I saw The Shack the other night. I really liked the movie! I’m a pastor and I know that, for some, that means I should NOT have liked the movie, but I did. Here’s the reason why…
The reason why I liked the movie is really simple: Movies are supposed to be entertaining. I went to be entertained and the movie entertained! As far as I'm concerned, the movie is an excellent venue for a family event.
I was more than entertained. I was moved. The movie is strong on several family-themed fronts. First, it has a potent theme of forgiveness that made me cry several times. The main character, Mack, is walked through a divine journey of being able to forgive his father, his daughter's killer, and even himself. The movie demonstrated the powerful crippling effects associated with a person refusing to extend forgiveness, seen in Mack’s un-engaged, self-focused, ‘shut-down’ demeanor with his family and with his life. The viewer is confronted with the damning effects even when the refusal to forgive is directed at the self. Jesus identified forgiveness as a 'show-stopper' for salvation, challenging family members to forgive others or they themselves will not be forgiven. The movie demonstrates how the greatest of offenses can be forgiven.
Mack’s journey involves him being confronted by God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; all portrayed as a black woman, a Middle-eastern male, and an Asian woman, respectively. Mack is ‘enraptured’ in a visionary experience where he spends the weekend in the same shack where his daughter was recently killed, the very same place where he got ‘stuck’ in life. The underlying message preaches that God meets us the places we get stuck. The gospel message is that He comes to set us free and restore life. These are great messages for around the dinner table.
Redemption is a strong theme in the movie. Mack was constantly fighting against the divine prompts to forgive, not knowing his stubbornness was holding him a prisoner of isolation. But once forgiveness was extended, Mack experienced a touching reconnection with God, his family, and with life.
Probably the most controversial aspect of the film revolves around the artistic liberties taken in the portrayals of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. This is really simple for me. I don’t have any problem with artistic liberties being taken within the context of Christian-themed entertainment. (Heck, I don’t even mind artistic liberties being taken in the context of worship. If you attend church services these days you know what I’m talking about since today’s church services look NOTHING like they’re described in the New Testament…talk about extreme artistic liberties!) This aspect of the movie will prove to be quite the conversational fodder for moms and dads to talk about the Trinity with their children.
It’s good to remember that movies are designed to be entertaining, and because so, they ought to be experienced with the context of entertainment. This is a contextual ‘move’ that people make automatically; like how we experience watching a comedy different from how we watch a documentary or how we read a comic book different from how we read medical journals.
In regards to the movie's obvious evangelistic shortcomings and other theological concerns, I would say that there’s much room for criticism; but since I don’t place this movie within those categories (contexts), I find those critiques to be misplaced and I’m perfectly fine with artistry. Go enjoy the movie with your family!
Jeff McAffee is the Lead Pastor of Parkway Church in Phoenix, AZ.
There are many models of family in the Scriptures. There are patriarchal families; those in which the father rules over an extended household. There are nuclear families; those in which only parents and immediate children live together. There are examples of couples living without children or other family members and singles who seem to have lived alone or in small groups. While such examples are descriptive of the variety of family structures found in the Scriptures they do not establish what is normative in terms of God’s desire for the family. Their existence does raise the questions, what constitutes a family?
From the perspective of word studies, in the Scriptures the concept of family draws its meaning from the image of house. The Biblical family was an extended one, consisting not only of those who were united by blood, but all who lived under the same roof. The ethos of family unity was strengthened by the Israelite code of loyalty to one's own family group and corporate responsibility.
The establishment of a covenant between God and the nation of Israel has become the foundational focus in developing a theology of the family. It is covenant love that provides the basis for family. For this reason, family means much more than consanguinity, where bold ties provide the only basis for belonging. Family is where we are loved unconditionally, and where we can count on that love even when we least deserve it. Therefore, in order to understand the family, we must understand a covenant.
A covenant included vows which clarified the expectations of its members for each other. In a covenant the terms exist in order to consummate and maintain the relationship. Furthermore, God serves as witness to all covenants. He is a partner and judge in all relationships.
When family members experience covenant love, grace, and empowering, they will be able to communicate confidently and express themselves freely without feat. Family members will want what is best for one another. They will make a concerted effort to listen, understand, accept differences, values, and confirm uniqueness.
Jesus created a new family, a third race, neither Gentile nor Jew but “in Christ.” Our Lord neither denied nor eliminated the biological family; He provided the means for the human family to become part of His divine family. The dysfunctional family can be healed only by joining the household of God. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).
