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. Like, 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. Welcome to Family Life 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 Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. You've been teaching, preaching, sharing God's Word for over 40 years. Don't even say that. It sounds like I'm way old. No, but in that time, 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? I mean, in some ways, no. You know, it's still the Word of God. It's still biblical truth. And in other ways, yeah, a million different ways, because the audience has totally changed over the years.
I mean, there's a lot of things come to my mind. One is everybody's got a cell phone, so they can research anything I'm saying. Back in the day, I was the authority, and they didn't even know what the Bible said, and they had nowhere to look.
Now they can. But I also feel like, over the last 30 years of preaching, that the audience doesn't know the Bible like they did 30 years ago. For sure. So there's a lot of illiteracy. So that's exciting in some ways.
I get to teach that. But here's the big one, and we're going to talk about this today. Families have changed. It's a very diverse audience now.
Not that it wasn't 30 years ago, but— Which is exciting. Yeah, 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's a different unit today. And so we get to listen to part of a Ron Deal Family Life Blended podcast that I actually was a part of. It was three of us pastors.
Look at you. You're famous. I'm not famous. 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? And this is actually episode 92 of Family Life Blended, and we had pastors Ron Boo, Brian Carter, and myself.
And I knew these guys, but man, they had a lot of wisdom to share. Tell us a little bit. Ron Boo. Yeah, like, what's Rob? Yeah, Rob Boo 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, Ron married a widow, Rhonda Williams, and they have seven kids, and there's deaf family. The title of his book is so good, too, When the Bottom Drops Out.
Yeah. Which is the story. He dropped some real wisdom on this podcast as well. And then Brian Carter is known to a lot of people in family life. He's on the board of Family Life, and he's a pastor in the Dallas area, pastor of Concord Church, and he serves on the board here at Family Life. And he and Stephanie have three kids, and then they're with me. Hey.
I don't know if you need to know anything about me, but it was a great conversation, and you're going to get to listen into it today, so here we go. 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 to people? 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 or 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. And they can be going full speed in a variety of our different ministries, but whether it's a shame or whether it's the fact that we were in Wheaton or a variety of different reasons, that's something that takes some digging. And sometimes it would take me years to find out a particular family was a step family or a complex family, and 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. And 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. We're going to come back to mercy, but I got to capitalize on this 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, that we don't look like the other families in the room.
Somehow I got a part of my story that I just feel really ashamed about. And so they walk in week after week after week feeling like a stranger. I mean, that is so not the heart of God for people, right? And I think if we don't see them, as Rob just said, they feel like God doesn't see them.
And so we get to be a representative. We see you. Jesus sees you. He loves you.
He is with you. And that can come through the mouth of one of their leaders. And oftentimes the church has not always dealt well 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 in 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 almost can 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 backgrounds or family. Now, one of the objections that I sometimes hear to the work that we do here at Family Life 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. Like, 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. 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 could put it that way. I want to be careful not to be over-welcoming, to 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. You know, this isn't an either or. It's a both and, right?
Explain what you mean. 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's a couple different ways to fall off that cliff. And, you know, you can deny the word or you can, you know, be exclusive in your love. And, you know, frankly, that's been some of the struggle we've had as senior pastors during COVID and where, you know, minor things become major things and 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. But yet without denying what are the historic tenets of Christianity, which means we major on the majors and we extend grace on the minors. And so, you know, 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 have been divorced that never, ever saw it coming. And man, do I want those people to feel welcome in Jesus.
I want them to know and relish the mercy of Jesus. I agree with Rob. I mean, 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, right?
I mean, 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're also trying to, it's a delicate balance. I mean, so I've been in a, we do this thing at 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.
And so I just recently did it the last couple of weeks. And it's just interesting, right? I'm preaching about the cohabitation and sex, 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 declaring, they won't hear what we're saying anywhere else in the world. They won't hear man and woman is married. 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 our, with all the authority of God's word, but I think we also are also providing a pathway for people as they move toward that standard. And I think we hold it high, but I think how we communicate it, 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. It's just, 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.
Yeah. The only thing I would add, cause I can't add anything, both those guys nailed it. Brian just used the term grace and truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth.
And I think that's the line we 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 and this community is more loving than any community I've ever been around. And at the same time, this community and these leaders are more truthful than it. 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 overwhelmingly loved at the same time, right where I am.
If that balance could be lived out like as 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. Oh, that was so good. What else are you going to say? You're listening to Family Life Today, and we're listening to a portion of the Family Life blended podcast with Ron Deal. And we're talking to pastors. Dave, you're one of those pastors, two others, 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. Yeah, 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 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 pushed back in that way? I would say Jesus was accused of the exact same thing. It might be a huge compliment to be accused of this.
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 where the gospel makes the most sense. And the power is transforming lives.
