We recently sat down with CCEF Executive Director, David Powlison, to discuss the upcoming CCEF National Conference.
Q. What was the reason behind CCEF choosing family as the topic for the conference this year?
For previous conferences we have usually picked an individual issue, something people struggle with on their own – for example, anger, shame, emotions, suffering, or addictions. But family is a bigger topic, and that intrigued us. Family makeup is one of God’s core purposes–and his family embodies all the same blessings and brokenness as other families. For example, we were all born into some version of family–whether good or bad or a mix, whether whole or broken. Family affects each of us as we come into adulthood and come to terms with the family in which we grew up.
New families grow even while we still relate to the one we started in. And families shrink through empty nest, divorce, and bereavement.
The topic is so much bigger than just marriage and kids and parenting, and we want our conference to reflect that.
Family includes concerns such as how to care for aging parents. My mother passed away a year-and-a-half ago at the age of 94. The last three years of her life were very challenging for my brother and sister and me. Why is it that we were so involved in her care? Because she is our mom.
Of course, we will talk about parenting, as well as many other family concerns such as adoption and how one even thinks about what a family is in a culture that has radically redefined family just in the last 20 years. So family is always a key topic. It seems timely for us to address it.
Q. What you’re describing is the expansion of what we might be assuming that a family conference is?
Right. Look at my situation for example. Nan and I are in our 60s. Our youngest child turned 30 last summer. Does that mean we no longer have family issues? As parents, you never stop caring about your children, even when they are adults. We are parents of independent, adult children. How do we relate to them, to their spouses, and to our grandchildren? How do you relate to a grown child who is experiencing singleness or is disabled or is struggling with a drug problem? All these issues are basically ageless when it comes to family.
In Scripture, leaving and cleaving did not mean creating isolated nuclear family units. Leaving and cleaving simply meant there was a new sexually-engaged couple, but it was within the extended family. Family always has these abiding, enduring aspects relationally, financially, and so forth.
Here’s something else that makes this topic so fascinating. The 1950s picture of a mom, dad, and kids with a white picket fence—a “Leave it to Beaver” image of life—is foreign to Scripture. Instead, family is a context of mutual defense, of mutual support economically, of hope for the future, of conflicts, of betrayal, and even of violence. There are no ideal families depicted in the Bible.
Family is so significant in Scripture and so intimate to how God conceives of who we are as people. It always has troubles that need to be addressed; and it can bring blessings like no other social institution.
Another aspect of family is how it can create a vision for the larger family of God. As our three children grew up, we were almost never alone as a family in our house. Our kids grew up with students, missionaries and other visitors living with us most of the time. Space was tight, but one of the results of having a lot of unrelated people living together was a really deep sense that the body of Christ is a family, and that other Christians truly are brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. The kind of closeness and connection that happens with brothers and sisters in Christ can be profound. So when you talk about this larger view of family, it touches on how the church is the family of God.
Q. What are some of your own hopes for us as we engage this topic with those who come to the conference?
In all our conferences, as in our teaching and writing, we hope to disabuse people of the iconic images of what they think something is or ought to be whether that image is of the Christian life, or marriage, or family, or church. We aim to be faithful to Scripture’s portrayal of life. The Bible is very gritty and realistic. Life is never idyllic. There are always problems to face – and at the same time spectacular ways in how Christ personally addresses our troubles.
The grace and glory of God appears in the midst of troubles. It’s never an Edenic state of bliss, there’s always something much more interesting and dynamic happening in individual lives and in families. God’s at work in all things. We want to align our hearts, our actions, our purposes, and our words with his purposes.
My hope is that this conference will simply equip people to live better, to love better, to trust God, and to move toward problems more constructively, with more true hope.2017 National Conference
We recently sat down with CCEF Faculty Member, Julie Lowe, to discuss the upcoming CCEF National Conference.
Q. Would you share one of your conference topics and why you chose it?
Nurturing Family is one of my topics. I chose it because I think we need to consider how we can proactively pursue relationships in our family life. My goal is to talk about what inhibits that pursuit. All of us should be asking “What’s getting in the way of me communicating with my spouse or my kids or my extended family? Why is this not a priority anymore?”
