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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 9:


The church today is in no position to condemn the evils of "the world" unless members can do so with spiritual integrity. If the dream, identities, and behaviors of church members are not distinguishable from the American Dream of togetherness, successful careers, and upward mobility, the church in the United States can hardly offer justice to victims of cultural oppression. If congregations continue to reflect the racial and sexual prejudices of American culture in the way they define membership, authority, and power, the church will have very little credibility as a prophetic voice in Godís world.

Text:

The structure of thought in Western culture differs from that of Eastern cultures. It is typical of Western cultures, especially in the nineteenth century, to think in terms of dualism and linear development, of change as progress or regress. During the nineteenth century, these tendencies dominated theological responses to changing demographics and the rise of nations as centers of power. In Europe, S_ren Kierkeguard wrote books like Stages Along Lifeís Way as a response to the philosophical idealism of his day. In the philosophy of men like G.W.F. Hegel, Kierkegaard saw theories about stages of human consciousness and progress in world history that he thought could lead Christians away from reliance on Scripture as a source of truth about human life.

In Stages, Kierkegaard described three related but distinct sets of attitudes about life which are typical of ways that people relate to God, self, and others. He hoped to demonstrate the fallacy of imagining that the well-being of human life does not finally depend on faith in Jesus Christ. Kierkegaardís stages are intended to describe ways of experiencing life that are typical of cultures, as well as "stages" of consciousness an individual could pass through on the way to faith in Jesus Christ. Although every generation in the church inherits a religious tradition, each generation must learn faith anew if it is to be genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

Hegelís type of idealism had great influence on the formal discipline of Christian education, which has been in existence for less than a century. In the United States, pioneers like George A. Coe were caught up in the linear, progressive educational theories of John Dewey and enthusiasm for "a Christian America." The earliest theories in Christian education, at the beginning of the twentieth century, often equated good Christians with good citizens.

Faith Development Theory and the Nuclear Family

During the last twenty years, changes in family life and in church demographics have rekindled interest in Christian nurture and in new progressive theories about human nature. Conservatives have rediscovered Horace Bushnellís Christian Nurture. Conservatives and liberals alike have debated the use of faith-development theory in Christian education.1

While professional educators and theorists debate the merits of the theory, others have been quick to assimilate it into the work of Christian education in a congregation. The uncritical assimilation of faith-development theory into educational ministry may very well have been more influential in the lives of congregations than the debates that professionals have among themselves. For instance, in the recent three-and-a-half-year study of effective Christian education, the research was conceptualized in terms of an assumption that "maturity in faith" can be defined as integrated faith. Judgments were made that assumed a distinction between persons who demonstrated "mature" faith and those who did not.2

In a time when changing membership patterns and changing family life made it obvious that children do not necessarily inherit the faith of their parents, the time was ripe for receptivity to developmental theories about faith. Those theories are reassuring to people who suspect that "traditional" values are being eroded by life in a technological, secular society. The assumption that there are discernible patterns of human development conveys the idea that if parents or schools or churches transmit their values at the right time in the developmental cycle they can have some confidence that their way of life will be reproduced in the lives of the children.

Professors and researchers in Christian education have created faith-development theory by applying the psychosocial theories of Erik Erikson, the cognitive-development theories of Jean Piaget, and the moral-development theories of Lawrence Kohlberg to the life of faith. However, a preoccupation with the "development" of faith can lead people primarily to ask how faith is transmitted. This is basically the same project as that of Horace Bushnell. When the subject of Christian education is how faith develops or is transmitted, the equally important task of theological reflection about the content of faith may be neglected.

Popular applications of theories about stages of faith can give the impression that there is a developmental sequence, through which most children and youths in the church can or do pass on the way to becoming adult Christians. For those who miss some of the theoretical subtleties, faith appears to "develop" as naturally as bodies can be expected to grow. This approach shifts the focus of educational ministries away from what God is doing through the church to almost total preoccupation with what teachers and parents can do to assure themselves that their children will have faith.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God -- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he [sic] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Eph. 2:8-10)

It is difficult to translate the biblical view that faith brings together the eternal love of God and the human longing to be loved into the language of human development. Faith described primarily as a human phenomenon can give the impression that the purpose of education in the church is to lead people through stages of faith. This makes salvation seem like one more human achievement.

This approach to faith formation is the opposite of the traditional assumption that in Jesus Christ salvation has already been accomplished. The objective of traditional spiritual direction is to guide persons into an appreciation of what God is already doing for them.

