What possibilities await conservative Anabaptism? What challenges should be anticipated? This booklet explores five dimensions of the conservative Anabaptism community, calling attention to challenges and opportunities within each dimension.


My father’s most quoted verse from the Old Testament was, “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people!” (Proverbs 14:34) The power of this verse rests in the contrast between two words, righteousness and sin. Humans have a peculiar habit of seeing and lamenting everything that is wrong or that possibly may go wrong and failing to see the good and the beautiful that is all around them. I am human, so I too find it easy to talk about the decadence of western civilization. But in this essay I hope to highlight the good, the true, and the beautiful, that was handed to me by my heavenly father and specifically by my parents and the culture in which I grew up. I have not ignored the sin of this generation and the reproach that has been brought upon us. But it is not a lament that will change the world; it is righteousness in Christ Jesus that marks the true revolutionary. I pray that you, the reader, will seize upon the place of family living in the Kingdom of God as you read and that you will be inspired to lay your hand to the plow as a follower of Jesus. Specifically, I pray that you will contribute to “the righteousness of the nation” by being faithful in your family, wherever you find yourself in its construct.

As you read, remember, family living is not an end in itself. It is embedded in a much deeper reality, The Kingdom of God as described in the Bible. But then too, let none of us forget that Kingdom living is composed of the moment to moment decisions that we make for good of ill. The Lord’s Prayer ends with the words: “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.” Family living dominates the times and places of our short lives. The real me is known best by my wife and children. If the “will of God is to be done on earth” in any credible way, it follows that family life is likely the primary place where this will happen. This is the vision and burden that makes me passionate about family living for Christ and his Kingdom. This essay attempts to get at or at least introduce the core issues of such a vision.


The Old Testament closes in a startling way. Malachi says:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

Malachi 4:5-6

With these few words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we are given the strong indication that when the “day of the Lord” came something very powerful was going to happen within the family; there would be a turning toward each other- especially a turning of the father’s heart toward the hearts of the children. Perhaps it follows that where fathers are consistently distancing themselves from their families, the presence of the Lord wanes. There is an indication here that when fathers do not do well, the earth is subject to a curse. Maybe, the curse of “fatherlessness” is upon us in this generation.

When Jesus came, he was not silent about family relationships. On several occasions we hear him speaking in affirming ways about family life and even offering clarifying points.

“And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”

Mark 7:9-13

And again as recorded by John:

“When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.”

John 19:26-28

But Jesus is careful to clarify where one’s first loyalties lie; Kingdom loyalties are first, family loyalties are second. Again we hear him speak: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

And He tells us how this relates to family growth:

“And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”

Mark 10:29-30

The purpose of this paper is to explore how we as Anabaptists are doing within the construct that Jesus sets forth. To do this, I will identify some strengths and some weaknesses, and then offer some ideas for carrying the vision forward.


A firm commitment to life-long marriage promises

The conservative Anabaptist commitment to zero-tolerance in respect to breaking marriage vows has served us well in a number of ways. First, it has given us a firm foundation to build joyful, trusting man/woman relationships that create a basis for invigorating love to flourish. It has also provided space for addressing troubled marriages. While much of our world is in the divorce courts at the first sign of trouble, we typically have a window of time to find solutions to our problems. This capacity to take vows seriously bleeds over into many areas of life. Anabaptists are known to keep their word. Such a discipline is not accidental; it is rooted deeply in the commitment to keep some of the most sacred vows that we will make in life.

Assuming that Paul is correct when he says that a husband and wife are models of Christ and the Church, the importance of keeping our promises becomes clear. When Christian couples cannot keep their promises, perhaps a watching world has reason to wonder about the validity of the claims of Christ.

A father with masculine presence and a mother with feminine presence

 In one generation we have witnessed an astonishing cultural shift from clearly defined gender qualities and roles to a massive confusion about what is male and what is female. Traditionally, we have been very clear on this point, even insisting on a clear difference in the clothing we wear. It may be worth noting that general culture did not arrive at their current position overnight. It happened one step at a time. Some of us remember the days when very few ladies wore slacks of any kind in public. There was little if any talk of trans-gender operations in those days. But times have changed. We have steadfastly resisted those changes and again I believe this has done us good.

