Engaging the Whole Family Part 2: Nuclear Family

BY Barefoot Ministries

May 1, 2012


Let’s get this bit o’ info out of the way. The nuclear family is depicted as two parents bonded together in a love-based marriage with biological children. The nuclear family is also referred to as the “domestic family.” Some even refer to the nuclear family as the “traditional family,” as though it has been the longest-enduring family structure in history. And some even hold up the nuclear family as the goal of Christian relationships.

However, the nuclear family is not the longest-enduring family structure, and it is most certainly not the family structure throughout biblical history. In fact, it has only been in the last 200 years that the “traditional” family has emerged. In regards to the love-based marriage, Stephanie Coontz writes, “It took more than 150 years to establish the love-based, male breadwinner marriage as the dominant model in North America and Western Europe. It took less than 25 years to dismantle it (247).”

What’s the point of all this talk about the nuclear family? The point is that it is not biblical to hold up the nuclear family as the goal of Christian relationships for youth and families. Diana Garland argues that nuclear family terms like parent, child, brother, and sister are used in Scripture but not to limit familial relations to the nuclear family. Instead, they are terms God’s people use to relate to others across social and cultural boundaries of family units. Naomi and Ruth are a great example of this use of the language. Jesus is another great example when he points to his family being a community of God’s people (Mark 3:33-35).

David Elkin’s work reveals that there has been a major shift in the structure of the family that corresponds to the shift from the modern period to the postmodern period. He suggests that the best way to describe the family unit in the postmodern context is “permeable.” This type of family structure is neither good nor bad—it is simply contextual.

Marjorie Thompson takes us one step further and suggests that we embrace all family structures in the life of the church. She argues that all families are called to learn the way of God from the church. She adds that it is the church’s responsibility to teach families how to practice the means of grace that are common to it (acceptance, encouragement, loving challenge, forgiveness, reconciliation, and hospitality) in Christian ways.

A transformational approach to youth ministry will engage all family structures as being a place where God can work and transform all members into Christ followers. In this approach we must not slip into the habit of offering one family structure as the biblical solution to family challenges.


Photo Credit: Carl Zoch

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