How can I reach out to non-traditional families? Ron Deal
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Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Non-traditional families are now considered traditional. As churches, how do we meet changing needs of all families & serve them well—whatever their story?
How can I reach out to non-traditional families? Ron Deal
Ron: We all know society wants to change the definition of marriage. We all know society is open to alternative lifestyles. We all know that there’s an agenda going on. People want to live together, and by the way, more and more they’re coming to church and they’re not even ashamed that they’re living together and having sex, which is really the issue for us. They’re not even embarrassed. When I started in ministry, people they hid that like crazy, they didn’t want you to know they were living together. Now they’re just assuming everybody else is doing it too.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most, I’m Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Ann: You’ve been teaching, preaching, sharing God’s Word for over 40 years.
Dave: Don’t even say that. [Laughter] That sounds like I’m way old.
Ann: No but, but in that time
Dave: –gee whiz
Ann: –culture has shifted, things have changed, and do you feel like you’ve had to change your approach as a communicator with the audience now in front of you?
Dave: I mean in some ways no; you know it’s still the Word of God. It’s still biblical truth. And in other ways yes a million different ways because the audience has totally changed over the years. I mean families have changed. It’s a very diverse audience now. Not that it wasn’t 30 years ago but--
Ann: –which is exciting.
Dave: –yes it’s great but man you’ve got to understand there’s divorced families in your congregation, blended families, separated, you name it. The family is a different unit today and so we get to listen to part of a Ron Deal FamilyLife Blended podcast that I actually was a part of. It was three of us pastors.
Ann: Look at you, you’re famous.
Dave: I’m not famous. [Laughter] Ron’s famous but it was great to be with Ron and talk about this very issue, like you know, what’s the family situation in our churches today? This is actually episode 92 of FamilyLife Blended® and we had pastors Rob Bugh, Bryan Carter, and myself. I knew these guys, but man they had a lot of wisdom to share. Rob
Ann: –tell us a little, like what’s Rob?
Dave: –Rob Bugh is a pastor, he was for 27 years of Wheaton Bible Church in Chicago and serves on the board of greater Europe missions and after the death of his first wife, Rob married a widow, Rhonda Williams and they have seven kids in their stepfamily.
Ann: The title of his book is so good too, When the Bottom Drops Out--
Dave: Yes, [Laughter] and
Ann: –which is the story
Dave: –some real wisdom on this podcasts well. And then Bryan Carter is known to a lot of people on FamilyLife, he’s on the board of FamilyLife and he’s a pastor in the Dallas area, pastor of Concord Church. He serves on the board here at FamilyLife. He and Stephanie have three kids, and then there was me.
Dave: I don’t know if you need to know anything about me [Laughter] but it was a great conversation and you’re going to get to listen into it today. So here we go.
Ron: Guys let me just ask the question. Why does it matter? Why does somebody sitting there need to be recognized somehow from their pastor from the pulpit? Why does a little word like that saying, “I see you,” matter?
Rob: The way I’ve thought about it over the years is people in blended families for a variety of different reasons, especially where there’s been a divorce for desertion or some gnarly things, don’t necessarily want to be invisible in the church but there’s a part of them that wants to keep that invisible.
Rob: And they can be going full speed you know, in a variety of different ministries, but there, whether it’s a shame or whether it’s you know the fact that we were in Wheaton or you know a variety of different reasons that’s something that takes some digging and you know sometimes it will take me years to find out a particular family was you know, a step family or complex family. What I want to do is make sure that they know that their issues aren’t invisible to me, aren’t invisible to our elders, and to our staff, and certainly not invisible to God. That becomes a mercy thing that I want them to see that the mercy of God in Jesus Christ applies very specifically to their brokenness at that point.
Ron: We’re going to come back to mercy, but I’ve got to capitalize on that thought that you just gave me Rob, stranger. Isn’t it so ironic that people can be active members of our church, giving every Sunday, involved in service, and they still feel like a stranger? Like a foreigner in a land that they don’t belong in because of some part of their narrative that doesn’t quite add up to what a godly person should be, we don’t look like the other families in the room. We don’t–somehow part of my story I feel really ashamed about. So they walk in week after week after week feeling like a stranger. That is so not the heart of God for people, right?