How has it done us good? Well, such distinctions have insisted that men assume authority and leadership in the home. When a young man understands this assumed expectation and begins to train himself toward it, he has taken some of his first steps toward becoming a man. (I note here that becoming a man in the world we live in has become increasingly rare; the structures and models are fast disappearing that once produced real men.) Similarly, married woman extends a powerful influence in the formation of her daughters. When a little girl sees her mother in feminine clothing prepared to bake the week’s bread, cuddle the baby, and clean the house—all in a joyful state of mind—that little girl is well on her way to understanding what it means to be a woman with a powerful feminine influence. 

Undoubtedly, we are far less than perfect in these things, but I will defend the idea in the town square that one of the best places to learn how to be a man of honor and a woman of influence is to live in a home where the theology, the practice, and the culture support and model a clearly defined masculinity and a clearly defined femininity. It is quite likely you will find such homes among seriously committed Anabaptist people.

A commitment to serious child-training

Recently we were talking around the supper table about certain behaviors that we observed while shopping. One of my sons commented that he thinks a few children need to have a “wood-shed meeting” with Dad. It later occurred to me that his words would be quite unpopular, out of sync, and even deemed subversive or dangerous in general culture today. At the same time, it also occurred to me that his Mennonite peers would likely consider such a comment a bit outdated or maybe call it “old-style discipline.” And perhaps it is “old-style” enough to need some adjustments. But again, if contrasted with the results I am seeing today in general culture and even in some of our homes, old-style discipline coupled with love, presence, and belonging has served us well in producing some of the finest young people in the world today.

What are the components behind successful child-training?

In my opinion, first is the insistence on simple obedience. Sometimes this insistence can be mishandled by parents and is counter-productive, but still I will defend the idea that a child is handed a priceless gift when he learns to subject his will to his parents even when he doesn’t feel like it. This approach has been historically present in our culture. I hope and pray that it remains a part of our child-training rubric.

Second is the persistent effort to create sustaining personal disciplines and habits. Here are five categories where we have done reasonably well:

  • Worship

The habit of church-going is a discipline in our world that relatively few families have cultured and maintained. Observing Dad praying, singing, preaching, etc. is a blessing to any child. In contrast to mainstream Western Christianity, significantly fewer mothers in Anabaptist culture are going to church alone with their children. Again, we are well aware that not all of our men take worship seriously, but just the habit of attending church services regularly is a positive thing in family life.

  • Music

Perhaps this category should be a subset of worship, but I think it deserves special notice. A relatively high percentage of men in the congregation sing and enjoy doing so on Sunday morning. Many have developed their skills adequately to sing in choirs and even to conduct choirs. This is a phenomenon that is rare among the men in the evangelical world. When Mom sings, it is inspiring and a beautiful thing. When Dad joins her and loves it, it is a tonic to the soul of a family and a powerful culture builder. Our conservative families have done fairly

  • Work

Once upon a time we were mostly farming communities. Demanding physical labor was a given and most children gained a strong work ethic by osmosis. Fortunately, this capacity has persisted even as we have transitioned away from agriculture. But one does wonder if this cultural characteristic will continue into the 3rd and 4th generation on the other side of the dairy farm. We do well to guard against the loss of cultural momentum in this area.

  • Economics

A ready willingness to work and frugal living have traditionally kept a very high percentage of Anabaptists off the welfare rolls. These are personal disciplines that need to continue. They could be tweaked a bit to reduce our notoriety for being shrewd or stingy to a fault; but the tweaking should not push us away from a strong work ethic, frugality, and capacity to handle finances well.

  • Play/Pleasure

 Yes, I mean that! The capacity to truly be refreshed in play and/or pleasure is a discipline of life. Between making hay, milking cows, and forking manure, my brothers and I found time to play basketball, baseball, or hockey. I spent many hours doing creative things in and by the stream that ran through our meadow. My life was rich with play or recreation if you prefer to think of it that way. But, there was nothing professional about any of it. Our movement toward, and even involvement with, professional sports has reduced our capacity to play. Perhaps digital games and entertainment have an even greater capacity to diminish wholesome recreation. The exercise of the fingers running a Nintendo game doesn’t hold a candle to what is gained in a one-on-one basketball match with little brother in some spare time. No doubt this is simply an opinion of mine, but sometimes our opinions are correct. So, yes, I believe that knowing how to enjoy life is actually a discipline rather than a default mode when we don’t know what else to do.

