The aim of this study is to reflect on biblical-theological perspectives on the relationship between the church and families. The study is undertaken against the backdrop of the challenges facing mainline churches, of which the decline in numbers, the lack of the support for programmes and initiatives on behalf of families, and the apparent inability to minister effectively to young people, are the most pressing. At the same time modernisation and globalisation have a negative impact on the well-being of families. This study aims to contribute to interplay between the church ministry and the ministry of families.
Two research questions guide this study. The first is whether Reformed churches, and for the purposes of this investigation the Dutch Reformed Church and the Netherdutch Reformed Church of Africa, do enough to support and strengthen families in a postmodern context. The second question examines the underlying theories and family ministry programmes of existing family ministry initiatives.
Four sub-movements within practical theology form the methodological framework of this study. The first movement describes the crisis within the church and families today (descriptive theology).
The second movement explores some normative texts of the Christian tradition (historical theology) with regard to families. At different stages of the Old and New Testament, different theological perspectives and strategies can be identified. In the post-biblical period the biological family was central to the process of the institutionalisation of the church and the spiritual aspect of family was underplayed. The challenge of the church in a postmodern world is to engage in responsible biblical theological reflection on marriage and family, and specifically the relationship between the church and families from the perspective of the kingdom of God.
The third movement within practical theology brings the findings of the previous two movements into dialogue with each other (systematic theology). In the love ethic of equal regard following this dialogue, marriage is seen as a non-hierarchical, post-patriarchal, life-long bond between two people. The family is iii
described as the primary context for faith formation. Although several studies suggest that family form, and not only family function, plays an important role in the well-being of children and family members, the primary concern of the church should be to develop a spirituality of marriage and family.
The fourth movement (strategic theology) within practical theology is made up of two separate, but related inquiries. Firstly, different models and methods for family ministry are investigated by means of a literature study. Secondly, a qualitative study done in five selected congregations is described in order to point out the underlying theories and resulting family ministry programmes. The findings suggest that only one of the five selected congregations has an integrated, coherent family ministry model. Although several different family ministry programmes were found in practice, a critical family ethic was lacking. This is the focus of the contribution of this study.