The purpose of traditional spiritual formation -- the language used to describe faith formation before the time of Christian education -- is to deepen awareness of what it means to claim and live through faith that is "the gift of God." The life and teachings of Jesus Christ provide the form and the content for traditional spiritual formation.

By themselves the spiritual disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are Godís means of grace. The inner righteousness we seek is not something that can be poured on our heads. God has ordained the disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we are placed so He [sic] can bless us. In this regard it would be proper to speak of "the way of disciplined grace." It is "grace" because it is free: it is "disciplined" because there is something for us to do. Once we clearly understand that Godís grace is unearned and unearnable, and if we expect to grow, we must take up a consciously chosen course of action involved in both individual and group life. That is the purpose of the spiritual disciplines.3

It is through the experience of acting like followers of Jesus Christ that people come to appreciate what it means to grow up into "the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). Throughout the history of Christianity there has been an assumption that faith does have phases, that the quality of faith does change and should deepen. Yet, this is not the same as saying that there are discernible stages through which a person should pass if faith is to "mature." New Testament stories of disciples learning to follow the way of Jesus are signposts that can guide all would-be followers of Jesus along the way of "saving" faith. It is possible to acknowledge phases in faith while leaving plenty of room for doubt, questioning, surprise, and the unexpected.

An unfortunate outcome of applied faith-development theory is that it has been used to reinforce or even reintroduce some "family pew" illusions about Christian faith. Writers of family-life literature in the church now advise parents about the way that the faith of children develops in "the Christian home." Despite the fact that there is no longer only one kind of family in most congregations, pictures in some family-life magazines still depict the ideal Christian family -- two parents and two children, all smiling.

If such literature implies that children should experience unconditional love in "the Christian home," this misrepresents the role of parents in the faith of their children.

Both Calvin and Luther expected the family to function as "a little church."4 It seemed reasonable in the sixteenth century that parents could be expected to teach catechism to their children at home and that families would pray together. Recovery of the biblical idea that all Christians are gifted for ministry required attention to the spiritual formation of all Christians, not just those called to priesthood. There has been a tendency ever since to expect "the Christian home" to function as a source of spiritual formation, as the monastery had been the spiritual home for monks and priests.

A preoccupation with faith stages may perpetuate an illusion that spiritual wholeness is a human achievement. An uncritical use of faith-development theory can reduce Christian education to another American scheme for self-fulfillment. It also runs the risk of reintroducing harmful illusions about the power of parents to form the faith of their own children.

The term nuclear family is used by sociologists to refer to the smallest family unit, typically that of two parents and their children. In this time of changing family structure, nuclear is an ironic choice to designate the smallest set of family relationships. The nuclear family is an isolated family. It is often a family wrenched out of extended family traditions and relationships. It is not unusual to find explosive relationships between members of families isolated from friendship with people like themselves. It is not unusual to find congregations where the emotional volatility of the family life of members is replicated in the life of the congregation.5

As is the case with atomic power, the nuclear family has the potential to be a social force that is constructive or destructive. When a congregation has social networks in which intergenerational relationships are possible, parents are relieved of sole responsibility for the faith of their children. When this happens, it is easier to see that the American ideal of a self-sufficient family is not only impossible; it is undesirable.

The Church as the Family of Faith

Throughout human history, the family has been known to perform a limited number of functions, which vary according to cultural circumstances. The list can include procreation; protection of the young; provision of food, shelter, and clothing; recreation; affection; and basic education. Today, every one of these functions can be carried out by persons other than two parents who are married to each other. This includes reproduction.

Until the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, children had economic value to their parents; they participated in the work of the family that kept food on the table and clothes on their backs. Since then, children have become an increasing expense at the same time that they no longer contribute to the economic well-being of the family. An outstanding characteristic of the nuclear family since then is the extent to which some parents may be an almost exclusive source of affection for children.6

A shift in the role of parents in the lives of children has been under way since early in the nineteenth century. The myth of "the self-sufficient family" comes from a time when farm families no longer had to cooperate with other families to produce life necessities. The "self-sufficient" family today is associated with the economic independence of "respectable" middle-class families in towns and suburbs. Believing that this is the only acceptable type of family for Christians is more possible where men support their families and women can afford the luxury of devoting themselves to being full-time homemakers and mothers.

Change in the family as a social institution in the 1960s came at a time when family relationships were already fragile because of the extent to which parents -- or a parent -- had become the primary source of affection for children. Even when it is economically possible to look like an "ideal" family, the younger generation may not know or be able to appreciate the expectations their parents have of them.