A Capacity to Network

What do you do when your automobile begins to shudder, shake, bang, clatter, and then quit entirely? Likely you do as I do; you deal with the immediate crisis and then likely ask yourself the question, “Are there Mennonites nearby; if so, how can I contact them?” Why do we ask such questions so soon when we are stranded in a strange place? First, it speaks well of the character of the Anabaptist people. They are trustworthy; almost all of them can be counted on to do us good! Do we understand the magnitude of the blessing it is to belong to a network of people who can be trusted to do us good and not harm most of the time? What is at the core of this strength?

First, we are followers of Christ, and seriously so! This is primary.

Second, we have always highly valued family and community and most of the time have been willing to make the hard decisions in the daily grind of life to support one another unconditionally. It almost feels like this attitude is in our DNA, but I know it is rooted in our commitment to follow Christ in life. One of the unique aspects of this phenomenon is the value we place on maintaining extended family relationships, sometimes as broadly as our 2nd or 3rd cousins. This can be a problem, but most of the time it is a strength. This way of seeing things translates into a capacity to network significantly across a broad geography. What other group are you aware of who can travel across the United States, meet a total stranger except that they share our Anabaptist heritage and/ or orthopraxy, and almost immediately trust them? I am sure there are others, but I am more certain that a vast majority of the world’s population does not have access to this kind of network.

Finally, I observe that this networking is a safety net that transcends Nationwide Insurance or Obamacare. What foolishness would it be to abandon these roots in favor of insurance systems that almost nobody can really trust?

A strong identity and sense of belonging

Sociologists tell us that two very important questions that must be answered for healthy socialization among human beings are, “Who am I?” and, “Where do I belong?” (Or, “who do I belong to?”) Split personality disorders are often related to the inability to answer one or both of these questions adequately.

Several things have contributed to a generally healthy self-identity among Anabaptists. 

First is a unique history. It is a 500 year narrative following a story line that is truly different from mainstream Christianity. Even a casual historian today would acknowledge that the Anabaptists of the 16th century Reformation were unusual in that their influence on the post-Reformation era is out of proportion to their numbers and resources. In recent years, respect among non-Anabaptist scholars has grown for this influence. From what I can tell, that unique history was forgotten among our own people for about a century while we gave our children over to public education. The second half of the 20th century saw us open the doors of our own schools. A renaissance has occurred among us so that today a clearer understanding of our roots is more wide-spread than a generation ago. This is almost certain to cause a certain recovery of our identity.

Second is our insistence that Christians will live and act differently from a world that does not know Christ. We have a unique culture that is carried along in a stream of unique traditions. Of course there are many flaws in the models of separation that have appeared among us, but still it remains that just from a sociological perspective, the insistence on separation in lifestyle and practice has helped us answer the question, “Who am I?”

This strong identity is then the platform for a strong sense of belonging. We should know by now that you cannot just decide to belong. Belonging is not a primary cause; it is the net result of a convergence of a common identity, common traditions, common practices, common passion, and common goals. Such commonality does not happen overnight. It must be cultured over a lifetime and over generations. Yes, we have staggered about trying to do well with such things to be sure, but arguably, the Anabaptists have developed a few building blocks that have created an uncommonly strong sense of belonging, at least at times

My observation is that in most cases where there is committed buy-in to the identity and belonging phenomena, it is mostly because a Mom and Dad promoted such in their walk and talk. Where this is not the case, young folks often question who they are and to whom they belong.


Not accessible to outsiders or general culture

One of the more disturbing moments in my journey as a local missionary happened when an apparently sincere man told me something like this: “You have no idea how much my wife and I want to be like you and Shelia [my wife] but we can’t; we just simply cannot! I am giving up.” His words have haunted me in the middle of the night more than once. What about Shelia and I made our lifestyle seem inaccessible? What were/are we projecting? Was my friend correct?

Very likely, all of us have wrestled with this weakness. Why do seekers so often move our direction with a desire to belong but finally throw up their hands in exasperation at the supposed impossibility and then walk away? This seems to be especially true when non-Mennonite singles approach the doors of our families. More than one person has told me that our families are too tight to penetrate. We won’t let them in! Is this our problem, or theirs? Likely, the answer is, “Both”! 