The most obvious inhibitor to family relationships is the lifestyle we live and the culture we are buying into. Whether it’s materialism or success, or …fill in the blank, these things suffocate real loving interaction with people. Perhaps unwittingly, we have dismissed the need for authenticity and relationship, but for what? For things that do not satisfy—like getting ahead, having a big house, nice cars, and getting our kids into the best schools. We spend so much time and effort running after these things, that we end up living in superficial ways with each other. And after a while, it becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Q. You have a large family. Does this topic impact you?
Absolutely! We are a two-parent working family with six kids, and the demands feel endless. It’s easier to deal with the tyranny of the urgent rather than the meaningful and the eternal. To move beyond the day’s activity and the crazy schedule toward that which is long-lasting—fostering relationships with my kids—is hard. It doesn’t always come naturally. It’s easier to focus on the immediate demands that I’m facing rather than on relating to my kids.
So I’m convicted every time I speak about this topic. But when I feel this, it helps me to remember what is most important, and I hope, in some way, to pass that on to other parents.
Q. No one plans to have a disconnected family. Yet we end up there anyway. Where are we tripping up?
It’s so common now to have both parents working outside the home. Combine that with multiple activities and the belief that busier kids are better off, and you have the beginnings of the problem.
I think there is also social pressure for parents to be overly involved, whether it is at your kid’s school or at your church or in your career. We give the impression that we can “do it all.” When you value these things, it reduces the family’s time together. And how much harder would all this be in a single parent home?
Relationships are hard work. I think we want the payoff of a close family without all the little moments of effort to get there. And now, through social media, we have more and more opportunity to have pseudo-relationships in ways that require no work. It’s tempting to replace meaningful family interactions with less costly ones. Checking my Facebook page is certainly easier than engaging with my kids.
Q. How can the church be a support to nurturing relationships?
First of all, the church should be encouraging families to invest in one another before investing in the work of ministry. The irony is that when we are nurturing family relationships, we are inherently doing ministry—we are building the church one relationship at a time.
And I believe it’s also important to stop segregating groups according to their status in the church. There is a great need for singles, families, and the elderly to be involved in each other’s lives. There is so much richness each has to offer the other, but it takes time and work to cross these lines. We need the church to cast a vision that values these relationships.
Q. Is there a place in Scripture you’ve found that is helpful to the goal of working on family relationships?
In his epistles, Paul uses imagery of the body to represent the church, but it also applies to the family. For the different parts of the body to work together, they need to be in unity rather than disconnected— even though they are very different from each other. Additionally, much like every family, every church addressed in Paul’s epistles had different issues that needed to be worked through. They weren’t all called to be formulaic and uniform. They had different struggles. These examples give liberty for individuality, but always at the root is the call for us to live for others, to live beyond ourselves. In an individualistic culture, these words are all the more important to hear, as we can be a people consumed with ourselves rather than living sacrificially for others.
Q. What would you want people to take away from this time?
I hope that we all walk away with a greater conviction to evaluate our lifestyles and priorities, assess what they reveal, and then do the hard work of changing them where change is needed. My hope is each of us will be challenged and committed to the work of relationships no matter how hard it is. With God’s help, we can make changes that really matter.
We recently spoke with CCEF Faculty Member, Alasdair Groves, to discuss the upcoming CCEF National Conference.
Q. Would you share one of your conference topics and why you chose it?
I chose Family Devotions as one of my topics. I chose it for a few reasons. First off, this is an area of personal interest for me. I have three young kids, so I’m thinking through how I want devotions to look for my own family. Secondly, I’d say it’s an area of some weakness for me. I don’t feel like I’m doing it especially well. But even as I say that, I have this sense that my feelings of inadequacy make me just like everybody else. I can’t remember hearing any mom or dad say, “You know, we just have great family devotions.”
