of family-related growth groups will make it acceptable to confide in and learn from others in the Christian community.

Congregations that give priority to family-related issues of members are often known for their spiritual vitality. Family-related growth groups sometimes attract new members, especially people who would not seek out pastoral care. In a culture where people are desperate to find satisfying personal relationships, a congregation can be a light shining in the wilderness of modern family life.

Growth Groups for Parents

There are many congregations in which the only attention given to parents has been related to Sunday School. Instead of asking how the church can assist adults in their calling as Christian parents, attempts are made to enlist them as supporters of the Sunday School. This does not ask about the spiritual well-being of parents. It may very well assume it.

Growth groups for parents can be offered as part of adult education in a congregation. In a small congregation, groups can be organized on an ad hoc basis in response to particular needs of members; in larger congregations, the size of the congregation may warrant ongoing groups that parents conjoin on a short-term basis. The times of special need for parents are usually the times of transition as their children grow older.

For instance, new parents need help adjusting to the way their marriage is changed by becoming parents. Parents of preschool children sometimes ask for help understanding the religious development of children; they want to know how to talk about God with their children. Parents of school-age children need help understanding how to deal with the non-Christian values and attitudes their children learn at school and through the media. Parents in mixed marriages ask for help regarding the religious education of their children.

From the late middle-school years until the time when a "child" leaves home, Christian parents need a place where they can meet other adults who share their life values. Many parents are aware that their children will be pressured to experiment with sex, drugs, and/or alcohol during the teen years. Parents need help in adjusting relationships and family rules as children grow older so they can experience the freedom and the responsibility they need in order to grow up.4 In some congregations, this kind of learning and support occurs in parent-education groups.5

Optimal spiritual formation for the children of the church requires consistency in the attitudes and values communicated at church and at home. Parents need the church to take the initiative in helping them to be self-conscious about the way Christian values and attitudes are related to family relationships. They need instruction about Christian perspectives on all of life, as well as opportunities to reflect about family-related issues. Members may need more basic instruction about Christian attitudes and values than pastors imagine. These needs should be regularly addressed in sermons, in Bible study groups, as well as in parent-education groups.

The modern Protestant tendency to believe that children should be like their parents makes it unusually difficult to adjust to differences between generations that are due primarily to a major economic and cultural transition. Some child-rearing literature gives the impression that parental "mistakes" during early childhood can "cause" irreversible flaws in the personalities of their children. There is a common impression that something must have gone wrong in the mother-child relationship if a young man or a young woman is not "normal" according to the criteria of "the family pew."

A Christian view of the parental role offers freedom from the psychological determinism of child-rearing literature that assigns God-like powers to parental influence. The formative influence of family life and the personal example of parents is an important element in the lives of all children. Yet, there is considerable mystery in the way any personality is formed through various cultural experiences that include church, schools, and media, as well as family. Parents can play a powerful role in shaping the emotional responses of children during the early childhood years. Yet, this influence forms only the rudiments of the human spirit. A growth group for parents should be a place where parents can acquire a balanced sense of the limits of their influence as parents, as well as support for their responsibility of servant ministry at home.

The aspect of Christian spiritual formation that is likely to be most difficult for parents and pastors is the inclusion of sexuality education in the spiritual formation of children and teens. A spirit-flesh dualism is the unconscious governing principle in any congregation where leaders do not consider education about sexuality a high priority for all ages in the church. Pastors and parents are the people most likely to think about the sexual behavior of children and youth. Neither can offer spiritual formation in this area unless they are aware of the way new sexual self-consciousness affects the lives of teens.

The ability to communicate about delicate issues with teenage "children" comes through an ease of interpersonal exchange that is established by parents when their children are quite young. Healthy self-respect and respect for others is the best protection a parent can give a child against undesirable or premature sexual experimentation. Respect and care for the sexuality of children in the family is not achieved by parental lectures when erotic desire suddenly becomes obvious in the early teen years. Children who learn self-respect at home have been blessed with a family in which respect for others is built into the web of family relationships.

Parents who are comfortable with their own sexuality -- and with each other can more casually discuss the expression of sexuality and its pleasures and perils with their children. These parents can be trusted not to laugh at what may seem like a silly question. Their children know that their parents are available for conversation but are not likely to press their opinions on them. This capacity for treating the sexual identity of children as crucial to spiritual formation is one of the best gifts a Christian parent can give to a child growing up in a world incapable of respecting sexuality. This gift is especially valuable when a parent is aware that a child may have a homosexual orientation.

Members of the early Christian churches frequently gathered in homes, possibly daily, for worship. The writer of Ephesians urges consultation among members to discern what kind of self-sacrificing love is "pleasing to the Lord." Christian parents today have a similar need to discern and to learn from each other what is good, right, and true concerning the daily life of Christians. It is not likely that Christians in families can live together in Christ if family members have not participated in and learned the meaning of repentance and forgiveness through their life as members of a Christian community.