But how should we think about our part of the problem of accessibility? First, we should acknowledge that there is a problem. Perhaps we are too proud and too arrogant to be self-critical. But sometimes we are too self-effacing. Inaccessibility is not unique to Mennonites and their families. Any group that seriously seeks to walk according to the rule of Christ in all things will surely seem to be so different that their way of life will also seem to be inaccessible. In Western culture, the gap between the churched and the un-churched widens everywhere. We should not forget the words of Christ himself:

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad
is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be
which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow
is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that
find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14

Ok, already I hear the objections. And I agree; such verses as these cannot be used as an excuse to disengage and not wrestle with the questions of accessibility. For a long time now, I have wondered as a pastor about what to do with messed up families. Are we powerless to minister to broken families and broken people? Do we have no ability to lead the un-churched to Jesus and his church? Can we build a pathway for those on the margins of society to become productive/serving members of society and the body of Christ?

An over-protection of family privacy that provides cover for evil-doers

“A man’s home is his castle!” So goes the old saying. And a happy castle it will be if that man is a good “king.” But what if he is not? Is he such a king that he cannot be called to account by another? If he is such a king, then the door is open for him to become a tyrant.

Mennonites have traditionally accepted a man’s home to be his domain. The assumption is that as a brother in the Lord, surely no husband and father among us would become an oppressor within his domain. It was a rude awakening for me when I began to realize that too many Mennonite homes were not like the home I grew up in. In short I have become aware of what I have come to call the dark shadows of an impenetrable patriarchy.

I am in full agreement with our obedience to the Scriptural injunction that men have the oversight in their homes. In the face of a popular feminist movement and emphasis on equal rights, I make no apology for male leadership. But I am deeply ashamed of an unrestrained masculinity that has created havoc in too many Mennonite homes. And I am also ashamed that we have not created accountability structures to protect the innocent and the vulnerable in our circles. Hidden sexual abuse, including physical violence at times, is inexcusable at any level. Do we have a theological or cultural construct that actually gives an evil man a place to hide? If so, this must change.

An inadequate view of the role of the ladies among us

Personally, I have become increasingly wary of our tendency toward political correctness. As the feminist movement has matured, it has dramatically reshaped the private and public places of America and the world at large. As so often happens, the church has followed in the trails blazed by such movements. And so, I observe us experimenting with the traditional boundaries that we have placed on the role of our ladies, especially in the church, but in the home and the workplace as well. Perhaps it is good for us to examine our ways, but I for one am very reluctant to ignore Paul’s directives in the Epistles.

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (I Timothy 2:9-15)

Pastors have often wrestled with what to do with the implications of these instructions from Paul. Arguments aside, the direction Paul points is obvious; women should take a secondary/helper role to men in leadership and teaching. We are foolish to ignore this teaching.

Having made this disclaimer which I felt necessary in order to be properly understood, I will say that we have not been very creative in maximizing the capacity of our ladies to touch our world where it counts with their God-ordained femininity. Too often they have no credible voice, and so are left to become whiners and complainers and gossipers whom people learn to detest and resist. This is an outrageous thing! Again, I ask the question, “Is there a flaw in our theology or our culture that needs to change?” I will explore some possibilities in the Vision section of this paper. Surely there must be a way to be true to Scriptures without demeaning the ladies among us. We need to find that way.

Deficiency in close, intimate relationships

As I have already intimated, I grew up in a happy home never doubting that I was loved. It was also a stoical home. There are strengths in stoicism to be sure. For example, we were taught not to be complainers, but to “take it on the chin” and get on with life, even if things were not going well or if we were mistreated. For the most part, I see this as a strength, even today. But often this translated into silence when we should have been talking. We found it easy to live with somewhat distant relationships rather than doing the hard work of dealing with misunderstandings that could have moved us toward rewarding intimate relationships. I do not point the finger at my parents both because I perceive this phenomenon to be deeply imbedded in the culture and because I struggle moving beyond this paradigm myself. Perhaps the greatest misfortune is that this cultural tendency carries over into church life as well, sometimes contributing significantly to the painful separations we observe.

This problem is most apparent when looking at our generally poor record of interacting with adolescents as they mature and struggle with their emerging sexuality. From what I can tell, significant discussion about sexuality between parents and children is too rare. This failure then bleeds over into other areas and tends to shut us down with respect to the refreshing relationships that could be. Personally, I believe we have lots of space to improve in these areas.

