I’ve been frustrated with marriage and family ministries. There is some great teaching. Some wonderful sermons, amazing books, and excellent expositions on covenantal theology or marriage roles and responsibilities. We have more resources to help people understand the purposes of marriage and family than ever before in history. Why do we have such terrible marriages and parents struggling?
We have been following an false assumption. We believe if taught the right thing, then couples will have an illumination, marriages will be healed and children will get in line. Preach- listen- change. But this is not how family relationships actually work. If it were- then pastors and marriage and family counselors would always have exemplary marriages and kids.
Marriage and family life is embodied. We live it out inside our whole body, not just our consciousness. We live in a home, with laundry and crying babies and sex squeezed in late on a Saturday night before we’re too tired. We make meals, we fight over spending, we cry when we feel ignored or criticized. There is pain in family life. Two humans make pain inevitable. Sometimes the pain is intense. Rejection happens. We also warmly bond to each other. We sit at bedsides of sick children. We forgive major offenses. We love decade after decade. We live out marriage and family life in our whole being.
Even the best sermon cannot begin to address this lived, embodied experience. Enlightenment will not transform us.
What is really needed in marriage ministry is opportunities for the Holy Spirit to develop a heart, attitudes, and a will that is oriented towards following after Christ within the daily family life. The daily liturgy of family life is ignored and misunderstood.
A liturgy is commonly understood as the “form” of worship in a communal worship service. In an American worship service first we pray, then we sing worship songs, then we announce events, then we hear a sermon perhaps followed by an altar call. Some churches are very firm in their liturgy, while others work to be fluid. But all churches have a liturgy. All families do to. The sequence and form of daily living, especially in terms of a focus on Christ.
A challenge: Most churches provide little support in creating a family liturgy. Churches don’t want to “interfere” with the family. Families are treated as completely independent entities, and yet the church has great influence. Left ignored, we don’t resource families with a bigger vision of family liturgy. What is the liturgy of your family? When you wake in the morning, do you turn your heart towards God and bless the spouse and family? Perhaps you pray at meals and have regular bedtime Bible stories and prayers with children. Perhaps you celebrate Thanksgiving with statements of gratitude and Christmas with undeserved gifts to reflect God’s grace in sending His son for us. Some families use New Years as a time to promote hope in engaging new habits as a family that promote Christian family life. Do you say words of gratitude regularly? Are apologies for offenses, small and large, common in your household? Do you stop and pray over stressful events? Do you offer compassion for a spouse or children that are failing or struggling? Do you embed yourself in a church community to serve others together? This is the liturgy of family that God calls us to.
Church ministry can provide support for family liturgies through offering ideas, engaging small groups to encourage family liturgy, or even using wedding and baby showers as places to offer a vision of a Christian family life with habits and liturgy that promotes following Christ together. The embodiment of the regular practice of Christian family is the antidote to failed marriage ministries.