Christian parents who care about the values of their children are rightly concerned about the moral and social values communicated through the public schools. Public schools inevitably reflect the changing values of the culture. They exist to mediate the political ideals of the nation. Since the Constitution guarantees freedom in the practice of religion, no citizen can expect the public schools to teach religious values. The time is past when Christian parents could count on the public schools to be an agency of the church teaching Christian values.

Given the nature of the changing role of family and school as social institutions, children are now instructed and cared for by a cadre of professionals. Parents spend endless hours taking children to lessons and practice and childrenís activities -- music, dance, sports, Scouts, and other activities. Social historian Christopher Lasch deplores the power now ascribed to people in the mental-health professions. He asserts that parents are forfeiting their most important role in trusting counselors and therapists to grant psychic well-being to their children.7

In theory, a family of Christians should be a place where members find the kind of affection that Herbert Anderson describes.

A family of Christian people is sustained by the bonds of affection that transform it into a community of compassion . . . .A family shaped by Christian principles is therefore not only a place of empathy where each one seeks to understand and honor the uniqueness of the other: it is a compassionate community of people who suffer with one another.8

This presupposes that adults in the family know Christian principles and are able to live them at home. It also implies that all family members share this commitment.

Most parents of children and teens are so harried between work and keeping up with their childrenís appointments that they would scarcely recognize themselves described as "a community of compassion." Families in typical congregations find members going off in different directions most days.

For many families, an activity that includes all family members is probably a special event. Members donít have enough in common in many families to be a community of people who "suffer with one another." They may have no idea that other members are suffering. This is one of the reasons that more people attend churches at Christmas, Easter, and possibly Motherís Day. The church does stand as a reminder of what family life might be like.

To some extent, church members do expect the church to support them in faithfulness to family commitments. This is more obvious in congregations where there are support groups for parents and where the pastor communicates the role of the church as the family of faith through careful preparation of all members for baptisms and weddings. This is less obvious where educational programs separate family members by age, sex, or marital status and do not give families of the congregation opportunities to learn faithfulness from one another.

The words translated as faith in the New Testament mean both a belief and a way of life. Christians need to know what they believe in order to live out those beliefs. The children and young people of every congregation need adults who are able to help them think critically about life values to be their teachers, leaders, and role models.

There is an intrinsic connection between a basic education in Christian faith and the love of Christians for one another. The objective of a Christian education is twofold: It is both learning about faith and learning to be faithful. It should guide the learner into personal knowledge of Godís love, which is incomplete unless expressed in love of neighbor through ministry. This kind of knowledge is best appropriated through participation in a community of Christians who are self-conscious about their commitment to a Christian way of life. A Christian education that includes study and experience in ministry is more accurately termed faith formation.

The word education means to lead out or to call out the possibility in the learner. Faith formation involves a kind of education in which the content of learning must be lived to be grasped. The meaning of faith is learned through participation in worship, study, and ministry. When Christians express their learning about faith through ministry, they can learn faithful living from one another.

Learning Spiritual Discipline

The values of the American Dream can be destructive habits of thought. People who believe that Godís blessing is bestowed on the families of church members have a hard time responding to tragedy. One of the theological issues that troubles Protestants most is the question of why a loving God would allow evil, especially anything "bad" that happens to their family members or friends. The corporate prayers in a congregation are a good indication of the extent to which the concerns of the people are family related. Learning to practice spiritual disciplines cultivates the habit of seeing the world from a wider, more diverse point of view. This is how church members learn to be critical of the social and moral values of the world in which they live and work.9

Jesus was very clear that spiritual leaders must be persons whose hearts are instructed and led by a desire to follow his way and his instruction (Matt. 15:8-9). Where a congregation lacks knowledge or experience of following the way of Jesus, people can learn to live the Christian life through study and worship. In the process, they will need guidance to distinguish the values and attitudes of Christians from those of the culture. Otherwise, members can be trapped in repetition of whatever local traditions they associate with what it means to be the church.

The essential ingredients of Christian spiritual formation never change: They are the prayerful study of Scripture and learning to live the life of faith through the influence of other Christians. The way spiritual disciplines are learned does change. There have been times in the history of Christianity when congregations were a learning environment where Christian faith was transmitted from one generation to the next through the depth of commitment of adults in the congregation. There are congregations where this happens today, but they are exceptions.

