Extending Family

by Stephen Simpson
Publication: One-to-One, Winter 2010


I consider myself a young man, although when you are older than many of your doctors, that’s a sign that you are not as young as you think you are. While I am not totally “over the hill,” I am old enough to remember when being part of a “nuclear” family (father and mother both present in the home raising the children) was considered the norm; and many families enjoyed the presence of extended family nearby…grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. As the culture of the United States has changed dramatically in the past half-century, the reality of American family structure has also changed.

Today, it is hard to imagine that such a time ever existed. The results of mobility, job change, financial pressure, moral breakdown, and other real factors means that fewer and fewer families are staying together; fewer and fewer children are being raised in two-parent homes. Indeed, more children today than ever before are being raised by grandparents, day care, or other means. Apart from God’s grace and exceptional care-givers, the risk factors for youth jump exponentially outside of the traditional biblical family structure.

Thank God for courageous single parents, grandparents, mentors, and pastors who are willing to stand in the gap for a desperate generation. My own sister and brother-in-law in Costa Rica have provided care for many at-risk children who would otherwise be living on the streets or in “precarious” (squatter communities with little or no plumbing or electricity) or in violence-filled homes. We salute all of those who extend family to those who have had none.

At the same time, as a prophetic people, we are called to not only bring healing and redemption to broken situations, but also to address root causes and bring about societal change. Healing is a blessing; restoring truth in order to prevent devastation is even more blessed.

Recently, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George authored a significant document entitled “The Manhattan Declaration,” which offers a biblical perspective on the sanctity of human life, the sacredness of godly marriage, and the responsibilities of liberty. This document was carefully and prayerfully reviewed and signed by more than 75 leaders from across the three main streams of Christianity: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. After reading it online at www.manhattandeclaration.org, I joined more than 400,000 others in signing this declaration, and I hope you will prayerfully consider doing the same.

This document is an exceptionally valuable resource to families, offering a clear picture of God’s purpose for families, and why we must uphold the biblical standard. Upholding truth does not negate mercy, or God’s redemptive plan. It does, however, give us a moral compass by which we can steer, so that when we get off course, we can find our way back home. The authors sense our inter-generational call together as believers to receive truth, declare it, and pass it on:

Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good. In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.

As a demographic “Tweener” * (which is someone who’s birthday falls between the Baby Boomer Generation and “Gen X”) I have always felt the burden to network among the generations. This span includes ‘The Greatest Generation” (WWII and Depression-era) all the way through the “Millennials “.

I have personally experienced and witnessed the value of facilitating multi-generational fellowship and dialogue. The younger generations can learn wisdom from the older; and the older can be rejuvenated in their purpose and calling. Psalm 145 puts it this way: “One generation shall declare Thy works to another.”

However, I am finding that this exceptional opportunity needs to be highlighted more. Too many Christian youths are influenced by secular society’s values concerning the aging and the elderly…to a shocking degree. Issues of honor, respect, humility, willingness to serve and listen have been too often discarded in favor of the trendy, the chic, the fleeting, and the vain; the ability to “crack wise” is too often valued more than the ability to humbly receive wisdom; video games and virtual community have replaced valuable face-to-face time building real relationships; being spoiled is valued over serving others; talking is valued over listening. In such an environment, noise can masquerade as truth; twilight can look like the noonday sun; and evil can be called good.

If we raise or allow our young people to have these kinds of attitudes…and they are shaped earlier in life rather than later… we are doing them and our civilization a grave disservice, for we will raise a society of sociopaths. Who is shaping your worldview on the issue of marriage, family, child-raising, and education? Who is shaping your children’s worldview?

And lest I be accused of being an “old fogey,” let me say to my older brothers and sisters that this is not the time for elder generations to pull up the drawbridge and throw rocks at the emerging generation from behind the seeming safety of tall walls . Discipleship cannot be accomplished from a distance.

Talking with and interacting with a younger person can sometimes be intimidating. While their language flows freely among themselves, they can turn monosyllabic or positively monk-like when in the company of senior citizens (people over 35). In some ways, their culture is as different from the older generation’s culture just as surely as fish are from birds. But fear not! Forge ahead, don’t be intimidated, frustrated, or deterred. Love transcends age and culture…especially the relentless agape love of Jesus.

While I am not an engineer, I enjoy learning about architecture, engineering, and construction. I’ve learned that when it comes to building bridges, you have to start from both sides. My prayer is that we can…

  • Shape our children, from birth, to value heritage and extended family (natural and spiritual)
  • To encourage our elder generations to remain committed to personal engagement with the emerging generation
  • To pray for the prodigals, encourage their families, and believe God for restoration
  • To declare and demonstrate redemptive Kingdom truth concerning families to a world that has become confused and broken

The opportunity before us is historic; the consequences of failure unimaginable. We serve a God of redemption and reconciliation Who offers us His Spirit to accomplish this mission.

*”Tweener ” is not, surprisingly, the name of a very popular social media website
Scripture Reference: Psalm 145

About the Author:

Stephen Simpson

STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.