the shape of leadership

The New Reality

Principles of ministry to nontraditional family structures

For centuries, the traditional American family included a father, mother and biological children living in a single-family home. Today, fewer families than ever fit that description. There has been such an attack on the traditional family that nontraditional structures have become the new norm.

According to Pew Research Center, less than half (46 percent) of all children live with both biological parents. The rest live in nontraditional families, which can mean a lot of different things:

  • Cohabitating couples
  • Single-parent homes
  • Same-sex couples
  • Blended families
  • Adoptive parents

These new family structures dominate the landscape of most communities in America. Rather than talking about how to deal with these cultural changes, the Church must learn to walk with all kinds of families — coming alongside them, loving them and pointing them to Christ.

Every family situation is different. Nontraditional families result from a variety of causes — some sinful, others not — which must factor into how we minister to the family as a whole. Many single parents have experienced unfortunate circumstances, such as the death of a spouse or an abusive situation that led to divorce.

Other nontraditional families arise from sinful lifestyles, such as unmarried couples living together or same-sex marriages. Whatever the circumstances, families need the compassion of Christ — and the Church has a responsibility to reach out to them.

Here are four things we must do when ministering to today’s nontraditional families:

Express Love

It is vital for us to model the love of Christ. Identifying the two most important commandments, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Nontraditional families are our neighbors. Our love for God and our love for people should drive us to reach them for eternity. These families often face negative assumptions, false stereotypes and discouraging statistics. The Church must make it a priority to love them, regardless of their circumstances.

In the past, churches sometimes shunned Christians who divorced. Tragically, the children often paid the highest price — and many of them eventually walked away from the faith. Let’s not make the same mistake today.

The Church must learn to walk with all kinds of families — coming alongside them, loving them and pointing them to Christ.

Admittedly, it is easier to love a family who is in the midst of an unfortunate circumstance rather than a sinful lifestyle. Yet we can express God’s love without endorsing immorality.

For instance, when a same-sex couple and their children come to church, we can welcome them, acknowledge them as individuals, and begin conversations with them. These simple gestures can make a huge impact on a person’s views of the Church and of God, opening the door for them to hear the gospel and experience life transformation.

Set an Example

Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

The best way to walk with families is by surrounding them with positive influencers. The Church should be modeling what godly marriages and families look like. These things are foreign to many of the parents and children in our communities.

Encourage church members to get involved. Volunteering as a couple to serve at-risk kids through a community program, becoming foster parents, and mentoring a teenager are all services that can make a big difference.

Establish Community

People are more receptive when they are part of a community rather than just sitting in the midst of a congregation. Friendships with believers can soften hearts and promote transformational change.

One way to establish community is through small groups. Such groups offer places of belonging, comfort, encouragement, accountability and fellowship.

Other kinds of social interaction, such as going out for coffee or talking over lunch, help build community as well.

Jesus was open to having conversations with sinners and eating at the table with tax collectors. Jesus was trying to show the Church what real community looks like. Despite the ways they were living and the decisions they were making, He chose to have conversations with people simply because they were people.

Stand Firm

The world often distorts and corrupts what God created for His glory. The Church cannot waver on the truths of Scripture. In a culture of immorality and sexual confusion, we must defend and model God’s design for the family.

Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”

We must demonstrate Christ’s love to each person who walks through the church doors, but we can never compromise the truth. Compromise ultimately leads to more confusion.

God’s desire for families has never changed. He wants all people to come to Him through Christ and become His adopted sons and daughters. When churches invest in building healthy families and teaching people about Jesus, it is a victory for everyone.

We have the responsibility to love and nurture all families — both traditional and nontraditional — leading them to the arms of the Savior.

May 6-12 is National Family Week in the Assemblies of God. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 edition of Influence magazine.


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