Members of the Body of Christ can be transformed through their participation in the life of a congregation. This possibility depends, to some extent, on the quality of the life and commitment of members of the congregation. Transformation, or new life in Christ, refers to the way people are made new by grace through faith in a corporate setting. All Christians, including pastors, are transformed as they try to live the truth they learn about themselves through their relationships with God and neighbor. Hearing eloquent or inspiring sermons does not, by itself, change lives. Lifelong study of Scripture does not, by itself, change lives. Spiritual formation in a congregation requires the leadership of people who understand the challenges of Christians living in a world that is not concerned with Christian values.

In most congregations, spiritual formation will require more intentional creation of an environment in which the life of faith can be learned and lived. Quite possibly, family and work life are the aspects of life in which members are most aware of their personal need for spiritual resources. These are the areas in which people are most vulnerable to misplaced loyalties and loves. It takes more than regular participation in worship to come to appreciate that it is the church, and not blood kin, that is the family of faith.

Christian values can be communicated and reinforced through preaching and worship. But participation in worship is a relatively passive activity. Attitudes and values change when people question their own loyalties, when they recognize that there are competing loyalties in their lives, and when they make informed choices for themselves. In the church, members need opportunities to reflect together about their lives. People are motivated to engage in this kind of reflection by the life issues and experiences that are most real to them. If members of a congregation can begin to see that their work is a way of expressing love to God and neighbor, it could very well transform their way of looking at the world.

The Spiritual Formation of a Congregation

In every period of church history, the theology of church and ministry is predicated on some canon within the canon. In every age, church leaders consciously and unconsciously select biblical stories and themes that fit the needs of their time. For three centuries the canon of "a Christian America" served the needs of a Protestant-dominated culture. In that canon the family was assigned the primary role in socializing children to become the law-abiding, hard-working citizens needed to make the democratic experiment work. From the very beginning of the American experiment with freedom, the churches and ministers have been perceived as providing religious services, without which the experiment could fail. According to the sociology of the American Dream, churches exist to support families so there will be a moral citizenry.

Despite formal separation of church and state, the effect of this arrangement over time has been to covertly control religious leaders by making it appear that the institutions they lead are the bulwark of democracy. From the perspective of this kind of salvation history, both church leaders and churches are of great importance because the American democracy represents Godís plan for the world. In some ways, Protestant pastors have been perceived as civil servants.

One of the advantages of living during a cultural transition is that when social roles begin to change, people are in a better position to evaluate how the old social order really worked. In this particular time between the times, older pastors remember when they were called on more often to bless civic functions, when the public schools celebrated only Christmas, and when pastors were expected to join local civic organizations.

Many pastors do not question whether the church exists to serve the nation, or whether America is a Christian nation. They still assume both notions are true. These beliefs have, in the past, robbed most Protestants of their capacity to look at themselves and the nation self-critically. All too often Protestants have retreated into a smug self-righteousness because they have seen themselves as cultural insiders without whom the great American experiment would have failed.

It is common knowledge among some modern church historians that Protestant religion in America has been a civil religion. It is less common to consider the way Protestant civil religion has become a domesticated religion of the white middle-class. Since the nineteenth century, Protestants have been vigilantly defending "the family pew" as the only form of family acceptable to God. They have been far more protective of the sanctity of the family as a social tradition that can never change than they have been of the church. Many have been more willing to question the Bible as a source of truth than they are to question whether the family should be expected to be a source of unconditional love. The consequences of this kind of uncritical allegiance to family love has been a century of church programs designed to insure the future of Christianity through the children of church members.

Every pastor experiences some cultural shock during the early years of service in a congregation. Every congregation is unique, not quite like any other congregation. The life of a congregation is reflected in its history, traditions, language, and belief systems. A new pastor is always an outsider who initially feels like a stranger. It is easier to see the otherness, the uniqueness of a congregation from that perspective.

Pastors can test the extent to which a congregation expects them to function as a civil servant or a family chaplain by evaluating the attitudes of members about marriage and baptism, about educational programs, and about moral issues. The following list is only suggestive. It does not include all possible indications of the formative power of civil religion in the values of a congregation.

ē Do members understand why a pastor would refuse to baptize the babies of couples who do not participate in the life of the congregation even though the grandparents are members?

ē Does the mother of the bride understand that the pastor directs a wedding ceremony because a Christian marriage is an event in the life of the congregation, not just a family social event?

ē How willing are parents of confirmation-age children to support and participate in a lengthy period of preparation for confirmation?

