‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is an oft-quoted phrase. It’s a nice sentiment and there is no doubt much truth in these words. However, the kind of village matters! As our society becomes increasingly hostile to the message of God and his good design for families, this will become a particular issue for Christians.
Where has the ‘village’ gone?
Thanks to a year of COVID lockdowns, social distancing and other restrictions, many families’ ‘village’ has shrunk, faded into the background or even disappeared. Families have had to turn inward, causing changes to how they function.
Many families have relished the chance to slow down and focus on their relationships, setting new family habits and routines. The sound of children playing and the sight of families out walking together (looking for teddy bears in windows, no doubt) became common. My own family, with young adults and a teenager, really enjoyed the ‘forced’ family time. Gone was the question, ‘Who is home for dinner?’. In place of our usual busyness, we created new family routines and traditions. These were some of the blessings that arose from a difficult time.
At the same time, lockdown placed enormous stress and strain on many families. For those families, the lack of the usual ‘village’ support networks made a tough situation even tougher. Travel and visiting restrictions separated people from their extended family, leaving them with no one else to turn to. Stuck at home with no outside help, many parents realised more than ever that they can’t raise their children alone.
So where is our ‘village’ in today’s world? In this era of Zoom and social media, has our village become a virtual, worldwide ‘tribe’, rather than a physical, local community?
The Christian village
As Christians, surely our primary village will be our church family—the group of Christian brothers and sisters we share fellowship with each week.
Unfortunately, in the past twelve months, church family life has also taken a beating, since we’ve been limited in how we can meet together. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need each other perhaps more than we realised. Virtual meetings and church services don’t really satisfy our need for fellowship and community. If a ‘village’ is going to help us raise our kids, then its people need to be physically present in our lives.
Now that things seem to be returning to normal, there is a growing awareness of the need to create a strong community by building intentional connections with one another. This requires us to break down barriers caused by culture, language, age and more subtly those created by your status of married, widowed, single, divorced, with children or without.
What could a Christian village look like? I imagine a church family where each person, regardless of age and life circumstances, regularly interacts with people who are older, the same age and younger. In theory, this is what we already have. But in practice, many of our churches are still separated by age: families tend to stay with families, single people with other singles, empty-nesters with empty-nesters and so on. Sometimes it’s appropriate and beneficial to meet with others in our age group. But if that’s all we do, I think we and our children miss out on the breadth and depth of relationship that we could experience in our church family.
Imagine if the norm in church families was for our young children to grow up with ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, ‘grandparents’ and ‘cousins’, following Jesus together and becoming ‘iron that sharpens iron’ (Proverbs 27:17). This kind of ‘village’ would indeed be a blessing to every member, and a blessing to our children as they grow and develop.
The Bible doesn’t give us detailed instructions on being parents, husbands, wives, children or even friends. It gives us the underlying principles of loving God, caring for the world he has given us and loving others. So it’s helpful for us and for our children to see people of all ages living out their relationship with Jesus—forgiven by Jesus’ saving work, and being transformed by his word through the power of the Holy Spirit.
To do this we need our church family to be full of people who are intentional, committed, caring and above all Christ-focused in how they conduct their relationships—regardless of life circumstance. We need to make time for people, opening our home and inviting them to join our activities outside of church. As we do this our children’s lives will be enriched by the precious blessing of belonging to a community of people united in Christ.
Let Mothers Union enrich and equip your village
In many Anglican churches, you will find a small group of ladies who have committed themselves to building a supportive Christian village for parents and children. We are members of Mothers Union—a worldwide organisation whose mission is ‘to share Christ’s love by encouraging, strengthening and supporting marriage and family life’. Sometimes we visit new mothers in hospital with handmade gifts; sometimes we support families who are attending family and children’s courts; all of the time, we pray. Our older members also look for opportunities to provide counsel, guidance, wisdom and love to younger women in our churches.
Mothers Union Sydney also has a ministry that reaches beyond the local church. We want to help all Christians to grow in their love and knowledge of God and to understand how this transforms family life. We want to equip all Christians to nurture young children in their faith. We do this by running parenting courses, providing seed funding for workers in churches (Like this), and through our annual free seminar which addresses current issues.
This year’s seminar is on Friday, February 26 and it’s all about ‘Hope’. Join us, either online or in person (at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney) to hear how our real Christian hope impacts our lives, churches and family relationships. Why not attend with a group from your church family? Registration is FREE but in-person places are limited. Register today at www.musydney.org.au.
Ann Cunningham, a mother of three, co-ordinates Mothers Union Sydney’s education program. She develops and delivers seminars on parenting and child development for churches and other organisations.
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