I sometimes come at this through a back door. We have a very intentional and longstanding ministry to Muslims, both within our church and in different places around the world. And so I might, for example, say, do you really care that Muslims come to Christ and grow in Christ and are discipled in Christ? Well, yeah.
So unpack for me, what's the difference here? If somebody's coming in with same sex attraction or living together or just been through a divorce or two or three, aren't we all sinful before the cross? And 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.
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?
Right. I think that's why we have to be transparent about our battles and our struggles. That, you know, I'm no different than any person sitting in the pew or sitting in a small group or in a women's Bible study or whatever. Because as I just said, I got things going on in my heart, desires that are idolatrous and on and on.
And we all do. It's part of what God is doing in our lives. You know, I think if I were to say what you just said in a little bit different words, somebody who says, yeah, but this couple in this blended family is there because of sin. Now, 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. And so when somebody pushes back and says, but 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? And what I want to come back is and say, well, I'm so glad they're here, aren't you? Yeah.
Right. Yeah, they're here because 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. I mean, 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 every day, worshipping 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 a terrible – sorry, my sarcasm just sort of comes out every once in a while about this. If we just stop and think about what it is 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? 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 room where we are aware of our own brokenness, as in the context of marriage and family and parent – 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. And 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 in a real way, in a real sense, the family ministry is the context where God uses and oftentimes to shape us into Christ. So I'm reminded of it frequently. That's awesome. 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. And Ron, what did you think?
What do you remember? What thoughts do you have about our conversation? Well, Dave, in spite of the fact that you were part of the dialogue, I've been bragging 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've got 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 and comfortable in the church and seen, or does anybody even know that I'm here? Like what you guys shared, I just thought was fantastic. Me too. Well, Ron, let me ask you this. If you just had one wish for the local church, what would it be?
You know, I would want us to be more transparent. We just finished the clip there with Brian 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 and be a good husband and be a good father.
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. And it is humbling and we should share that. My goodness, if there's one place in the world we should feel comfortable coming and confessing and saying, man, I am struggling as a husband. I'm struggling as a dad. I don't know what to do about this.
I lose control of myself. It ought to be the local church because I guarantee you, everybody there, everybody there can relate to one struggle or another. I want us to be more transparent from the stage so that people will feel more comfortable with each other being transparent, more confessional. That's going to create more community within the local church.
Dave, let me ask you because, I mean, you're in this same area. And I would say, as I'm listening to Ron, that's probably been one of your greatest strengths as a pastor of being able to confess. Being weak, is that what you're saying? No, I'm just saying, like, I'm not perfect and this is what it looks like. But if you had to share, like, what's your dream for the local church?
Would it be anything different from that? Well, I agree with Ron and Brian and Rob. I mean, when a leader is humble and confesses struggles and weakness and even their own sin, it's hard to overestimate what happens in the room. The walls go down. The second you're that vulnerable and say, I struggle, everybody in the room is like, no, you don't. You're a leader. You're closer to God than any of us. And it's like, no, I struggle. I know the truth. I'm going to tell you the truth from God's word, but I struggle to live this out just like you. I think the walls come down and I think— What comes to me also, Dave, what comes up is hope.
Like, oh, wait, he has struggled? Maybe I can have victory too. Yeah, and I think it draws people in. And I think people go home from that church and that community and they invite their neighbors. And they say, I'm part of a community that's safe.
You can come here, you will be seen and loved right where you are. You'll also hear the truth, but I think you'll feel safe here because our leaders are creating that and our people are creating that. And I think that's what you're saying, isn't it, Ron?
Yes, that's exactly right. And to be intentional about speaking to different types of families and situations, single-parent homes, blended family homes, you know, empty-ness homes. You know, when a pastor is working hard at that, connecting with everybody in the audience, then that message gets communicated to everybody. You are seen. We are all the same. We all are family. And by the way, Ann, you encouraged listeners to share this recording with a teaching pastor or somebody.
Very important to do. You know, just recently, I got a message back from somebody who heard our original podcast, Dave, when it came out, and they shared it with their pastor. And then this woman says, fast forward about two months, and from the stage, this, you know, recently, her pastor acknowledged single parents that were in the audience and blended families that were in the audience. And then 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 that they had finally been acknowledged in that significant way. So that's what we want to see more of, encouraging people in that way. So by the way, shout out to Matt Serber and Mission City Church in San Antonio for taking that step. Well, I tell you, Ron, you have helped so many, and you 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. And when you talk about marriage or family, you say husband and wife, you know, and just to acknowledge, nope, there's 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 means they feel like Jesus sees them and loves them. Hi, I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to David Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on Family Life 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 Step Family Ministry. You can join us virtually.
Yeah, 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 Family Life 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 Family Life 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 re-examine how we view time by creating rhythms that are good, not only for us, but for our family. Well, tomorrow, David and Wilson are going to be joined in the studio by Jen Pollock-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. On behalf of David and Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
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