ē Do members imagine that a better Sunday School or hiring a youth minister will revitalize the congregation and make it grow?

ē If teachers or parents talk about faith development, what do they have in mind? What do they mean by faith?

ē What would happen if the pastor said in a sermon that love to neighbor includes loving homosexuals?

_ Would the congregation support a ministry to single mothers if that need existed?

ē Would the governing board understand if, in deference to the importance of the church year, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Motherís Day, and Fatherís Day were no longer celebrated?

Even if members have been deeply influenced by the values of civil religion, this does not mean that members donít want the pastor to function as their spiritual leader. But it does mean that they want to hear the good news in a way that conforms with the tradition and canon they inherited. Minds can be changed, and a congregational way of life can be altered when a pastor understands how the traditions of the congregation may limit their ability to experience new life in Christ.

The folkways and loyalties in the life of a congregation change slowly, but there can be new life in a congregation. Just as the ministry of all Christians was rediscovered as an important New Testament motif at the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Bible can always speak some new, liberating word to the need of the people of God. Protestants today need to hear the good news that family life and work life do not have to be the ultimate loyalties of Christians. The people of God need new ways to think about their work commitments and new ways to evaluate their family responsibilities.

In order to address those needs, pastors should be self-conscious about sermon selection and the use of the Bible in preaching. They might ask what social and moral values were communicated through texts preached during the last three years. Are important biblical motifs being overlooked? Do the repeated themes help the people of God evaluate their ordering of loves and loyalties? What is the good news being proclaimed? How does it relate to the reality of life at home and life in the world?

Similar questions can be used to evaluate the purpose and function of all regular church programs.10 Programs should be evaluated with attention to both form and content. Form refers to what programs are available and who they are intended to serve. Content refers to what happens when a group meets. It is possible to change program structure to be more inclusive, but the values of the people who participate will stay the same if attitudes that everyone should conform to "our" standards are not examined.

A time of cultural transition is a good time to engage in an evaluation of the moral and social values operative in various facets of church programs. Members in many congregations already know that traditional programs are not working the way they once did. The people need direction from their pastor to lead them in theological reflection about the values they associate with church programs. As they attempt to revitalize old programs or add new programs, questions should be asked about each one in turn.

An honest appraisal of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with present programs is a way to help the people see what ideals control their hopes for themselves and for the congregation. Gathering factual information about who does what, when, where, and why is needed to correct a lack of information or congregational myths about church programs.

It could be a waste of time and energy for a congregation to undertake new programs and design them without an informed understanding of present congregational realities. An honest appraisal of the whole life of the congregation is a necessary preliminary to making any changes in the activities of a congregation. Once that has been accomplished, planners and leaders are ready for theological reflection about the future.

By including teachers, leaders of organizations, and people who chair committees in an evaluation of the program structure of the congregation, the pastor can equip these persons for their ministry. As leaders evaluate the activities with which they are involved, they can also clarify and discover their gifts for ministry. The purpose of program evaluation is to get an idea of the extent to which present programs contribute in a positive way to the faith formation and commitments of participants.

The following questions can be applied to any kind of church program and to its participants and leaders.

ē What do we hope will happen in the lives of those who participate in this program?

ē How do we expect this to happen?

ē How well do both form and content contribute to positive faith formation for group members and leaders?

Leaders can ask if their present activities are a good use of their gifts for ministry at this time in their lives. As the leader of leaders in the congregation, a pastor can ask the same questions of his or her ministry.

Hope for an Inclusive Family Pew

Change in the family is not, as some have suggested, the end of the family. Families are a human necessity, a social institution found in all cultures in some form. Change in the family may be experienced as the end of "the Christian home" because family values have been so closely related to religion in the United States.

This connection between church and family has been more pronounced among Protestants than Catholics because of differences in theology. Catholic theology of the church makes it impossible to imagine that a parent as a priest in "the Christian home" could be more important to the faith of children than the church. Although Catholic families participate in religious rituals at home, the Catholic family is regarded as an extension of the church. The Protestant reference to the family as "a little church" can lead, in practice, to the church being regarded as an extension of "the Christian home."

The way a pastor leads a congregation reflects the beliefs and values associated with a particular theological tradition. Pastors are no less likely to be influenced by the family loyalties of the Protestant tradition than members of their congregations. Preparation for ordination usually requires pastors to study church history, Bible, and theology so that they will avoid uncritical repetition of the past.

