Published in Connections Magazine (July/Aug 2014)
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faith and family
Partnership & Mission
by Marcus J. Carlson
At its core, family is community. We have many different types of family and community: our immediate family, extended family, those we consider family, church family, and of course, our community in general. One of the ways the church, including the Lutheran church, has failed to live out its mission relates to family and community: we have failed to embrace the notion of partnership with our families and communities.
We live in an isolated world. While it would be easy to blame technology, media, culture, our work or even the garage door opener for this isolation, there is no denying we have lost the depth of community we once had. Our culture craves community, perhaps more than ever before.
This is especially true of our younger generations, as our young adults, youth and children do not have the community or the adult relationships (both in quantity and quality) enjoyed by previous generations. The simple truth is that our culture, including our churches, lacks social capital.
As good capitalists, we can all understand the definition of social capital: it is relational capital or relational resource. Unlike other forms of capital, the purpose of social capital is not for leverage, power or resource. It may be the single greatest need in our church and culture today, especially for our children and adolescents. We are created to be in relationship with God, one another and the world. We have lost sight of relationship and often view people in the same way we view material possessions. The reality is that social capital is more important and impactful than any other kind of capital.
The call of the Great Commission is to “go and make disciples,” but like education, the church has fallen into the trap of the factory model. We attempt to educate our children and produce disciples the same way we might produce a car or a computer on a factory line. The factory model is wonderful and healthy for producing products, but it fails miserably in educating children or producing disciples. Whether it is the focus on standards, tests and
mass consumption of material in our education system or the overly-programmatic approach of our churches, we have implemented the factory model as the way to educate, care for and disciple our children and youth.
The problem is this: people are not products, and even if they were, this approach is not effective. We expect our children and adolescents to act like adults, embrace adult responsibility and contribute to society, but we provide no support, no resources and no social capital for them. The result of this is more than tragic; it is also ironic.
At a time in history when the world is perhaps the most violent, uncertain, dangerous and complicated, we have increased our pressure and expectation on children, families and adolescents while unapologetically decreasing our support. There is no denying the growing problem of entitlement in our children and adolescents as well as our churches and culture. While we must not forsake accountability, we cannot demand accountability and neglect relationship.
The church, including the Lutheran church, is called to serve its community. God has our churches in their communities for a reason in each and every season. The same can be said of our families as well. I do not believe that we have lost sight of our call to minister to the world, but I do believe we have lost sight of the primary method by which God calls us to do so.
Rather than wage a cultural war, we might want to consider a different approach. In a season in the world in which the challenges feel great, there is a simple solution. At a time of growing isolation from one another, a lack of community and a tragic decrease in social capital in the lives of our children and youth, there is a solution. In fact, while much in the world has changed, some things have remained unchanged since the beginning of creation: we are designed to be in relationship with one another. The answer to many of the great challenges we face in our culture, churches and families is relationships.
Whether in our culture, our churches or our families, we need to reexamine our priorities. Culture wars, programs, consumption, wealth, attendance, performance and all of the other things that we have made our priority must go. Few if any of these or the other things that have become our priorities are the priorities of Jesus and the Scriptures. We must remember our true, three-fold mission in our families and as a church: 1) love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself; 2) go and make disciples of all nations; and 3) trust God.
While many of the challenges we face today are new, some are not. Many of the challenges we face today feel heavier than those of the past, regardless of whether they actually are or not. The good news is that we can overcome all of the obstacles and challenges we face in our families, church and culture! Not only do we know the answer to these obstacles and challenges, but we know the One who has, can and will overcome all that is evil: Jesus.
It is time for our families and the church to re-embrace our mission. There is no greater opportunity than the present for the Lutheran church to rise up and remember its identity, call and mission.
Sacred or secular, we are in this together. In the church, Christ has given us the gift of community. This community is meant to partner with its community to put aside our agendas and come together to love, serve and care for people, especially our children and adolescents. Rather than battle or blame, we can embrace a partnership that puts the best interest of our children and adolescents first.
This ideal would be a partnership between the church, edu- cation, parents, families, businesses and other organizations in our communities. It would not seek its own benefits and agendas, but rather seek to serve our children and adolescents and increase the social capital in their lives. It all starts with relationship.
There is an answer; there is an easier way. Our mission has not changed, even though our challenges may have. We are called to trust God. It is our one great act, and God does the rest. My hope and prayer is that I, my family, my church and my community can partner together in relationship with one another, create social capital, build community and live out our mission to love and serve one another.
In letting go of control, trusting God, remembering our mission and focusing on relationship, we can change our families, churches, community and the world.
A simple solution, yet a demanding challenge. We are not alone, and the more we partner together, the greater power we have to achieve our mission.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson is a spiritual director, professor, speaker, writer and consultant, with 15+ years experience in youth and family ministry.