Biological family loyalty trumps Church commitment

This weakness may be observed in how some families have done homeschooling. Personally, I have no bone to pick with families who choose to home school; after all, Shelia and I are no strangers to the home school scene. We did some ourselves. However, I have seen too often that spirit of independence in the name of “the family comes first” that can undermine community goals and end with children growing up and leaving the Anabaptist tradition. My intention here is not to focus on homeschooling; it is rather to illustrate the tendency to put an important thing and even a good thing ahead of the more important thing and ending up confusing both participant and observer. Homeschooling is just one example among others of the bloodline coming before and between the born-again line.


Strengthening what remains

In some respects, a significant portion of our forward-looking vision should focus on strengthening that which remains. Healthy family life has been a significant strength among us. Undoubtedly, at least some of that strength is related to generational family farming. Perhaps at the core of that strength is the simple truth that family farming meant that a daily adult masculine presence was much stronger than the norm. Again, assuming a God-fearing, loving father with the amount of Dad presence that the family farm made possible, this created a powerful platform for training children that has been difficult to duplicate outside of the farm setting. For some time now I have been pondering the cultural shift that we are presently experiencing as the majority of our families leave the farm for other forms of employment. My point here is not to literally point us back to the farm so much as provoke thoughtfulness among us—and positive action, specifically on the point that it likely does mean less Dad presence in our families than what previous generations experienced. In the introduction to this essay, I referenced the curse of fatherlessness that has descended upon Western culture (see Malachi 4:5-6).

Another strong tradition among us that needs to be strengthened has been stay-at-home mothering. As a young boy growing up, I had no idea what a blessing it was to come home from school (public schools) with the confident assumption that Mom would be there peeling potatoes for supper and keeping the house orderly, clean, and inviting. In general our families have persisted in this tradition, but times have changed and continue to change at breakneck speed. Smaller families and modern conveniences have in many cases generated the possibility for mothers to work outside of the home, and growing numbers have gravitated toward at least part-time jobs. A blanket statement of condemnation for outside of the home work would surely be unfair. However, in many, if not most, cases, this has created more problems than it has solved. But what should a mother do if she has significant down time at her disposal? Can we re-envision the part that stay-at-home Moms play in our family and cultural life?

I am the ninth child of thirteen. My mother was busy with the wringer washer and more. There was little thought of a second job. The bigger thought was, “How do I get this all done?” The answer was that we all pitched in and helped! In spite of the fact that my parents did a remarkable job with living and caring for me and my siblings, I am not prepared to argue for a family size of 13, or even 10. But I am prepared to argue against pets replacing children as the chief object of our affections and for selfishly small family size. Of course we may disagree about what is selfishly small, but shouldn’t we at least have the discussion and push toward a community consensus that our young people can understand and build their families within that community consensus when they become adults?

And so, it seems to me that certainly we need to receive the challenge to strengthen that which remains. But we need more. We need to:

Model the joy of life-long marriage to mirror Christ and the Church

If we understand Paul correctly, the unsaved could learn something about Christ and the Church in an indirect fashion through the Christian husband/wife relationships that they observe. This is powerful and underscores yet another “Bible” that is being read by a watching, skeptical world.

“Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

Ephesians 5:24-31

Perhaps the best indicator of a healthy married relationship is the presence of joy at every level. What is more beautiful than to see a grandma and grandpa hand in hand, gazing affectionately at each other with joyfulness while their children and grandchildren (and maybe great-grandchildren) are gathered around them? We all enjoy such a picture of life. But such scenes do not just happen. Somebody cultured joyful family living over decades. Somebody enjoyed the blush of first love and went through the joy and pain of bringing a child into this world. And somebody rolled up their sleeves when the going was tough, paid the bills somehow, and did the hard work of training up children in the fear of God. Somebody sat down with their teenager and struggled with the difficulty of what it means to become an adult. All this and more; but all done with joyfulness, knowing that the Lord gives the reward.

I have publicly stated on different occasions that my wife, Shelia, has contributed at least 51% to whatever success I have experienced both in our family and in my public ministry. Of course she is not perfect and needs to be sanctified every day like the rest of us. Nevertheless, I stand by my statement. These things became abundantly clear to me in the prison ministry that our family was involved in when we lived in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. We were married less than ten years, had four children, and lived in an old farm house that needed remodeling. Yet, Shelia gladly partnered with me in having various men whom I had met in prison, come and live with us, sometimes for months at a time. I shall never forget walking into the kitchen one Saturday morning. Shelia was at the kitchen sink washing the breakfast dishes, our children were around and about her feet, and, Bobby, a young handsome cocaine addict was there as well in casual conversation with Shelia as she washed the dishes. I stopped and reflected a moment or so in my heart. What a priceless treasure! Here was my wife, young and comely, talking with a young man who needed our help, but certainly had the capacity to cause great disruption in our relationship and family. And yet, I had full confidence that all was well. And not only that, but more than one of those men told me that what they heard me say in the prison Bible studies was confirmed in their minds by the conduct of my wife and family. I am reminded of Peter’s words in I Peter 3.