As parents, it seems we all struggle in this area. We feel like there’s never enough time and kids’ attention spans are so short. We wonder when we should do it and how to hold kids’ interest. So in answer to your question, I like to pick conference topics that will stretch both me and others, and help us answer questions that have real impact on our lives.
Q. What are some of the challenges people face in family devotions?
I think the most common challenges fall in one of two broad categories. The first is logistical and the second is emotional—a sense of guilt or burden.
The logistical concerns are kind of obvious. Who has lots of time for their personal devotions? Who has additional time for family devotions? Doing family devotions involves having different people all together at once, and so that probably means that you have various scheduling conflicts to deal with. It’s so hard to sustain a pattern when that’s going to get broken by one child’s sports practice or somebody’s work schedule. And so I think there’s just this constant sense of “How do we get it in? When do we do it? How do we make this work on a regular basis?” That sense of busyness is one logistical concern.
I think another logistical struggle is due to technology. Everyone’s wired in 24/7, so we’ve all become more “interruptable,” even at mealtimes. Someone’s phone or other device is always pinging for attention. That just makes it harder than ever to have undistracted time for devotions.
Then, there are the emotional issues. There’s this huge sense of pressure people feel when it comes to doing family devotions. We beat ourselves up by saying, “I should be doing this. This is what good Christian families do.” We want this good thing for our family and for our kids. We also tend to have over-idealized versions of what it should be. The comments I hear sound like this: “I’m not doing enough… It’s not good enough… I feel like it ought to be more.”
So those are the major challenges to family devotions, not to mention the struggle that’s most basic: it’s just hard to sustain any habit that requires initiative.
Q. Can you share a Scripture that has encouraged you in the practice of family worship?
There are two places in Scripture that I’m thinking of off the top of my head. The first place for me that immediately leaps out is the book of Judges. It’s near and dear to my own heart because of my father’s interest in that book. Judges is about what leadership for God’s people should look like. And it illustrates the problems that come when that leadership isn’t there. From my dad’s perspective, one of the most ominous moments in the entire book—maybe in the whole Bible—is where it says in chapter 2, “And a generation arose who did not know the Lord and had not seen the things he had done.” As you read on in the book, you see one bad thing after another. And there are these cascading events all the way to the final verse of the last chapter, which says, “In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That’s such a sobering statement. Yet—the flip side reaction we can have is to recognize just how powerful it is to instill knowledge of God in the next generation is a high priority.
The second place in Scripture, (and this is on the positive side) is Deuteronomy 6 where there’s this call, in one sense probably the call, to practice family devotions. It says: Talk with your family. Talk with your children about the Lord. Do it when you get up and when you lie down and when you go in and when you go out.
One thing I really appreciate about these verses is the flexibility. God is not saying “Here’s exactly what you need to do. Here are the twelve laws of family devotions.” Instead, the fundamental core of the call is simply to disciple your kids as you live life. Raise them up, taking the opportunities that are presented to you to spiritually nourish your children. I really appreciate the “formatlessness” of it. I’m not arguing against structure, it’s just comforting to know that there’s not this perfect way to do it that’s right for all people at all times.
Q. Can you speak to the dynamic of engaging Scripture with children in particular?
I’ve always tried to live by the rule I learned from Julie Lowe (one of our CCEF faculty and a friend) who said that any theology that you can’t explain to a six-year-old is something you don’t understand well enough yourself. That has been a helpful barometer for me—even before I had kids.
So I try to make sure that what I talk about with my kids is really clear to me first. After that, well, this may sound too casual, but I’ve really tried to live by the idea that discipling my kids is sort of like throwing spaghetti at the wall—only some of it is going stick. You need to keep in mind that kids are often absorbing more than it looks like in the moment, even when they seem distracted or they ask some completely unrelated question. Not looking for this immediate “light bulb moment” changes everything. Instead you’re looking for a longer trajectory of spiritual growth. Sometimes you find out that they heard more than you realized, and that it was impacting them in ways you couldn’t see at first. Those are great moments!