Dave: And I think if we don’t uh, see them, as Rob just said, they feel like God doesn’t see them. So, we get to be a representative of, “We see you. Jesus sees you. He loves you. He is with you.” That can come through the mouth of one of their leaders.
Bryan: And oftentimes the church has not always dealt well, you know, with blended family ministry. We just historically, we have struggled to navigate the waters of loving people through some of life’s complexities and challenges and so I think we really get an opportunity to redeem those actions through the way we lead and serve and care and lead our people through it. But you’re right. A lot of people - they just feel disconnected. You can almost make the hurt worse when the church doesn’t handle it well and be able to love on people despite the narrative of their own background or family.
Ron: Now one of the objections that I sometimes hear to the work that we do here at FamilyLife Blended often comes from elders or senior pastors. They sort of fear being caught in the social agenda of the day. We all know society wants to change the definition of marriage. We all know society is open to alternative lifestyles. We all know that there’s an agenda going on. People want to live together and by the way, more and more they’re coming to church and they’re not even ashamed that they’re living together and having sex, which is really the issue for us. They’re not even embarrassed. When I started in ministry, people, they hid that like crazy. They didn’t want you to know they’re living together. Now they’re just assuming everybody else is doing it too. But with all of that social agenda change in the air, I think sometimes people pull back and say, “Well, I don’t know that I want to address or somehow make it okay, be welcoming,” if I can put it that way. “I want to be careful to not be over-welcoming and somehow say the standards have dropped here.” How do we from the pulpit, how do you walk that balance between holding to truth and at the same time being welcoming to people who have not lived up to truth, which is everybody in the room? But you know what I’m saying.
Rob: This isn’t and either or it’s a both and, right?
Ron: Explain what you mean.
Rob: So, we uphold truth, and we love like crazy. We welcome all comers but yet we have a rigorous commitment to God’s Word and what it teaches. So, our love is never dishonest or disingenuous, but our truth is never mean, and we’re not heavy handed and there are a couple different ways to fall off that cliff. You know you can deny the Word, or you can be exclusive in your love. Frankly that’s been some of the struggles we’ve had as senior pastors during covid, where you know minor things become major things. It becomes really divisive. But what I want to do is I want everybody to feel like they’re welcome. That’s our responsibility as a church. Yet without denying what are the historic tenants of Christianity, which means we major on the majors, and we extend grace on the minors. One of the things I’ve said over the years, is that as I talk about this with staff members or different pastors, please, please hold your views of divorce and remarriage with gentleness and forgiveness. Let’s not take a secondary, really a tertiary issue, and let that become a divisive thing. I never saw the death of my first wife coming. And there’s a whole lot of people who’ve been divorced that never, ever saw it coming. Man, do I want those people to feel welcomed in Jesus. I want them to know and relish the mercy of Jesus.
Bryan: I agree with Rob. It’s a great answer. It takes a lot of courage. It takes a lot of intentionality, because you can’t just get up there and just say whatever. There was a day where you could say it because it was understood. But when you’re trying to speak with truth and grace, you’re trying to communicate in such a way that the standard is high, right? But you also want, you’re trying–-it’s a delicate balance. I’ve been in a–we do this thing in our church called the cohabitation challenge every three years where I preach a message on cohabitation and then invite couples to move from cohabitation to covenant over a 90-day period. So, I just recently did it the last couple of weeks. It’s interesting, right? I’m preaching about cohabitation and sex and, but looking at the responses of people, and trying to help people understand, right? It’s shocking, right in terms of where the culture is, and I’m the only one that–they won’t hear what we’re saying anywhere else in the world. They won’t hear a man and a woman is marriage. They won’t hear the definition of marriage. They won’t hear our view on sexuality. They won’t hear any of this, right? And so, because we are holding to the tenants of scripture, we communicate those with all of the authority of God’s Word, but I think we also are also providing a pathway for people as they move toward that standard. We hold it high, but I think how we communicate, how we have conversations, what we say from the pulpit, what we say in circles in communications in small groups as we help people process through their theology. I think the context and world in which you live, like you said with the agenda that’s in place in the world, it requires us, from a theological standpoint, to be able to build strong robust churches that’s not just pulpit ministry but it’s also through the teachings that’s happening in our studies, in other areas as we equip people to really understand what it means to have a biblical worldview.
