On October 8, 2019, the Adventist Church Family Ministries (FM) Department turned 100. At a special celebration during the denomination’s Annual Council in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, on October 14, FM leaders renewed their commitment to “strengthen, inspire hope, and bring healing to marriages, families, and individuals, through the abundant love and saving grace of Jesus Christ.”
“Family Ministries focuses on people in relationships and helps families grow in love and live in harmony as the family of God,” said Elaine Oliver, who, together with her husband Willie are the FM current directors. “Family Ministries happens at the local church, and family ministries is evangelistic,” she added.
Willie Oliver shared that the department creates resources and organizes training events “designed to empower ministry leaders and churches” in their work with families.
“We apply tools to helps individuals communicate more effectively, deep in commitment in marriage, and to become better parents,” he said.
One Hundred Years of Growth
It’s been a long way since the Adventist Church understood the importance of working intently to support the families of the church. According to FM leaders, its origins can be traced to a conversation Arthur Spalding had with church co-founder Ellen G. White in 1913, two years before her death.
"I want to talk to you about the importance of the work to be done for the parents of the church," Spalding reported White told him. “The work of parents underlies every other,” she added. “It is the very most important work before us as a people, and we have not begun to touch it with the tips of our fingers.”
Six years later, in 1919, the General Conference Committee created the Home Commission, which saw Arthur and his wife Maud Spalding as its first directors. Soon the Spaldings began to create literature for the education of the whole family. They led the commission until 1941.
Decades later, in 1975, the churched voted to establish the Home and Family Service with Delmer and Betty Holbrook, as leaders. The Department of Families Ministries, as we know it, was voted into existence in 1995, and the Olivers have led the department since 2010.
Centennial Celebration and Award
FM planned a whole year of special activities and events to mark this centennial, and they suggested local churches to get involved. Activities include two Family Emphasis weeks and the suggestion of honoring a couple, person, or family in each congregation that has made a big difference in helping to develop stronger and healthier families.
Leaders also advised making good use of resources such as sermons and seminars specially prepared for the centennial year. Resources include the Olivers book Hope for Today’s Families and their 2020 Planbook Making Disciples: Reaching Families for Jesus, which can be downloaded for free.
During the October 14 celebration, FM leaders also presented the Arthur and Maud Spalding Medallion for Lifetime Service to Karen and Ron Flowers. The Flowers worked in connection with FM for more than 30 years, 12 of those years as its directors.
The award was presented, Willie Oliver said, “for their mission to Family Ministries, and for being mentors of other leaders in the area.”
Adventist Church president seconded.
“This is in recognition for your extended service to Family Ministries that, by God’s grace, continues,” he said.
Characters for Heaven
In a conversation of the sidelines of their presentation to the Annual Council, the Olivers said that the keyword in the department they lead is growth.
“We want individuals and families to learn and practice new skills for conflict resolution, and to grow into the families God wants them to be," Willie Oliver said. "In our seminars, we train members and leaders to feel more empowered and help themselves and others to support and strengthen families."
In his closing prayer at the end of the celebration, Wilson reminded that God established the family from the beginning.
“We ask that that great legacy that began in Eden and will continue through eternity,” he prayed. “And we ask that each of us may take that personally, that we may encourage, support, and direct…children and grandchildren, since we are helping form characters for heaven.”
Wilson then closed with a wish.
“May each of us be involved in Family Ministries,” he said.