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

I Peter 3:1-4

I am aware that I am pulling the passage a bit out of context, but the underlined passage makes the case. A Godly woman dressed modestly, subject to her husband, and committed to the Lord in every way, “preaches” every day without needing to say one word. I contend based on experience that some of the best missionaries in the world are traditional stay-at-home moms who are there because they love to serve God in that way.

Create wholesome child-rearing structures by incorporating relational strategies with the older emphasis on the authority of parents

My father was not a highly relational papa. He was not distant. He was present, but would not have passed the modern test for being relational. Yet, I knew he loved me. In fact it surprised me when I discovered that some were really quite uncertain of their parents’ love. My mother was more relational, but still maintained a clear sense of appropriate feminine authority and influence that included some distance. I knew that she loved me, too! They possessed an old-style child training rubric that was simple: “We love you (though they never said so) and we are in charge here; we expect cooperation.” It worked, for the most part!

By the time I reached my later teen years I was confident that I had in place a model that was superior to my parents’ model. The foundation of my model would be relational. My wife and I would be so relational that we would not need to use any authoritarian methods to raise our children. Our peers felt the same way. We were quite sure that we would do much better with our teenagers when they came along than the former generation was able to do. But we were misinformed, misguided, and just simply wrong. The truth was (and is) that we needed to answer the question of “Who is in charge here?” early in our married lives as children came into our home. Parent/child/teenager relationships are on a good footing when that question is answered early on in wholesome ways.

But our longing to move forward beyond my parents’ generation on the relational front was not unfounded. There is much ground to be gained yet in this arena, especially with adolescents and older teenagers. I long for the day when we will, as parents within our culture, know how to lead our young men from childhood into a wholesome, productive manhood and likewise our young ladies through adolescence to the beauty of womanhood with influence in her generation. I do not think we will get there by abandoning my Dad’s model. I do not think we will get there by abandoning the hard work of learning what it means to “turn the hearts of the fathers toward the children” and “the hearts of the children toward the fathers.”

Create accountability structures that help men be men and women be women

It is clear by now that the crisis in the Western family centers on the failure of men to be men. Many of our men have done quite well in the face of this cultural failure. But we can do better; we have work to do! I urge us to attack this problem with men head on. I have a few suggestions for a way forward here. With pleasure I can say that a number of these suggestions are already in place in some of our communities. Praise the Lord!

First, I suggest that mentoring become the norm rather than the exception and that such mentoring be community-based rather than seminar-based. There is a time to go away from home to receive instruction and input. But the core of our mentoring program ought to be community-centered. I will quickly agree that most of our communities lack the infrastructure and mindset to make sure every young man or woman in the community has adequate guidance and someone walking with them on the journey of life. But let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work so that the next generation has a head start on this thing. I have watched my wife with much satisfaction as she fills the role of a grandmother and mentor in our community. She cannot serve everybody, but she is perfectly fit to mentor some. As her husband I would strongly prefer that she does what she is doing rather than get a job to support a lavish lifestyle now that our children are grown and most of them have homes of their own. I believe that we have the internal resources to create one of the finest mentoring programs in the world—if we are willing to shift some priorities in the right direction. Let’s get at it!

Second, I have a deep appreciation for the small men’s and women’s groups that have sprung up among us. We need more of it; men with men and women with women. I would dare to say that we could greatly reduce the need for counseling centers if we could get serious small groups working together to mentor and disciple each other. The Pietists of the 17th and 18th centuries introduced us to “ecclesiolae en ecclesia,” or little church within the church. No doubt there were flaws in this way of doing things but it seems to me that this is our best shot at vigorous discipleship in large congregations where it is easy for folks to hide from their brothers and sisters. This approach may also provide a healthy buffer against the exclusiveness that some families engage in.

Third, I urge us to adopt a “No blackout area permitted” approach. This means that every person (especially every man) has somebody that they talk with about every area of life, including money, sex, and power. No exceptions allowed! Cultural and personal transparency is our best defense against hidden sexual sin, abusive parenting, spousal domination, or simply neglect. 

