The New ‘F’ Word

Where I live the stick family stickers have overtaken the frangipani stickers as the new must have fad to stick on the back of your car.  Some people aren’t happy about it though.  On my morning commute with my daughters in the car I spotted an alternative one last week which featured a mother and father plus two children hanging from gallows and the statement *&%# YOUR FAMILY!  A decade into the new millennium families in secular Australia should be just about extinct by now, after all we no longer conform to ‘outdated’ ideas of what constitutes family don’t we?  Or do we? 

From where I sit ‘family values’ are in high demand, and not just by Tarago driving home schooling Christian fundamentalists (as is often the caricature). In secular Australia ‘families’ are resurgent, despite the multiple pressures facing the traditional family unit.  Churches are well placed to help families foster healthy environments, better relationships and an alternative to the hamster wheel debt trap.

I live on a road that has a park, and its interesting to see just how extensively the park is used by individual families and also large gatherings to celebrate birthdays and significant family events.  The ‘sticker family’ fad although criticised by some is evidence of the celebration of families by those who buy and display the stickers.  The Australian fad is so successful that its creator Gold Coast mum Monica Liebenow has been able to turn it into a full time business along with her husband.  The fad has also been appropriated by non-traditional ‘families’ as a celebration of their relationships.  Sadly I’ve seen some friends sticker collection go through some changes that reflect relationship break ups, with either the mother or father stripped off the back.

The celebration of family and the notion of family values is an affront to many.  The recent furore sparked by Queensland ACL State Director Wendy Francis over her objection to some public health posters demonstrated the derision that comes the way of those advocating on issues in relation to the family or children.  Wendy has been campaigning for G-Rated billboards for the last 2 years and first came to prominence on Channel 7 breakfast T.V. with her campaign.  She fields and extraordinary amount of vitriolic hate mail and threats by way of phone calls and messages.

Writing in the Weekend Australian Magazine, Christine Jackman in War Of Words examines how cyberspace has become a free-for-all for spiteful people to vent their vitriol on high profile women. Of the examples she examines was Julie Gale, founder of children’s advocacy group Kids Free 2 B Kids, and Melinda Tankard Reist, amongst other things founder of Collective Shout, which fights against sexploitation. Jackman’s article contains some examples of the bile and hatred directed towards these women.

Against this backdrop, the hunger for belonging and family appears to be burgeoning.  Last year the Australian Institute of Family Studies released a report showing that divorce rates are decreasing.  Despite all the challenges faced by the modern families there is no shortage of people wanting to get married.

Rediscovering The Relevance Of Family Ministry

In recent years as the church has comprehended the challenge posed by missional thinkers a great deal of emphasis has been placed on new, innovative and creative ways of connecting with people.  We’ve had everything from the Wine Bar church to the Jet Ski church.  We’ve dreamed up new catchy names for a lot of our initiatives and we’ve added a new dimension of cool to our once dowdy cachet.  Ministries like playgroup, craft group and Brigades just seemed dated and and perhaps passe.  However, during all this time these stock in trade ministries have continued to provide a valuable connecting point for the people who live in our locale.

One of the most important ministry positions in the church I attend is the ‘grandmother-in-the-kitchen’ role at playgroup.  All playgroup ladies (and men) know that during each playgroup there is a grandmother in the kitchen.  On the surface she is readying for morning tea but in reality she is waiting for women to peel off and have a chat, often pouring out their burdens or seeking advice about issues with their children’s health or behaviour.  Our playgroup ministry plays a critical role in family support, even in conflicted marriage relationships by facilitating counselling.

Burgeoning Brigades

Brigades in our church is booming and most of the children are from families who are not a part of our worshiping community.  Apart from some brilliant low cost child care on a Friday night the Brigades provide a safe and adventurous environment for young people who would otherwise be at risk of running with the wrong crowd in our suburban area and getting mixed up with all that goes along with the street gangs.  There are plenty of pastors who are waiting for Brigades to die off, but reinvesting in Brigades has been a great success for many churches in their missional push.

Our church has simply run out of space to house all our children’s ministries initiatives.  The growth is from families who do not attend our church.  This trend is happening all over our movement of churches.  The breadth of creativity in children’s and family ministry is quite staggering.

Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is

We’ll never win the digital debate about families in the Twittersphere and other places, but we don’t need to.  We simply need to continue to make a positive difference to one family at a time across our movement of churches and to help families value what they’ve got by protecting and investing. By my reckoning, children’s ministry positions usually are the last position to be filled on the pecking order of pastoral staff, and the amount of money invested usually miniscule in comparison to other ministries.  Many children’s ministry leaders could only dream of seeing as much money go them as the sound and lighting crew get in their annual budget. We simply to have to put our money where our mouth is in terms of percentage of our budget in  terms of who we are trying to reach and help.

Many churches have invested in setting up counselling practices or partnering with their State Union to provide access to family counselling and support at or near the church. Debt counselling is also a valuable support to provide to families in all suburbs.  The more posh a suburb the higher the mortgage. Family support and care is missional as it gets. What does your church do in this area?