Change the world from your family room

Over the past century, the inertia has been toward turning family and home life inside out.

“Prior to the industrial revolution,” writes Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “most families assumed responsibility for economic production, the education of children, and socialization into the culture. Recreation, entertainment, child rearing, and vocational training were all conducted within the confines of the family.”

Over the years, the industrial system encouraged families to out-source all those activities–to help the economy by paying someone else to do them. In many ways, this change was a relief.  Unlike the Ingallses (immortalized in Little House on the Prairie), families no longer had to spend the bulk of their day just trying to get chores done and food on the table. The labor saving devices and division of labor introduced by the Industrial Revolution made home management much simpler.

winter readingBut something was lost in the process of reengineering all the functions of the family home. According to Allan Carlson and Paul Mero in the book The Natural Family, “Family households, formerly function-rich bee-hives of useful, productive work and mutual support, tended to become merely functionless, overnight places of rest for persons whose active lives and loyalties lay elsewhere.”

Carlson and Mero say today’s families can still find a way to have “a home that serves as the center for social, educational, economic and spiritual life.” New technology and a fresh longing for a sustainable balance between work and family is slowly encouraging families to find ways to reproduce some of the benefits of the preindustrial, home-based family.

Outside-in homes–those in which parents are intentional about “in-sourcing” primary educational responsibilities, child rearing, Christian discipleship, recreation, entertainment, and more–can still have an inside out influence on the world around them. Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and philosopher in the late 1700’s, described the family as an essential foundation for the larger world. “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society,” he wrote, “is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.”

Additionally, men and women who desire to have lives of influence often find that the work of caring for and investing in the next generation is among the most important influence they can have. For all the hopes and dreams we have for our own lives, we often overlook that the under appreciated work of parenting is likely the greatest contribution we’ll make. Author Gary Thomas talks about how the genealogy chapters that tell how so-and-so begat so-and-so, may be among the most important in the Bible:

God chooses to simplify these men’s lives by mentioning their most important work–having kids, dying, and then getting out the way. I wonder how we might simplify our own lives by recognizing that eighty percent or more of what we spend our time on will ultimately be forgotten. Perhaps we might pay a little more attention to the remaining twenty percent. Indeed, the effort we put into creating a lasting legacy through children and great-children might increase significantly.

This assumes, however, that men and women who are faithful in biological fruitfulness will also be faithful in spiritual fruitfulness. Andreas Köstenberger addresses this in the book God, Marriage and Family:

In godly homes, husband and wife sharpen one another as “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), and their children are drawn into the communal life of the family and into the path of discipleship pursued and modeled by their parents, which fulfills the Lord’s desire for godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).

This too is part of obeying the risen Christ’s commission for his followers to “go…and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20).

To show how this can happen, Köstenberger provides a compelling picture of how God designed biological fruitfulness and spiritual fruitfulness to intersect:

What God desires is happy, secure, and fulfilled families where the needs of the individual family members are met but where this fulfillment is not an end in itself but becomes a vehicle for ministry to others. In this way God uses families to bring glory to himself and to further his kingdom, showing the world what he is like–by the love and unity expressed in a family by the husband’s respect for his wife, the wife’s submission to her husband, and the children’s obedience (even if imperfect). What is more, the husband-wife relationship also expresses how God through Christ relates to his people the church. Thus it can truly be said that families have a vital part to play in God’s plan to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ,” “for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:10,12 NIV).

In our own “begatting,” in our intentionality about taking primary responsibility for the care and discipline of of our children and especially in the faithful discipleship of our children, we can to some degree, and often beyond our what we ever would have imagined, change the world from our family room.

Adapted from portions of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies.

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