What’s the purpose of the family?
Sociologists generally view the purpose of the family as procreation and socialization. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Robin S. Smith, says the socializing purpose of the family in today’s society “is to provide a safe and nurturing space in which its members can know that feeling of ‘home’ … the sense of belonging … and to pass on our legacy to the next generation.”
Giving care, support, a “sense of belonging”, and contributing something to “the next generation” are things that most mammal families do.
Surely human families have a higher purpose than animal families.
The Scriptures state that “… whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus …” Colossians 3:17. Note the phrase “whatever you do”. The “whatever you do” includes being family. The higher purpose of the family is a high calling. It’s to reflect Jesus to the world at large.
If the greater purpose of the family is to help others see Jesus, then the goal isn’t parents and children reaching their full creative, intellectual, or social potential. That’s not to say that families shouldn’t be organized for mutual support. But it is to say that families exist for more than self-actualization or parents and children striving to be good enough.
American theologian and ethicists Russell D. Moore captures this higher purpose when he says the Christian family is to effect “consciences and personalities and souls … transforming how countless people see God, the Gospel, and themselves … [by seeing] a reflection of something of what God is like.”
This can only transpire when family life is less about us, and more about others. If life is a haze of one extramural activity after another, we’ve missed the mark. The function must align with the purpose. There should be links between what family members do and what Jesus would do. In other words, family members must deny themselves to serve others.
Professor of Youth and Family Ministry Andrew Root calls this purpose “cruciform negation”. It’s his way of saying that families should choose a life of sacrifice. In a world geared to profit and pleasure, sacrifice isn’t an easy burden to bear. While there may be a cross hanging on a wall in the home, it’s a challenge to take up the cross and follow Him (cf. Matthew 16:24).
Part of the challenge is connecting what we say with what we do. Speaker and author Natalie Frisk says, “Sometimes we articulate one set of values and live out an entirely different set.” When this happens, there’s a “hypocrisy gap”. For example, we may say we value our children attending Sunday School, but if the hockey coach schedules a Sunday practice, we choose to go to the arena.
Parents are under tremendous pressure to do what everyone else is doing. Society wants families to conform, i.e., to join the hectic, success-driven pursuit to help our children be a little better off. This narrative conflicts with God’s narrative. To embrace God’s higher purpose for the family, we must stop worrying about other people’s perceptions and expectations.
While parents shouldn’t worry about what is or isn’t socially-expected, they should recognize hypocrisy gaps and willingly adjust their actions to be consistent with biblical values. To return to the Sunday hockey practice example, the right action is to take the children to Sunday School, not to the arena (cf. Hebrews 10:25).
Right action flows from the right input. The Bible is the primary revelation of the person and work of Jesus. To know Jesus, families must engage with His Word. This is crucial. Bible engagement is Jesus engagement. Families can only reflect Jesus to the world at large if their daily rhythm includes reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures.
Finally, none of this is conceivable without Jesus. That is, families can’t help others see what Jesus is like unless He makes it possible. So ask the Lord to fill each member of your family with the Holy Spirit – to give you insight and understanding, discipline and courage, faith and grace to put into practice whatever you learn, receive, hear, or see in Jesus (cf. Philippians 4:9).
© Scripture Union, 2021