While reviewing this book I was also engaged in conversation with two church leaders who were searching for insights into this very discussion: how do we practically adjust to the changing needs of families to promote spiritual formation in families without compromising Scripture’s timeless principle?
A Theology for Family Ministries is a practical work committed to present current family dynamics (what is), to articulate the timeless message of Scripture regarding the family faith community and the family’s role in the historical and contemporary church (what ought to be, orthodoxy) in order to assist families in living out God’s will (what ought to be, orthopraxy).
Section 1 (Chapters 1-3), “Changing Faces of the North American Family,” addresses the current makeup of today’s family, developmental issues, lack of focus on spiritual development, and major challenges that children face today. Michael Anthony sets the tone by claiming “gone are the days of simple answers for simple dilemmas. The greater question is, What is the church doing to help, encourage, and support these families
who find themselves at life’s edges?” (17). Karen Jones suggests that, though developmental issues are receiving some attention today, very little is done regarding spiritual development. Fathers in particular have all but abdicated this responsibility. Being aware of developmental propensities is helpful in raising our children spiritually but, ultimately, prayer surrendering one’s children to God is essential. Freddy Cardoza personally identifies with and statistically reveals current challenges of children and family, unpacks the social mess in what he calls a cultural exegesis, then appropriates Scripture. The healthy church family needs to go to needy and broken families to help them to develop spiritually as families: they will not come to us.
In section 2 (Chapters 4-9), “Forming a Biblical Theology of Family,” the contributing authors do a tremendous job in providing Old and New Testament survey of key passages that establish a biblical theological basis or mantle for family ministry. The family is the foundation for spiritual discipleship and marriage is a foundation for healthy families. God created families to teach and to represent his kingdom and principles to the world. Grandparents themselves offer a wealth of experience and holy habits to be modeled. Parents can use milestones (such as cognition/conversion, baptism, communion, evangelism, and service) to cement and to gauge their children’s spiritual formation while acknowledging that measuring success externally can be difficult. The section concludes with a discussion of biblical principles of family ministry, then surveys historical models and examines contemporary models for the future (156). A model of family ministry should be based upon parental (and especially paternal) responsi- bility, generational interdependence, and a centeredness in the gospel (178).
In the last section (Chapters 10-12), “Family Ministries in the Local Church,” biblically-based practical advice equips parents as spiritual leaders of the home. Michelle Anthony states, “although many parents agree that the spiritual mantle has been given to them by God, they often do not feel prepared or equipped to pass on their faith to their children” (185). This final section emphasizes the entire tone of the book, that parents need to see their children’s spiritual formation as paramount and parents need to pursue their own relationship with God to be in a place to speak into their children’s lives.
Overall, the flow and content of the book is well done and grace-filled. Having spent several years researching intentional paternal involvement in the relational spiritual formation of their children, I can attest that many parents feel inadequate in this area and desire to be equipped and supported. This work helps to raise awareness, explains current family situations with compassion, and provides theological foundations reminding leaders of the importance of family to God and of its central role in spiritual formation.
At least one improvement could be made (not counting several copy-edit issues): Despite several references to paternal leadership, very little discussion is given to the historical and current status of paternal involvement or theological insights specifically directed at the role of men. Given theological discussion pertaining to other relationships in the spiritual formation of their children (family, marriage, grandparents, etc.) surely a theology of fathering of sorts should have been included.
[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 2.1]