Ideally, a pastor should be able to direct the life of a congregation so that members can be reflective about their values in relation to faith in Jesus Christ. Most Protestants would agree that an important characteristic of faith in Jesus Christ is found in acts of love of God and neighbor. But old-line Protestants in the same congregation may not agree about who is considered a neighbor, or what it means to love your neighbor.

The idea of an inclusive membership is not new to most Protestants, especially those who think of themselves as liberal. In some congregations, an inclusive church means that people of all ages are welcome at the Lordís Supper. Many congregations would say that their membership is open to all people regardless of ethnic identity. There are Methodist and Presbyterian congregations identified as "more light" congregations in which everyone is welcome without regard to marital status or sexual orientation.

Those who gather at the Table of the Lord on Sunday morning reveal the kind of people who belong to the congregation. A snapshot would capture the kind of people who actually feel welcome enough to become members of the congregation. What does that picture reveal about who comes to the Table, and why they are there? What kind of people are missing?

It is entirely possible that a stated intention to be racially inclusive is nullified and contradicted by the way members of a congregation interact when they gather. The act of saying that everyone is welcome may be an acknowledgment that birth into a certain kind of family was, or still is, an unwritten rule of membership. "Family pew" traditions and the emotions associated with them have influenced the way members have viewed the church for generations. If unacknowledged, the power of family loyalties can retard movement toward genuine inclusiveness because of the range of moral and social values represented by family commitments.

The biblical tradition affirms the family but limits its significance. An inclusive "family pew" is a gathering of Christians who worship because they want "to love and serve the Lord." Some children are there because their parents are Christians. Others are there because someone invited them. Teens and adults may have come initially because the church was their family tradition. Others are there because a friend invited them.

There are limits to the extent to which any congregation can be inclusive. This includes location and attitudes of present members. However, where members find an affinity with one another primarily because of family and class affiliation, they will find it almost impossible to see that "the brothers and sisters for whom Christ died" are the whole human race. Every congregation can be more inclusive if faith in Jesus Christ is the principle of homogeneity that binds members to one another. In the early church, pressures toward apostasy came from "the world" outside of the young churches. Today they come from within. Contrary to popular opinion, the professed faith of the American people does not mean that the church effectively evangelized the culture. It means that the world is in the church. A reformed and reforming church is a vital force in any culture when her leaders are able to exercise their God-given responsibility for Word, Order, and Sacrament in spiritually responsible ways.

The church today is in no position to condemn the evils of "the world" unless members can do so with spiritual integrity. If the dream, identities, and behaviors of church members are not distinguishable from the American Dream of togetherness, successful careers, and upward mobility, the church in the United States can hardly offer justice to victims of cultural oppression. If congregations continue to reflect the racial and sexual prejudices of American culture in the way they define membership, authority, and power, the church will have very little credibility as a prophetic voice in Godís world.

Leaders of Protestant denominations and congregations will be able to exercise more faithful ministry when they acknowledge the minority status of all Christians in American culture. A minority church is a church in a stronger position to protest establishment injustice. A pastor committed to service to a people with a different dream is a success when the people of God claim their unique identity as the Body of Christ called to servant ministry in Godís world. Where there is hope for the church, there, too, is hope for a truly inclusive "family pew."

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (Mark 4:35-41)

 

Notes

1. See Craig Dykstra and Sharon Parks, eds., Faith Development and Fowler (Birmingham: Religious Education Press,1986) for a carefully nuanced discussion and critique of Fowlerís theory.

2. Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, "What Makes Faith Mature?" The Christian Century (May 9, 1990): 490-97.

3. Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York: Harper & Row,1978), pp. 6-7.

4. See Kenneth R. Mitchell, "Pastor Luther From a Family Perspective," Dialog 28 (Summer 1989): 186-90. This essay is a good example of the way families in Lutherís day differ from families today.

5. See Edwin H. Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York: Guilford, 1985) for an extended discussion of the effect of family experience and roles on the life of a congregation and its leaders.

6. For a helpful analysis of the changing family see "Children and Families: Myth and Reality," in Kenneth Keniston and The Carnegie Council on Children, All Our Children: The American Family Under Pressure (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), pp. 2-21.

7. This is one part of the argument of Christopher Lasch in Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged (New York: Basic Books, 1977).

8. Herbert Anderson, "Christian Themes for Family Living," Dialog (Summer 1989): 172.

9. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 54.

10. See Maria Harris, Fashion Me a People: Curriculum in the Church (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1989) for a fuller discussion of how to evaluate the life of the congregation.

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