Dave: Yes the only thing I would add, because I can’t add anything, both of those guys nailed it. Bryan just used the terms grace and truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth. I think that’s the line we’ve got to walk. I would hope our church, any church, that a person that’s coming in blended, living together you name it, walking in would feel these people in this community is more loving than any community I’ve ever been around. At the same time this community and these leaders are more truthful, they’re not going to hide from the truth. They’re going to open God’s Word and say, “Here’s what God says,” and I’m going to feel overwhelming loved at the same time, right where I am. If that balance could be lived out like Christ did, I think they would come back and come back and come back no matter where they were living because they felt such grace and want to know where they stood with the truth.
Ann: Oh, that was so good. [Laughter]
Dave: Oh well, what else are you going to say? [Laughter]
Ann: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today and we’re listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal and we’re talking to pastors. Dave you’re one of those pastors, two other church leaders and teachers about how we have to change to speak well to our changing audience. And let me just add this, this topic relates to all of us. It’s especially to pastors and as you listen to the second half maybe you could even think of a pastor you could share this with.
Ron: Yes but guys, hold on, hold on. I mean you start lowering the standard with love and mercy, you never know what’s going to walk in the door. I mean man, there’s a slippery slope here and if we just start somehow, I know you’re saying hold the truth up high, but it just feels like you’re going soft a little bit there. I think that’s just going to lead to trouble in the local church. What would you say to somebody who pushes back in that way?
Dave: I would say Jesus was accused of the exact same thing. [Laughter]
Ron: It might be a huge compliment to be accused of this. [Laughter]
Dave: I would say that’s a compliment. I mean it’s going to be messy, and if it’s not messy, you’re not doing ministry. You’ve got to get in the messiness and bring the truth and the grace of the gospel right to where people are living. I hope it never gets that clean. It should always be messy and hard to navigate and that’s what the gospel–that’s where the gospel makes the most sense. It makes–and the power is transforming lives.
Rob: I sometimes come at this through a back door. We have a very intentional and long-standing ministry to Muslims, both within our church and different places around the world. And so, I might for example say, “Do you really care the Muslims come to Christ? And grow in Christ? And are discipled in Christ? “Yes,” so unpack for me what's the difference here, if somebody’s coming in with same-sex attraction or you know living together or you know just been through a divorce or two or three. Aren’t we all sinful before the cross? Then sometimes I’ll personalize and say, “Man if you knew the darkness that goes on in my heart and if I knew the darkness that goes on in your heart, we’d want to extend mercy to each other. Let’s extend, let’s live lives of mercy.”
Ron: I love it. You know I often find that somebody who pushes back that hard on mercy is in great need of it themselves. But they won’t own that in front of everybody. They won’t let anybody know that they have that need. They’re just going to keep up the appearance that they don’t have that need, and unfortunately sometimes those folks rise to the level of senior leadership, you know.
Rob: Right, I think that’s why we have to be transparent about our battles and struggles. That I’m no different than any person sitting in the pew or sitting in the small group or the woman’s Bible study or whatever. Because as I just said, I have things going on in my own heart, desires that are idolatrous and on and on. We all do. It’s part of what God is doing in our lives.
Ron: You know I think if I were to say what you just said in a little bit different words, somebody who says, “Yes but this couple in this blended family is there because of sin.” We all know not everybody is in a blended family because of sin, but sometimes they are. I mean just flat out, that’s the truth. So, when somebody pushes back and says, “They’re here because of sin. One or both of them or something in their background,” as if to say, so if we love them aren’t we, you know, spitting on the gospel or something?”
