"Step aside, Ward and June Cleaver. The days of housewives in pearls and pumps are over." Rapidly disappearing are firm and fatherly chats with errant sons. A startling number of today's kids would have to hire a detective to track down bio-dad if they wanted to learn "father knows best." The grim statistics from the recent census confirm our worst suspicionsthe traditional nuclear family is normal for fewer than 25 percent of American households. (James Dobson, Families in Crisis from Focus on the Family, August 2001).
Church attendance or small group leadership does not guarantee a perfect family life either. In fact, small group involvement and church responsibility may cause problems. Recently a small group leader confided his small group involvement was causing tension at home. This man is passionate about small groups. They are responsible for much of his spiritual growth. He belongs to a men's accountability group and leads a group of mixed adults. Because he has such a clear understanding of small group ministry, we could address his family relationships in terms of small group dynamics.
The same biblical principle underlies both small group and family. In Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry Gareth Icenogle points out the significance of family units in Hebrew history as one example of God's emphasis on relationships. Current small group rationale acknowledges that our mobile societyin which individuals have moved away from small towns and extended family supporthas increased our need to recreate these bonds through intentional involvement in small groups.
Small groups which originated as "substitute" family now provide a model by which we can strengthen the bonds within our natural families. How can you apply small group thinking to family living? Take the following small group concepts home:
The family is a caring community. Although we love our families, we must become intentional about developing a loving, grace-oriented community, especially at home.
- Schedule frequent family times. The close proximity of a shared activity paves the way for deeper conversation.
- Use ice breaker questions at dinner or on car trips. In addition to having fun, you will learn a lot about each other.
- Be honest and vulnerable. Admit your own areas of weakness (It isn't as if our children don't know them anyway.).
- Allow everyone room for failure, then follow up with support and encouragement.
- Really listenwithout interrupting, being distracted or judging.
- Observe confidentiality. Children lose trust in parents who broadcast their private thoughts. Be loyal.
The family is a center of worship. The greatest legacy we can leave our children is a deep intimacy with God and a faithful commitment to Christ. Make worship a lifestyle, not a weekly event.
- Talk about God in the normal course of your day. Use life's happy moments to give credit where credit is dueto God. With younger children, explore nature as God's creation.
- Sing praise songs together. Fill your home with Christian music.
- Pray for each other and with each other. Let your spouse and children know you will be praying as they face difficult work assignments or tests. Remember to follow up by asking how it went, then thank God together.
- Share what God is teaching you. Let your children see you having quiet time or praying with a friend.
- Attend church together.
- Read Bible stories or study Scripture together.
The family is a training arena. Your goal is to help your children develop into independent adults. Use every opportunity to give them hands-on experience and increased responsibility.
- Encourage family members to use their God-given abilities and spiritual gifts to benefit the whole family.
- Work around the house or yard together.
- Involve your children in your church responsibilities whenever possible.
The family is an outreach mission. A healthy family opens its heart to others. It offers hospitality, genuine caring and the good news of Jesus Christ.
- Make your home the kid-friendly one. P.S. Keep lots of snacks handy.
- Involve the whole family in a project like Angel Tree, a homeless shelter or purchasing food and gifts for a needy family.
- Serve as a host family for an international student or family or "adopt" a homesick college student or young working single.
- Become a surrogate family for an elderly neighbor whose own family is far away.
The shift away from a family-centered society means we can no longer count on the culture to value our family or protect its well-being. If we want our families to be salt and light amid the current trends, we must become intentional about our own family. It is our first small group priority and well worth our time.