June 9, 2005

Family Ministries

Ron and Karen Flowers

You can zoom in today on a portrait of the Adventist family
anywhere in the world and find many family units with strong connections to
God, one another, and the church. Any close-up of the world church family is
also bright with the enthusiastic faces of newcomers, happy to be part of God's
family and eager to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus in every
aspect of life, including relationships in the family circle.

The harder reality is that any collage of Adventist families
also exposes troubled marriages, worried parents, strong-willed children, and
disenchanted young adults struggling to transition from family faith to personal
belief. Any congregational album also contains the cropped snapshots of families
disrupted by marital breakdown, estrangement, and painful loss. The victims
and perpetrators of child sexual abuse and family violence are part of the Adventist
family picture too, though pleasant expressions often mask the trauma of daily
life experience.

Some faces, present in earlier photos, are now missing--perhaps
because human kindness has been in short supply or because the religion offered
has not met the deepest needs of the heart for love and belonging. The camera
does not lie. In too many Adventist homes the joy and energy for quality life
together, and for God and mission, are being drained away by family

Jesus elevated the matter of relationships to a moral plane.
Spirituality, He taught, is ultimately about loving relationships--with God
and with each other. The purpose of Family Ministries (FM) is to foster an atmosphere
of grace, encouragement, and hope that is conducive to healing and growth in
family relationships. It exists to provide an ever-expanding knowledge base
for practical family life education that helps families learn what it means
to be a Christian Adventist family. It is charged with keeping abreast of the
most effective ways to help families develop important relational skills, and
enable them to live by the principles of God's kingdom--at home and in the church--as
they grow together toward God's creation ideals.

Ultimately, FM exists to empower families for effective disciple
making--for creating the best likelihood that each family member will make Christian
values their own, relate warmly to their heavenly Father, and love others as
He has loved us. Loving families create winsome witnesses in their neighborhoods,
bearing living testimony to the power of the gospel to bring health and wholeness
to the family--the basic building block of a strong church and society.

The thrust of Adventist Family Ministries for 2000-2005 took
shape at the family ministries world advisory, convened by the General Conference
Department of Family Ministries (GCFM) in March 2001. Division FM directors
came together to sharpen their professional expertise and to chart the best
course for using the resources of the church worldwide to grow healthy families
in Adventist congregations. Five major initiatives became the focus of the work
of the General Conference office, in support of the division directors.

Curriculum for Church-based Family Life Education
In the 30 years since this ministry was reestablished, FM has reached a high
point of collective knowledge and expertise that FM leaders elected for this
quinquennium believe must be preserved as a foundation upon which the next generation
can build. Hence GCFM has set itself to the large task of facilitating the writing
of a comprehensive, biblically based curriculum framework for church-based family
life education. This work will articulate our best collective answers to the
questions: What does God want believers to know about the divine plan for human
relationships? What attitudes does He want His children to develop toward one
another? How will this mind-set and understanding affect our treatment of one
another in the church and in the family? What will empower families for effective
disciple-making within the family circle, and for a winsome witness among neighbors
and friends?

This monumental work cannot be done by any one division. To
preserve the unity of the church, the answers to such questions must reflect
the perspectives of the various cultures that make up the world church, and
a careful process to arrive at consensus on the answers to these questions must
be employed. An interdivision task force of family professionals, theologians,
and educators of long experience have worked closely with GCFM. Drafts of their
work have been shared with the global network of Adventist family professionals
and church leaders worldwide for input and refinement. The first in this series
of teaching resources--Human Sexuality: Sharing the Wonder of God's Good
Gift With Your Children
--was published in 2004, with more than 20,000 copies
distributed worldwide. The next two releases, scheduled to be completed early
in the next quinquennium, will deal with Christian marriage and parenting.

Certificate in Family Life Education
GCFM has prepared extensive curricular resources for an FM leadership orientation
and development program consisting of a minimum of 110 classroom hours. GCFM
has partnered with division FM directors to offer to all world divisions a departmental
Certificate in Family Life Education for the development of union and conference
FM leadership. The program is under way in 11 of the 13 divisions. GCFM has
also collaborated with division colleagues to establish academically based graduate
programs for the development of expertise in ministry to families through the
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University and graduate
programs at Loma Linda, Montemorelos, Sahmyook, and Pacific Adventist universities,
as well as at Avondale and Fulton colleges.

Annual Family Ministries Planbook
GCFM continues to provide--by popular demand--a major annual resource for ministry
to families in the local church. This resource is sent each year to the divisions
in manuscript form for their contextualization. The 2005 plan book will take
its place in a library of 15 such resources specifically designed to support
the pastor and church leaders in the celebration of Christian Home and Marriage
Week and Family Togetherness Week in the world church calendar. Each plan book
of 100+ pages is an idea bank for sermons and seminars on marriage, parenting,
making the church child- and family-friendly, and relating to one another in
love in the family of God.

Family Evangelism
GCFM partnered with the GC Ministerial Association to produce a first-of-its-kind
resource for evangelists and family professionals that overlays an understanding
of the family unit and how it functions onto the process of evangelism. Such
an approach has the potential to greatly increase the likelihood that we will
be able to bring Jesus to entire family circles, where we now baptize only one
or two. The GCFM resource Family Evangelism: Bringing Jesus to the Family
was distributed to more than 15,000 pastors and church leaders worldwide
during the 2004 Year of Evangelism.

Adventist Family Research
GCFM continues to foster ongoing research on the Adventist family. GCFM is currently
collaborating with the South Pacific Division and the Inter-American Division
on studies to identify family factors that correlate with lower incidence of
risky behavior among youth--behaviors such as premarital sexual activity, cohabitation,
violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other risky decisions that put their well-being
at high risk.

GCFM is also pleased to partner with Loma Linda University in
a research initiative to identify the best possible ways to perpetuate Christian
family values. The world FM leadership team and the collaborating researchers
dare to dream that such an initiative might culminate in the establishment of
a university-based family research center that could provide strategic planning
and oversight for research on the Adventist family worldwide. The stronger our
research base on the Adventist family, the more the church will have to share
with the world about the unique strengths of the Adventist family, and the better
informed church leaders will be in its decision-making and strategic planning
for ministry to families.

On a personal note, we love this work. The responsibility placed
on our shoulders to direct this ministry at the world headquarters has shaped
our personal lives and professional ministry now for 25 years. Indeed, it has
become our passion. We thank you for the many warm gestures of support you continue
to give to our ministry in this department, and to us personally. The friendships
of our colleagues around the world and of those with whom we have had the privilege
of sharing the good news of God's grace to families are our most treasured rewards.
The miracles God has worked in and through us all, as we have linked arms around
the world to bless families, stand as monuments to God's grace and wonder-working

As we think to the future, imagine with us an Adventist family
portrait in which the smiles reflect the sheer joy we might create, on earth
and in heaven, if in the support we give to ministry to families we acted fully
on inspired insight that family is the basic building block of the church, that
disciple making begins at home, and that loving Adventist families are the best
sermons ever preached!