What I want to come back is and say, “Well, I’m so glad they’re here, aren’t you?” Yes they’re here, sin is a part of their back–they’re in the right place. You know, this is the hospital for sinners and we’re so glad that they’re here. Let’s welcome them with gladness.” That’s the work of the church. Otherwise, why do we even have church every Sunday? There’s a whole bunch of people walking in everyday worshiping God. It’s almost as if God’s forgiven them or something. Like we don’t want people to actually think that. That would be terrible. Sorry, my sarcasm just sort of comes out every once in a while about this. If we just stop and think about what we’re saying we would say, “Wait a minute,” as Rob said, “I need mercy. Of course, I want to be able to celebrate and go heavy on mercy for other people.” Any other final thoughts about that?
Bryan: I think that’s one of the commonalities you know with family ministry, right? When it comes to family ministry you would hope that if there’s ever a role where we’re aware of our own brokenness it’s in the context of marriage and family and parenting. I mean that’s–I come face to face with it on a daily basis. My own brokenness, my own sinfulness, my own pride, it shows up. So, I think it’s a framework, right that ought to provide us the space we need to show it toward others as we all strive to become like Christ. It shows up in different spaces, but, but in a real way, in a real sense, the family ministry is the context that God uses and oftentimes to shape us into Christ. So, I’m reminded of it frequently.
Ron: That’s awesome.
Dave: I remember that conversation with Ron and it was just a great conversation. And guess what? We’ve got Ron in the studio with us now, Ron Deal. Ron, what did you think? What do you remember? What, what thoughts do you have about our conversation?
Ron: Well Dave, in spite of the fact that you were part of the dialogue, I’ve been bragging [Laughter] on that podcast for ever since it came out. No, I’m totally serious. I have been touting that left and right telling people you have to share this with your teaching pastor, your senior pastor, your elders. We have got to spread this around because it is so, so good. What we do and say from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday after Sunday influences people directly about whether or not they feel safe, if they feel comfortable in the church. Seeing if does anyone even know that I’m here? What you guys shared I just thought was fantastic.
Ann: Me too. Well Ron, let me ask you this. If you just had one wish for the local church, what would it be?
Ron: You know I would want us to be more transparent. We just finished the clip there with Bryan Carter talking about how humbling it is to talk, and teach, and preach for him, about relationships because he has his own relationships. He goes home. He’s got a marriage he’s trying to work on to be a good husband, to be a good father. And, and his point is well taken, right? All of us, everybody within the local church, is wrestling through with life just trying to do life and relationships and family. It is humbling and we should share that. You know just recently I got a message back from somebody who heard our original podcast Dave, when it came out. They shared it with their pastor. Then this woman says fast forward about two months and from the stage this recently her pastor acknowledged single parents that were in the audience, and blended families that were in the audience. She watched as those people ran to the front after the service was over in order to thank the pastor. Some of them were in tears. They had finally been acknowledged in that significant way so that’s what we want to see.
Dave: Well I tell you Ron, you have helped so many, and you’ve helped me you know when I connected with you decades ago and I could never preach the same after you just reminded me, “This is who’s sitting in your church,” and it’s so easy as a leader to forget that. When you talk about marriage and family you say husband and wife, you know and just to acknowledge, no. There’re broken families, there’s blended families, there’s divorced families, there’s step families, there’s step children going back and forth. You make one comment, and you can feel the room go, “Oh he sees me. He knows we’re here.” And that, that means they feel like Jesus sees them and loves them.
Shelby: Hi I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. If the topic of the church’s understanding and helping blended families has piqued your interest, you’ll want to know about this year’s Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. You can join us virtually, yes, virtually. This year’s Summit is a one-day virtual event. So, if you haven’t been able to attend in the past year or so, this is the perfect time for you to learn more about how your church can minister to blended families in your community. The event is happening Thursday, October 12th, and you can learn more about it and register by going to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the FamilyLife Blended link, you can get more details there and sign up for the virtual event.
You know the clips we heard today were from Ron’s FamilyLife Blended® Podcast episode number 92. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts, or you can look for it specifically at the link in our show notes.
You know time is an interesting thing. I think many of us have problems with time management or we need to at least reexamine how we view time by creating rhythms that are good not only for us but for our family. Well tomorrow Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined in the studio by Jenn Pollack Michel. She’s the author of a book called In Good Time and she’ll help us wrestle through answering some tough questions about time management. That’s tomorrow.
Shelby: On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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