Monday, August 19, 2013

Dysfunctional families in mission

On Saturday we flew from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and today, Monday, we fly to La Paz for three weeks. Our two weeks in Brazil were intense and full. On our last day in Londrina I moderated the oral comprehensive exam of a Brazilian doctoral candidate I’ve been mentoring. Luis is a gifted theologian and psychologist and has served the last few years as president of a large interdenominational seminary in Londrina.
It’s no wonder progress in his doctoral work has been slow. This is the case with so many of our students, all leaders in their own spheres of influence, with little spare time. In addition, they have families they are committed to. Luis and his wife have two young boys who demand more time with their daddy.
Luis wants to focus his research in the area of family, bringing together his background in theology and psychology to investigate the role of the family in fulfilling God’s mission in the world (what we call the missio Dei). In his original proposal he planned to do field research among Christian families in Londrina, showing how the dysfunctionality of his case studies hindered their participation in the missio Dei. This carries a presupposition that God uses healthy families for mission. We’re been working for some time on refining this proposal, bringing it up to Ph.D. level. (Proposal development is extremely difficult.)
What Luis presented on Friday has evolved considerably from the original proposal with its focus on dysfunctionality; it is more objective, open to let the research make discoveries. But something very interesting came out in the actual defense.  One aspect of Luis’ research will be a hermeneutical case study of two biblical families, the intergenerational family of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob/Joseph and that of David/his parents/his many wives and children. One examining professor noted that the Bible is full of dysfunctional families. Yet these are the very people and families that God uses in the missio Dei.
This turns Luis’ original proposal on its head. Instead of exploring how God uses healthy functional families in mission, it seems we need to investigate God’s use of dysfunctional families and flawed people to carry out his purposes in the world.
A closer look at the Bible reveals very few “normal,” “healthy” (as defined by cultural norms) families, or even people, for that matter. Yet God took Abraham, David and a host of others and co-labored with them in moving history forward on paths of justice, righteousness, and salvation in its fullest sense. The story continues through the pages of the New Testament, and today dysfunctional families and flawed people (like me and you) work together with God in kingdom purposes. Maybe we’re all God has to work with.
Sometimes I wonder is there exists such a wonder as a “functional family” or even a “normal person.” Maybe we’re all on a continuum, gradually being transformed into the image of Christ, as Paul writes in 2 Cor. 3:18. And this image possibly has little to do with either functionality or normality. In the meantime (that slowly, by grace, is becoming kindtime), I’m glad God can use me. Just as I am. And as I am becoming.


  1. Everyone's crazy but me and thee. And sometimes I wonder about ... me!

  2. I love hearing from my dysfunctional (crazy) friends.

  3. This begs so many questions, doesn't it? It struck me that God used the families mentioned whether they were obedient or disobedient. In other words, God's movement persisted in spite of obedience amidst dysfunctionality in the Old Testament. Maybe this tells us about God's mission sans human decision to participate in that mission....sorry I'm responding while thinking. I could erase this but don't have time to rework it....with love from your dysfunctional friend.

  4. Go ahead and think/write. Something good usually comes out. It's good to realize that God's Kingdom will go forth, whether or not we do. (But I think He wants us with Him.) (Pardon the masculine pronouns. I don't do seminary-speak well.)

  5. I'm banking on the eschaton, on the new creation, on the new heavens and the new earth, on the resurrection of all, on the nations bringing their glory into the place of no darkness. So, yes, God's mission will succeed. What happens to us who have an opportunity to participate, I'm not sure. What happens when we get involved poorly?
    dysfunctionally? with poor attitudes? unwillingly?