One of the best ways a congregation can support two-parent families is to give adequate attention to marriage from a Christian perspective. Many tensions in marital relationships can be resolved by helping a couple distinguish reality from overly romantic expectations about family life. The marital relationships of church members can be examined, clarified, and strengthened through study and reflection about Christian views of marriage.

A family is a system where children form their earliest impressions about relationships and themselves. Attitudes about sexuality, ways of expressing affection, and rules about personal relationships are all learned at home to some extent. For this reason, more attention to the marital relationship of parents can directly benefit their children.

Depending on the makeup of membership in a congregation, growth groups for parents might include all parents, whether they are married or single, in one group. However, life in a single-parent household differs significantly from that in a two-parent household. This is especially true when the parent is a woman with financial problems, which is often the case. If at all possible, a congregation should consider a special ministry to support single parents.

All ministry of Christians to one another in the congregation can be training for service at home, at work, and at play. Growth groups to support parents in servant ministry at home might be considered essential spiritual formation for adults. There may be no other set of human beings so in need of reassurance about the love of God in the modern world.

The Family-cluster House-church

A "family-cluster house-church" can support the family ministry of parents through an ongoing relationship of several family groups. A pastor usually helps form this kind of family growth group, finds program resources, and gives oversight. Since a house-church works on the principle that parents accept responsibility for leadership, the pastor should not be the leader and need not be directly involved in meetings of the group.6

The family-cluster house-church is one of the most promising spiritual growth groups available to support Christian parents in the nurture and instruction of their own children. Resources for intergenerational Bible study in groups including children, teens, and adults can be prepared by adapting curriculum written for children. It is often easier to use Bible commentaries to adapt material intended for children for use with teens and adults than to adapt adult curriculum for use with children. Intergenerational curriculum is published from time to time, but availability is sporadic.

A typical house-church consists of three or four families who covenant to meet together regularly in homes for a minimum of three months. The combination of meeting as the extended church family to share meals, study, and fellowship together is a powerful aid to spiritual discipline and communication in family life. The easiest time to establish family-unit commitment to intergenerational education is when children are beginning elementary school.

Habits of Bible study and prayer can be learned quite naturally by children when they are just learning to read. They learn Bible stories, biblical language, and religious ritual most naturally during the early elementary-school years, for these are the golden years for memorization. This is a time when children are highly motivated to do what they see and hear parents and adults in the congregation doing.

In a house-church format for Bible study and prayer, three age groups can learn the same content, but each group learns differently. Children are not capable of theological reflection about the meaning of stories, because all theological language is abstract. Because they can think only about concrete reality, children can be expected to identify emotionally with people in stories.

Teens are the group most naturally capable of entertaining a variety of meanings. If encouraged to raise questions about how a passage is to be understood, they can stimulate adults who may believe that they already know what a passage is about to reconsider the meaning.

Intergenerational Bible study has an added advantage in that no prior knowledge about the content of the Bible is presupposed. Since children are learning stories for the first time, this is an ideal setting for adults who have never learned basic Bible content.

A typical house-church format includes a commitment to meet for a minimum of two hours at least twice a month. Most groups find that if they do not agree on a day and a time at the outset, attendance is irregular. Usually a meal is shared and then at least a full hour is devoted to study and informal worship. Responsibility for the meal is shared by all members.

Leadership for each meeting can be rotated between family groups, or shared by several adult and teen members who have skills in leading Bible study. Planning can be done like Sunday School curriculum, in three-month units by topic. Members with the best Bible study skills probably should be designated as the coordinators to organize topics, resources, leaders, and meeting places for three months at a time.

Food, feeding, and nourishment in corporate gatherings are focal symbols of well-being and wholeness in the Christian tradition. Corporate gatherings for meals have been part of Christian faith since the earliest gatherings of Christians. Daily fellowship around the table is essential for good communication in any family. Yet, the eating habits, cooking habits, and the ways families communicate have changed over the last twenty years. It may be that the church will have to encourage parents to recognize the importance of table fellowship for families. A house-church gathering is a place where family members can learn the value of communal meals.

In a house-church, the shared meal and table fellowship is as important as the study of Scripture. People from families where members do not see one another or communicate regularly cannot be expected to know much about intimacy in relationships. Genuine knowledge of self and other persons grows through thoughtful, attentive communication on a daily basis over a long period of time.

The love of Christians for one another can be experienced when members of several families break bread together on a regular basis around the table of their extended church family. A house-church gathering can be a learning lab for Christian family life. It also can be an experience of intimate friendship that lays foundations for deeper appreciation of expressions of God’s love through the sacraments.

Members of a congregation where people are strangers to one another find it difficult to imagine or even comprehend the meanings associated with fellowship at the Table of the Lord. Members of a community of strangers are not very likely to experience themselves as part of the communion of saints. It is important to the life of a congregation that parents learn the relational skills needed for good communication and respect among members of a family. Then family imagery used to express God’s love in liturgy can have positive life-giving connotations.

House-church as an Extended Family for Youths

Youths have a special need for positive experiences with a family where members care about one another. There are young people who are church members but do not come from a church family. There are other young people who long for a better family. They may live in a disorganized family. They may be victims of sexual abuse. They may suffer from a strained relationship between their parents. Family clusters can give young people a different and sometimes better experience of what it means to belong to a family.

