Church & Home: Partners and Parallels
By Chris Talbot
The Christian faith is no stranger to family. After all, we walk into church
to greet Brother so-and-so, and his wife, Sister so-and-so, even though
we can’t trace any biological heritage to these close Christian friends.
It soon becomes apparent the gospel connects Christians in a
deep way that can be described only in familial terms.
When Jesus was alerted to His mother and brothers’ presence during his public teaching, He pointed to His disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50). The Apostle Paul expanded on this theme, addressing the church as a “household” or “family of God” (1 Timothy 3; 5:1-2; Titus 2:1-5). He told believers to respect fathers and mothers in the faith and to be brothers and sisters to one another. Both John and Paul saw themselves as fathers in the faith to younger believers (1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Timothy 1:2; 1 John 2:14; 3:18; 5:21). 
Within our own denomination, a renewed focus has been placed on familial, or generational, discipleship. This is called the D6 movement, based on Deuteronomy 6:7-9:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
In the New Testament, Paul instructed parents and children (Ephesians 6:1-4). What’s vital to note, and often overlooked, is that both commands are given within the context of the faith community.  When Moses gave this command to parents, he explained it to a gathering of the Israelites. When Paul instructed the families in Ephesus, the letter was read to the entire church.
Does talking about the church being our family negate what God has planned for our nuclear families in our spiritual formation? When church becomes family, does family cease to be family? Or vice versa, when the family becomes church, does the gathering of believers become null and void? I don’t think this is the case, though imbalance can easily happen.
I would like to propose what Christians have argued for centuries: the Christian family and the church are deeply connected in God’s redemptive plan. For the believer, the church is family and the family is church. Of course, that is not to say that the church and family are identical and synonymous.
Actually, the church and the family are distinctly different in many ways, each accomplishing tasks the other will not and cannot. While these two divine institutions are partners in spiritual formation, they are also parallels; they run alongside one another. As one author notes, “This two-fold approach is the foundation for comprehensive faith-at-home ministry—ministry that coordinates the God-ordained function of the Christian household with the church’s role as a Christian’s first family.”  Allow me to demonstrate how these two spheres are knitted together and vital in the spiritual formation of the Christian child.
Family as Church: A Brief Theology of Family
We must first understand what God intended when He created the “nuclear” family. God ordained the family before the Fall. The family institution was created before sin wrecked and broke the world. How did God intend that family to look? We may fully answer that question by giving a biblical definition of family as expressed by Andreas Köstenberger: “Primarily one man and one woman united in matrimony plus natural or adopted children and, secondarily, any other persons related by blood.”  This definition is reinforced and rooted in the familial models of the Old and New Testaments.
Second, though instituted before the Fall, the Christian family continues to accomplish God’s redemptive work in this world like no other institution. It is increasingly evident the family holds a singular position in God’s will. Consider, for a moment, what Vigen Guroian writes concerning the parent-child relationship:
In our day hyper-individualism and exaggerated notions of personal autonomy flourish culturally and have influenced law. The religious sociologist Robert Bellah calls this ontological individualism—a belief that the individual is primary and that the individual’s claims take precedence over community, which is thought to be derivative and artificial. This individualism is reflected conspicuously in current attitudes and opinions about marriage and divorce, abortion, and physician-assisted suicide, to name a few. . . . To the extent that these notions of individualism and autonomy influence contemporary thought on childhood, there is a tendency to define childhood apart from serious reflection on the meaning of parenthood. Yet a moment’s pause might lead one to recognize that there is hardly a deeper characteristic of human life than the parent-child relationship. . . The Christian faith would have us look more closely at the fundamental parent-child nexus. 
Guroian notes the profound effect parents have on their children. No cultural relationship is more influential than the parent-child relationship. This relationship is vital for cultivating the counter-cultural values important for life. In Family-Based Youth Ministry, Mark DeVries notes: “No one has more long-term interest in the students I work with than their parents do . . . families exert unparalleled influence on the development of the children’s lives and character.”  This isn’t just a pragmatic statement; it’s a theological one. God intended for families to have more influence on the child than anyone or anything else.
What, then, is the primary way a family can be a “little church”? By worshiping together. This is not merely a practical solution to a significant problem. Family worship has its roots in Scripture. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Job, Paul, and Peter all either practiced or promoted this idea of families worshiping together as a unit. A strong thread runs throughout Scripture, encouraging families to worship together—parents and children honoring God through adoration. Moreover, throughout history Christians have practiced family worship as an integral ingredient of their faith.
The Free Will Baptist Church Covenant reads, “We agree faithfully to discharge our obligations in reference to the study of the Scriptures, secret prayer, family devotions, and social worship; and by self-denial, faith, and good works endeavor to ‘grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’” 
One important truth of which we must remind ourselves is that family worship doesn’t have to be complicated. As Donald Whitney plainly encourages us, “Just read, pray, and sing.” 
Read: Read a passage of Scripture. For those with younger children, choose a storybook Bible,  or a brief passage appropriate for their age. Read the passage or story together and make a few comments regarding what it means. As children get older, share heavier or lengthier passages.
Pray: Since you already have the Bible open to a passage, allow that to lead your prayer. Pray whatever the application might be from a given biblical story. Further, allow family members to offer various prayer requests.
Sing: Have a hymnbook handy or sing memorable Christian songs. It doesn’t have to be all eight stanzas, but sing a song worshipfully with your family. Often, this can be the most enjoyable moment for children.
Before you know it, you’ve worshiped with your family. If you’ve read God’s truth, prayed in communion with Him, and worshiped through song, you’ve worshiped God with your family. This is easy to practice and easy to teach. Try to worship together as often as possible. If you are able to do it every day, great! If not, simply try to keep a consistent schedule.
Family discipleship is more than simply practicing family worship, though that’s vital. Family discipleship also occurs during the “informal” moments. One author notes, “Responsible youth ministry in the church, though perhaps difficult to execute, is simple to understand: it involves teaching and exhorting parents to raise their children biblically.”  Though it may sound cliché, Christian living must be verbalized and visualized for children. They must not only be taught the propositional truths of Scripture but also see them lived out. Look for teachable moments to show how Christian truth applies, and if you’re a ministry leader, encourage other parents to do the same. This might come during a drive to school or when your child expresses difficulty with organized sports or around the dinner table. The possibilities are endless.
About the Writer: A native of Tecumseh, Michigan, Chris Talbot now resides in Gallatin, Tennessee, where he teaches at Welch College. He is also pastor of youth and family at Sylvan Park FWB Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and assistant managing editor of the D6 Family Ministry Journal. He and his wife Rebekah have a son, William.
Adapted by permission from Re/Modeling Youth Ministry: www.WelchPress.com.
1 Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W. Jones, God, Marriage, and the Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010),
2 Scottie May, et al., Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family and Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 165-66.
3 Timothy Paul Jones and John David Trentham, eds., Practical Family Ministry: A Collection of Ideas for Your Church (Nashville: Randall House, 2015), 13.
4 Köstenberger and Jones, God, Marriage, and the Family, 85.
5 Vigen Guroian, “The Ecclesial Family: John Chrysostom on Parenthood and Children,” in The Child and Christian Thought, Marcia J. Bunge, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 61-62.
6 Mark DeVries, Family-Based Youth Ministry, revised and expanded (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004), 61.
7 Free Will Baptist Treatise, (Nashville: National Association of Free Will Baptists, 2008), 1.
8 Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 44.
9 I highly recommend Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Story-Book Bible. (Grand Rapids: ZonderKidz, 2007)
10 Christopher Schlect, Critique of Modern Youth Ministry, 2 ed. (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2007), 17.