Through God’s Spirit, the church is the extended family for those who receive Him. It is only in the power of God’s Spirit, within the church, that the nuclear family can resist the social forces that attempt to remark the family. As the church approaches the next millennium, it must assume its role in redeeming and strengthening the family.
Ministry With Families, 2014
Each Christmas before opening the presents, my father would read Luke 2, no gift was to be touched until after the chapter was read. You can imagine the anxious distraction of wanting to get to the present, and the learning of patiently listening knowing that if I did a good job of sitting still and listening that I would get to see what was for me. As I got older, and learned to read, my father would assign the reading to me, and everyone sat patiently or impatiently listening to me make my way through reading the chapter aloud, and at times asking for help with a word hear and there. But once it was read, then the presents could be opened. This was a moment when I was learning something about God’s Word in application to my life.
In recent years, many churches are changing the layout of the sanctuary of the church. This is an intentional effort to do away with the traditional look of the pulpit. It has been replaced with what some hope will be more appealing to the younger members of the church, and potentially draw in those from the community who are looking for a place of worship. For a lot of congregations, there are those who have the opinion of keeping things traditional and then there are those who want something aesthetically modern that looks less like a traditional pulpit and choir stand to something more like a stage that can be used for multiple purposes.
The same as with the look of the church sanctuary, over the years, many churches have drifted away from traditional church liturgy. This is an effort to do something fresh and new, again in an effort to draw in more people, or to keep current members interested. There are a variety of ways that churches set out to be relevant to the present times, and these can vary depending on the geographic location. There are many factors of whether a church is in the North or in the South, Urban or Rural, East Coast or West Coast, and on and on, that can become a part of the vision for something that is fresh and appealing to the potential congregants. Of course, the size of the church and the budget to make changes is a factor in taking on these kinds of efforts.
In this effort to be current and relevant, many churches have moved away from traditional liturgy, as part of this finding a new way to reach people. This is done from the thought process that ‘we already know that, now let’s add something fresh’, but what happens after about a decade is that the younger church members have never heard many of the things that their parents knew by heart. This creates within a congregation a whole generation that is not familiar with many of the songs of the church and or the liturgy. There is nothing wrong with something fresh and new, but we also have to build a foundation of learning for the next generation.
Many of the campmeeting songs are are rarely sung in younger congregations today, because it has been exchanged for a larger variety of sounds that happen in church music today. And in a lot of cases, the song part of the service has become more of a performance/concert style presentation to the crowd, which is very much in contrast to the corporate singing that once dominated the church’s style of music, where the parishioners would sing together, and in some songs would sing a response to the leader of the song. When congregations completely delete hymns from worship service, and don't sing ‘Rock of Ages cleft for me’ or ‘So I’ll cherish the Old Rugged Cross’, we are also deleting a great opportunity for conversation with our children. Even though most of us don't live in a geographic location that would require hiding in the side of a rock, we all know what it is like to need refuge of some sort at some point and time. We all know what it is like to need God to grant us safety.
Once upon a time there were key parts of liturgy, such as responsive readings, creeds or affirmations, that the congregation as a community of faith read together, as a unified voice stating what it is that we believe and understand according to our faith tradition. In this way, the children are learning that what their parents believe is part of a larger community of believers. Creating a sense of belonging, not only within the family, but with the understanding that the people around us in the sanctuary are a part of our community of faith. It shows that what ‘I’ believe, is what ‘we’ believe.
The vocabulary building that takes place in the traditional liturgy is immense. To be able to explain or define words and concepts to your family can restore your own interest in the study of God’s Word. In this further study, one might also find new and exciting ways to make every family situations an opportunity to keep the values and principles a part of the family conversation. A child might ask the parent, ‘what is a cleft’? This is a teaching moment, where the child can learn a new word, and it might be the opportunity to take the family hiking or camping to show the child an actual cleft in the side of a rock, and give the word a visual that will for ever change the understanding of what it means to find a place to go in times of trouble. This can even help the parent share a testimony of a time when God protected and provided, not only give real life application, but also showing how God is important to the family's story from generations past til the present.
“And what nation is there so great that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I am setting before you today?
Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but teach them to your sons, and your grandsons. Especially concerning the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, “Gather the people together to Me, so that I will let them hear My words so that they may learn to fear Me all the days they shall live on the earth, and so that they may teach their children.”
Modern English Version (MEV)
The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association.
Marva C. Williams, M. Div
Although the word “family” can be defined by various means and methods, there are particular blanket functions required of any and all family types. The blended family may experience challenges that are brought on due to contrasting traditions, values, habits, and personalities that are found in each individual of which the blended relationship is comprised. Several patterns of concern center around the idea of integrating these various conditions into the blended family so as to give a solid and safe identity to the blended family relationship.