There is already some momentum in some communities along these lines. The plowing and planting needs to continue.

Blaze new trails, plow new ground

This is where things get exciting. My interactions with jail ministry and missions, both international and national, has shown that the perception of others is that our families are for the most part structurally strong and sound, and thus able to be a platform for ministering Christ to a broken world.

I have been much encouraged and even excited about the vision of some of our young couples. At the church where I am a pastor, the young families are deeply engaged in Kid’s Club activities, foster care, and even adoptions. These kinds of mission activities can be successful only if we have a reservoir of disciplined personnel from disciplined families. By the grace of God and committed parents, we have such. I see open fields! I see opportunity! I see work! I see sacrifice! In a broken world with broken families (or no family at all) I see an opportunity for our stable families to offer a haven and healing to the broken-hearted, the outcasts, the unwanted babies, and more. Let us share the blessing!

I have begun to wonder if we should develop legal adoption agencies to facilitate this kind of family ministry. Maybe we need to clear away the legal obstacles by sending some to be trained as lawyers and social workers for this purpose. I’m dreaming, I know, but surely we can move in these directions given the resources that are among us.

Spread the message around the world

My friend and brother in the Lord, Jan Wierzlowoski, from Poland, has told me repeatedly that the Christians of Eastern Europe are in deep need of instruction about how to be a Christian family. I have heard this same appeal from different places at different times. It does seem that the last Bible a decadent world is reading is the example of a Godly family. Such families still have strong appeal in spite of the decadence. It seems to be that this attractiveness could be leveraged for the cause of the Kingdom. We should explore the possibilities that exist within this context.

This is an area where I think our ladies shine. Listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through Peter:

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”

I Peter 3:1-2

I know I referenced this passage previously when lauding the role of a stay-at-home mom (see Model the Joy of Life-long Marriage to Mirror Christ and the Church) but I repeat it a second time because I am astounded at the silent witness to the unsaved (and saved) by a modest, veiled, lady who knows the Lord and honors male leadership with gladness. In addition it has become clear that Muslim culture will more quickly hear the message of the Gospel when it is accompanied by modest and veiled ladies who are living it out. And so, cheers for the ladies among us who embody what I speak of here.

One prominent contemporary writer has said that perhaps the most radical thing a man can do in the modern world is to marry a woman and live with her the rest of his life, no matter what! This writer is simply giving credence to the powerful witness that is left by a godly family. It seems to me that carrying what we have learned to a world that has gotten itself into a huge mess at a family level may be the next mission frontier.

In summary I urge us to:

  1. Build on the structures that others laid for us; refuse to tear down.
  2. Increase Dad presence in the family.
  3. Maximize the potential of the ladies among us while refusing to violate Biblical directives.
  4. Refuse to budge on complete recognition and practice of gender differences and the permanence of marriage.
  5. Become fathers and mothers to a homeless and neglected generation.
  6. Teach others how to train up a family for the Lord.
  7. Turn the world’s natural affinity for family wholeness into mission opportunities.


Imagine with me an exaggerated example to underscore the place of the family in the Kingdom of God. Imagine a Swiss-German Anabaptist couple who married in 1550 and during the course of their reproductive years, they had four children. And then let’s assume that they are good parents and their children turn their hearts to the Lord and serve him faithfully; they in turn each have four children who also follow after Christ, and so on generation after generation until the year 2000 AD. A further assumption of 30 years per generation yields 15 generations between 1550 and 2000. Mathematically, that means that in the 15th generation alone there would be 1,073,700,000 children. Now since their spouses all come from converts outside of the family, that means there are over 2 billion people on the face of the earth in the 15th generation who are followers of Christ. Without counting the percentage of the previous two generations that are still living, that would be well over 25% of the current world’s estimated population. If you increase the average number per couple to 5 children, the number of people in the 15th generation is off the charts: 30,518,000,000. Perhaps we should rethink our mission strategy.

Questions for Discussion

Six additional considerations when evaluating the families in your community

  1. Who are the heroes in your community?
  2. Who, in the family structure, holds the purse-strings, and what happens to excess funds?
  3. Do the ladies in your community feel like they are living a fulfilled life?
  4. What is the family/community definition of beauty?
  5. What music is loved by your youth?
  6. Where do your young men and women get their information about sex?

This article is the first part of a compilation of essays titled “Where To?”