This week I renewed fellowship with a cousin I had not seen in a long time. His wife is in charge of Nike's Air Jordan brand, a one-and-a-half billion dollar division of Nike Corporation. They live in Portland and have three beautiful young kids. My cousin used to be a stockbroker in New York City, but when his wife kept being promoted by Nike he decided to stay home to take care of the kids, while his wife worked for a living. For the past decade, my cousin has taken the primary responsiblity of caring for the home and raising the kids while his wife has "put the bread on the table" as they say.
What a fun family! I had the chance to interact with their kids and each of them was friendly, engaged, and at ease around strangers. Mom and dad were great conversationalists, comfortable in their own skin, and genuinely delightful people. Our only regret is that we have not known them as well as we would like, and our time with them is limited because of geography. However, seeing them this week brought to mind an important principle that church leaders often forget.
God is interested in the functionality of the individual, not the form of the family to which that individual belongs. For example, how many churches overlook the divorced, the widowed, the orphaned, the abandoned, and the people who come from broken and fractured homes because they are not in a "traditional" family unit? My cousin and his wife have reversed traditional roles intentionally, but I'm thinking right now of the number of men and women whose families and personal lives have been turned upside down unintentionally.
When church leaders put an emphasis on the form that family units should take, even if it is a well-intentioned effort to encourage families, the emphasis of Scripture is missed. God is not nearly as interested in the form of a family group as He is the functionality of the individual person. Let me prove this:
(1). Marriage is temporal, not eternal.
Granted, there are a few non-traditional western religions (i.e. Mormonism) and a few long-time eastern religions (i.e. Islam) who advocate that marriage, even mulitiple marriages for men, are eternal. That's just not so. Jesus said that in heaven we "will not marry nor be given in marriage" (Mark 12:25).
Marriage is something that is not eternal. At some point, marriage will end for everyone. If a marriage happens to end here on earth for a Christian, it is possible for that Christian to experience the same fulfillment and joy here and now that he or she will experience eternally. A divorcee who trusts Christ, a graced widow or widower, and even Christian singles who have never married or never will marry have as much personal value, identity and significance as any married Christian. In fact, it might be said that there is an advantage for the Christian who is not married; he or she has the opportunity to understand how to function individually now as Christ intends us to function eternally then.
So let me be crystal clear. Since marriage is a form of relationship that will one day end for everyone, when there is an overemphasis in church on the form of one's family to the neglect of the individual's function within his or her family, then churches fail in our biblical mission. The function of a Christian within the family never ends, and when properly understood, never fails. So what is our function as Christians? We are to love others in our family unit as Christ has loved us (John 15:12). When we learn to function in this manner we never fail, though the form our family takes comes to an end (I Corinthians 13:8).
(2). Parenting is temporal, not eternal.
Think about this. In the resurrection, you will not have small children, nor will you have aged parents. You will not relate to one another in the dynamic of family as you relate to your family members during this life. To many of you, this is a blessed thing because your Christian family is highly dysfunctional.
The best way to define dysfunction within a Christian family is "dependence upon another family member to look a certain way, act a certain way, or be a certain way for me to be a whole, healthy and happy individual." When you need your spouse, children, or family members to look a certain way in order to feel signficant and worthy, then you are dysfunctional as an individual Christian. What you need to be a whole, healthy and significant human being, you have from Him. God is interested in you becoming functional as an individual far more than He is you be involved in a traditional form of family.
For example, a divorced Christian and a single Christian share the same function as a married Christian. The form of relationships with others may vary, but the functionality and identity those individuals share in Christ are the same. Pastors should put far more emphasis on those things that strengthen individual functionality.
When church leaders put an emphasis on standardizing the form of families (men work, women stay at home and have children, children are to listen and not be heard, etc...), then we miss the intention of God's Word and our true calling. We are called by God to encourage individuals to love others as Christ has loved us, and this is the message of His Word. While that love is Christ's love in us, the context in which that love is displayed, and how it looks in application, will be different according to the situation the individual Christian finds himself or herself in.
Just like with marriages, there is a temporary nature in parental roles, child identity, and extended familial relationships. Yes, we will have relationship with one another forever, but that relationship will be based on being able to relate to one another as individuals of equal value--co-heirs with Jesus Christ. Therefore, that person who finds his identity in his position of authority, or his performance, or his power and posessions, is in for a really tough wake-up call. "Naked came I into the world from my mother's womb, and naked will I return" (Job 1:12). Blessed is the individual Christian who understands his or her identity comes from the love of God in Christ and not the form of their family on earth.
(3). Churches that emphasize the form of the family mean well, but miss wide.
There seems to be a growing desire among conservative, Bible-believing churches (like ours) to be "family friendly." Trust me, I love my traditional family! And, I also pastor a church full of people who love the traditional family, Christ and His Word. However, allow me to issue a caution to any of us who tend to want to overemphasize a particular form that the Christian family should take. We live in a world and a culture where the family has undergone all kinds of change. Divorce is rampant. Homosexual couples are adopting children. Cohabitation is normal. The church emphasizing "family friendly" ministry sounds good. We are distressed by the breakdown of the traditional family unit. However, there is no reason to get too upset. Nothing about the form of the family is eternal.
Marriage ends. Parenting ends. Familial relationships on earth all come to an end. We relate to each other for eternity as equals, on the basis of our relationship with Christ and our love Him. There is a slice of heaven on earth when we can relate to one another in the church, regardless of the form our family takes, as individuals equal in worth, significance and value. It deserves to be said again: God is far more concerned about the functionality of the individual Christian in the family than the form of the family the individual Christian is in.
Therefore, enjoy your family! Whatever it looks like, enjoy the people around you and learn to love them! Know this: if you are an adopted child of a homosexual couple and you come to Emmanuel Enid, you will find a place where you will be encouraged and strengthened in your call to function as an individual Christian full of His grace, mercy and love. We will help you love your homosexual parents, and we will not make you think you are deficient in identity and worth because the form of your family is different than the pastor's. The same could be said of the divorced Christian, the blended family, the single Christian, the orphaned Christian, and the widowed Christian
God is interested in you. He (and we) are interested in how you function in this life. The function of your faith is far more important to us than the form of your family.
Food for thought.