Upon examination of necessary concerns in any and all families, economic support is by far one of the most critical. Concentrated effort through proper work ethic and a sense of familial responsibility must be in place to ensure peaceful co-existence within the blended family with regards to money and budgeting.
The terms “child support” and “alimony” are recurrently used within the context of the blended family. Without personal maturity and integrity, which includes a proper sense of domestic duty and responsibility to the relationships one has created, these two terms can initiate and create patterns of argument, fueled by bitterness and animosity. Without the virtues of wisdom and sincerity in those who make up this unique group, economic security is highly threatened in the blended family situation.
Another test the blended family often faces is that of emotional support. Emotional support is developed as intimacy is fostered through acts of mutual concern provided by all members of the family unit. Focused effort must be made to connect emotionally through learning better communication skills and engaging in family counseling that will help establish family identity. The word “blend” suggests learning to “mix smoothly” while remaining inseparably together. To achieve this perfect blend results in both security and solid, emotional oneness.
The goal of the blended family should be to achieve the highest quality of emotional support possible in order to create a safe place that will cushion pain and distress felt from situations occuring outside the family relationship.
Stepfamilies (another term for blended families), encounter various dilemmas regarding socialization. Children who comprise blended families are often subjected to very different norms, values, behaviors, social skills and even social positions as they encounter all of the aforementioned aspects in multiple family settings. Not only is this scenario confusing for the children involved, but it is also disconcerting to the adults as well, as they experience pressure to “be all things to all people”. It is important that this unique family unit discovers ways that defines their exclusiveness in spite of their multiple-family social surroundings.
In order to establish security and identity within the blended family, the members must persevere and commit to the intention of resolving conflicts created by personal differences. As the family determines and defines their exclusive family culture, each individual therein will begin to experience encouragement and pride within the network of their family particular family fusion. Great is the reward for all who endure!
Ministry With Families - 2016
On Christmas Eve 2000, I sat Marcy down, got on one knee and asked her to marry me. Before she was able to respond, I added, “And I want to adopt Patrick!” Much to my relief, she said yes to both!
A few months after our wedding, I was honored and privileged to adopt Patrick. I didn’t have to adopt Patrick, but I wanted to either way, I would have loved him and raised him as my son. However, I wanted to adopt him. It was important to me, to Patrick and to God. To me this was a declared commitment to accept Patrick as my son.
As the years flew by, I was busy taking Patrick to football and baseball practices and games, a season of school band practices, and many church activities. Before my eyes, he grew into a young man of God, graduating from high school and going to Lee University.
Amy, his high school sweetheart also enrolled at Lee University. They married in June 2012 and I was honored to officiate their wedding. They graduated from Lee together in May 2014 and moved back to our native Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where they are settled in as their own family.
As I look back, I try to figure out where the time went. It was just yesterday when I first met 6-year-old Patrick at our friend’s house, playing in the downstairs room with our friend’s son. Now he is a man with his own family, his own direction, and his own calling in life.
One can never turn off being a dad; there isn’t a stop button! I pray for Patrick and Amy every day. Even though he now has his own family, I still worry about him, wanting the best for him, sometimes pacing the floors because the miles between us keep me from hopping in the car and driving over to his house to give him a big hug, and to see with my own eyes that everything is ok. A day never goes by without thinking about him.
Don Steffy; MDiv. is Lead Pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Great Falls, Montana
(The above blog are excerpts from my article titled “Fatherhood Predestined” published in the February 2015 Church of God Evangel. Click on the following link to read the full article http://reader.mediawiremobile.com/PathwayPress/issues/100501/viewer?page=23 )
One of the major challenges of ministry with families is the misconception that the church and families exist in different spheres of God's Kingdom. The two are often placed in competition for time, energy and resources. A fruitless debate has emerged: does the church exist to serve the family or does the family exist to serve the church? Such needless contradictions exist only because we wrongly view the church and families as separate entities. It is sometimes stated that the family has priority because it was the first institution created by God. But that simply is not true. God created a people for Himself in the same action in which He created the first couple for each other. In the New Testament, Christian homes are viewed as expressions of the church. Pastors are in error when they give their congregational responsibilities priority over their families not because the family is more important than the church, but for the inverse reason. The family must be our first church. To view our family as anything less than the church is to devalue our family. Love, and all the other shared Christian graces, must begin in the home because the Christian home is the foundational expression of the church. Even our unredeemed family members share in those graces as those who are attached to the church for nurture until the day of their new birth.
Professor of Discipleship and Christian Formation
Pentecostal Theological Seminary