To facilitate this kind of ministry to youth, a pastor might ask several families in which the parent or parents are especially gifted in relating to youths to form a cluster that can include several young people with the family groups. This kind of intergenerational experience often attracts young people who will not attend other youth-oriented activities. This experience can give them a "family" in the church. It also can give them more positive role models for marriage and family life than they are likely to experience elsewhere.

Teens from disorganized families can sometimes be identified by their behavior. They act out more than their peers and usually demand excessive amounts of attention from the pastor or youth leader. On the other hand, there are "sad" teens who feel so different because of trouble at home that they may be very quiet, or simply refuse to participate in youth programs at church. An exploration of why young people are inactive can be a way of learning more about some of the family-related needs of members.

The family-cluster house-church has been used in some small congregations instead of Sunday School as the basic form of education for children and youth. When a group of parents in a community of faith work together to educate their children in the life of faith, this gives members of each family something in common with other families. When members of one family share the same learning experience each week, they have an ongoing topic of conversation between house-church meetings. When this happens, children learn about Christian family life as part of their experience of belonging to a community of Christians.

Effectiveness of a family-cluster house-church depends on the capacity and willingness of parents to learn with and teach their own children. In a congregation too small for a Sunday school that offers classes for all age groups, this might be considered one alternative. In a congregation where the leadership is available to offer a variety of learning opportunities for people of all ages, the inclusion of a family-cluster house-church is ideal for a broad approach to the spiritual formation of family members.

Intergenerational Study Groups

Many congregations cannot find enough volunteers to maintain even minimal education programs. Traditional ways of segregating age groups from one another can lead pastors or Christian education committees to overlook some viable alternatives to traditional ways of organizing educational ministries.

If a congregation is to work together for the mutual edification of all members, regardless of age, sex, or marital status, every member can benefit from learning experiences that include persons from two or more age groups. Where worship or education programs systematically separate children, young people, adults, and older adults from one another, no one can benefit from the natural spiritual strengths of other age groups. For instance, some single adults want to know the children and youth of a congregation but have no opportunity. They may want to participate in activities with couples or family groups but find themselves excluded by the way programs and activities are organized.

Older adults are sometimes attuned to the lives of children and youth in a congregation in ways that parents are not. Some older adults who miss seeing their own grandchildren are delighted for opportunities to befriend some of the children in their congregation. They often have no way to express this if they belong to a congregation where the only place they ever see children is during the children’s sermon. Older adults and single adults are often overlooked as candidates for leadership in ministry with children in the congregation.

A family-cluster house-church appeals primarily to adults who are already committed Christians and to families in which the parents are eager for an extended family experience. A less demanding form of intergenerational learning can be arranged by adding an intergenerational Bible study class to the Sunday School. For instance, an intergenerational Sunday School class that mixes youths with adults can foster learning in which the independent thinking and questioning necessary to choosing Christian faith as a way of life is encouraged. Since it is natural for teens to question all that is traditional, this mix gives all members an opportunity to examine their faith commitments.

It is not unusual anymore to find that only one or two members of a family unit are members of a congregation. Increasingly, people from different kinds of families are attracted to the life of a congregation because of the quality of relationships they experience there.

Members of a congregation are able to support one another in time of need because the family situations of each is different. It is because members of a congregation are free from the dynamics of daily family life together that they can be a source of spiritual strength, solace, and inspiration to others. When one is weak, another is strong (I Cor. 12:14-26).

A pastor is different from other members of a congregation in several respects. As the designated leader of a congregation, the pastor is expected to interpret the meaning of the Christian life. That means that the pastor can influence the way the people of God think about the church, ministry, their families, and all of life.

As the spiritual director of the life of the congregation, the pastor is the person charged with oversight of all church-related programs. A knowledge of the way dualistic attitudes lead laity to believe that only pastors are called to full-time ministry can be freeing to any pastor who is doing too much of the work of the church. Insight into the way members think about the work of the church can be a first step toward freeing the whole people of God from bondage to a dysfunctional division of labor that makes it difficult for all to claim their God-given gifts for ministry.

 

Notes

1. See James C. Fenhagen, Mutual Ministry: New Vitality for the Local Church, (New York: Pilgrim Press,1977) for a fuller development of the concept of mutual ministry among members of a congregation.

2. Eugene C. Roehkepartain, "What Makes Faith Mature?" The Christian Century (May 9, 1990): 497.

3. See Charles Olson, Cultivating Religious Growth Groups (Philadelphia: Westminster Press,1984) for instruction and encouragement to novices starting small groups.

4. See Herbert Anderson, The Family and Pastoral Care (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984) on the effect of individuation/participation dynamics in the family.

5. For a list of resources, see Parent Education: Family Enrichment Classes (Discipleship Resources, 1987).

6. See Leila Hendrix, Extended Family: Combining Ages in Church Experience (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979) for an excellent description of the house-church as a model for spiritual formation.

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