I can see merit in St. John Chrysostom’s teaching about the "mini-church." But what can I do? My spouse and I have a hard time finding consensus when we disagree. We tend to get into fights. My spouse doesn’t practice the faith. My children are too young. My children are too old. My children aren’t interested in Jesus or the church.
These are some common objections that arise when the thought of working toward a mini-church at home is brought up. But think for a moment about some of the conversion stories in Scripture: the Samaritan woman at the well, jailer in Philippi, or St. Paul on the road to Damascus (John 4:5-42; Acts 16:22-34; 9:1-21). In each instance, God did a great work despite the odds. Now if God can work in these seemingly hopeless cases, surely he can work in our families. In this article, we want to propose a simple approach that can help you welcome Jesus into your home and develop greater unity in your family.
Establish a Plan. Start by defining the goal that you as a married couple want to adopt for your family. Ask yourselves: "What goals do we have for our marriage and family? What is the current state of our marriage and family, and how does it measure up to these goals? What action steps can we take to help us get closer to these goals?"
Begin by writing out your corporate mission statement. For example: "We want to grow in our love as husband and wife, and we want our children to love each other." Or: "We want our family to be in unity, responsible, and hardworking." One couple’s mission statement was simply this: "To love, to serve, to stay united."
It’s not that difficult to come up with mission statements that reflect your goals, but it is far more challenging to live them out. So once you have written your mission statement, take a couple more sentences to explain it more specifically.
The next step is to try to measure the climate in your home. On your own, make a list of at least five strengths and at least five weaknesses in your marriage and family. Items might range from financial issues to health issues to school issues to spiritual issues and everywhere in between. Then, compare your list with your husband or wife’s list. If you disagree, try not to make it too personal. Keep in mind why you are doing this in the first place. You’re trying to find consensus and build up your love for each other.
Next, choose the two most encouraging strengths and the two most glaring weaknesses on your combined list. Working together, draw up a list of ways you can continue to develop the strengths over the next year and a list of ways that you can improve on the weaknesses. Once you have set your action steps, be sure to revisit them every couple of months to see if they need to be adjusted in any way.
Corporate and Individual Goals. As you work through this process, be sure to distinguish between corporate goals and individual goals.
Corporate goals are those goals that apply to every member of the family. Some goals in this category might include praying together, expressing our love for each other, and doing our part to make our home more peaceful. Other corporate goals might focus on moral issues like honesty, generosity, respect, and purity. Another set of corporate goals might focus on functional items such as responsibility for chores and being home for family meals. Whatever corporate goals you choose, make sure they are clear. These goals should not be seen as options but rather as expressions of the heart of your family’s philosophy.
Individual goals are oriented more toward each person’s situation—what they consider important and what they want to achieve. For instance, one family member may like music and the arts while another prefers sports. Or one child may value a technical education while another prefers business. It is important to know that while individual goals are important, they should never supersede the corporate goals of the family.
It is not uncommon for individual family members to make decisions without reference to the family’s corporate goals. For instance, the husband might choose to spend all of Sunday golfing or watching television instead of spending some time honoring the Sabbath with his family. Or a child might join a dance class whose practice and performance schedule throws the rest of the family into disarray. These types of choices risk fragmenting the family identity, making the family into not much more than a collection of individuals living under the same roof.
Mind you, it’s not always easy in the real world to find the right balance between individual and corporate goals. For all of its goodness and for all of the opportunities that are out there, the world we live in often places serious strains on family life. Everyone needs to know that they are appreciated and honored. Wives, husbands, and children all need to know God’s love in their homes. Everyone needs to learn how to give and take. When the corporate family goals are kept in the forefront, everyone’s needs have a better chance of being fulfilled. But when individual goals and desires overshadow the corporate goals, these needs can get sidelined, and the result can lead to frustration, isolation, and even division.
The Value of a Family Meeting. When was the last time you gathered your whole family together? Sociologists have observed that it is becoming increasingly rare for families to spend time together talking about their goals and dreams or working out issues that affect the whole family. Every family should get together on a regular basis, if only to pray together. Even if you start with everyone reciting the Our Father before bedtime, you have made a good first step, and God will bless it immensely.
If you asked, would your children be able to say what the philosophy of your family is? Try it and see. Get your family together and have each of them write down what it means to be a family. Compare what everyone writes down. Then talk about ways that you can establish a more united family life—things you can do to help everyone become the kind of person God wants them to be. You may not get very far at the first meeting, but be gentle and persist. Tell everyone you want to work toward agreement on two family goals. Try to be specific so that everyone understands the goals and their purpose. Make sure every family member has a chance to interject their own suggestions on how to reach these goals.
Remember: You are trying to find ways to form your family into a mini-church. So be sure to include the spiritual aspect of your family life with the other aspects. If your family is not used to talking about prayer or the church, start small. You may want to ask how each person thinks you could do better at loving each other. Or you may want to ask if there’s any way the family can work on forgiving each other more readily.
Whatever topics you decide to cover, encourage everyone to work together for the good of the family. It may surprise you to see how much your children value kindness, sincerity, and love. We don’t often think about this, but children really do want a degree of order and discipline. They want to be part of a loving family that is gathered around a common goal. They want to live in a peaceful environment where everyone enjoys being together.
Finally, make sure that you have fun along the way. As busy as life can be, try to schedule a time when everyone comes together just to enjoy each other’s company. It’s important to schedule times when everyone comes together for a "family night." Ask your children what they would like to do for fun. Even if it doesn’t immediately appeal to you, go ahead and do it. What better way for them to know that you value them and respect them?
Be a Little Church. Establishing a common philosophy and goals can help unite your family in ways you never expected. Who knows? Perhaps the child you thought was the most difficult will rise up and take the lead. Perhaps a longstanding grudge between you and one of your children will melt away as you work together. As we keep saying, God blesses every step we take because he is so committed to family life. He loves watching us become shining lights of love and unity in this world.
Whatever you do, never stop telling your spouse and your children how much you love them. Never stop telling them how much Jesus loves them. Jesus wants to help your family become a mini-church. May God bless you and your family deeply!