Q. What do you hope people come away with from your time together?
Given that guilt and a sense of burden is so present here, I would love for people to walk out feeling relieved and free.
I hope that comes in two ways. First, I want to offer something personalized. I want to offer people not just a “Here’s the best way to do devotions,” but rather “Let me help you think about what the best way is for your family to do devotions.” I want to offer some tools to evaluate “Who are we as a family? Where are we in terms of devotions? What would work well for us?” I hope to give people a real sense of freedom and flexibility based on a Deuteronomy 6 mentality.
Second, I would also love people to come away with a slightly greater sense of “Oh okay, I can do this. This is attainable.” I would love for them to say, “Okay, you know what? We could try this. It’s something that actually sounds both pleasant and possible.”2017 National Conference
Family. What image springs to your mind? Big smiles and warm hugs? Dark looks and harsh words? An empty frame and yearning for what never was and may never be? Perhaps it’s more complicated than that–maybe the smile is real, but the eyes reveal something more. Perhaps blessing and brokenness are tangled together. Or perhaps we’re troubled when we compare the snapshots in our mind with images of family immortalized by Norman Rockwell or the picture we envision of what a “Christian family” is supposed to be.
But what are we to make of the fact that in all of Scripture not one single family is held up as an idealized role model? How can that be? Because the Bible is no stranger to the complexities of family. At this year’s National Conference, we’ll be exploring the ways God forms and reforms family, how he shapes and reshapes us through family. Whatever our situation or experience, whether single or married, old or young, whatever roles we play, this conference will help us face the brokenness and embrace the blessing of family.
God Ordains Family
God Disrupts Family
Every Single Family Member
Ministering to Families in Crisis
Does Family History Matter?
God Redeems Family
… and many more.
… and more.
*Note: All deadlines run through the listed date at 11:59 p.m. PST. These rates do not include pre-conference sessions.
There are discounts available for the following groups. Please select the appropriate “ticket type” when registering.
Click below to register.
Emotions are core to human experience. Because we are created in God’s image, we are made to respond from the depths of our heart to his creation, as He does. Because of this our emotions are a central component of both our worship and our identity. Yet this also makes our emotions a vulnerable target in both our sins and our sufferings. Both the church and the culture often try to resolve the tensions inherent in our emotions by denying either their beauty or their danger. So how then do we stand up to our emotions without treating them as an enemy? How do we express them well without being led away by them? How can we learn to worship in every emotional state? Listen as we study God’s word and how it teaches us to engage the expressions of our hearts.
8 general sessions and 20 breakout sessions.
You can purchase the complete conference set for the 2016 National Conference, “Emotions,” or you can purchase individual sessions.
If you are interested in the individual sessions from the conference, you can find a list of them by clicking below.Individual Sessions
Is Scripture alive for you? Do you struggle to connect the Bible to the way you live? What is going on when you do take to heart some word from God? When an explanation of your suffering makes sense, or a revelation of who God is captures your imagination?
Emotions are core to human experience. Because we are created in God’s image, we are made to respond from the depths of our heart to his creation, as He does. Because of this our emotions are a central component of both our worship and our identity. Yet this also makes our emotions a vulnerable target in both our sins and our sufferings. Both the church and the culture often try to resolve the tensions inherent in our emotions by denying either their beauty or their danger. So how then do we stand up to our emotions without treating them as an enemy? How do we express them well without being led away by them? How can we learn to worship in every emotional state? Join us as we study God’s word and how it teaches us to engage the expressions of our hearts.
What: CCEF National Conference
When: October 14th-16th, 2016
Where: Chattanooga, TN, at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
David Powlison | June 24-25, 2016 | Dresher, PA
What is going on when Scripture comes alive for you? What is happening when you take to heart some word from God? Some promise of mercy strikes you as inescapably relevant. An explanation of why we suffer makes utter good sense. A revelation of who the Lord is captures your imagination. Some call to faith and obedience comes with life-redirecting force.
In our time together, we will be talking about—and acting on—how the words of God become personally relevant.
4 teaching sessions | Q&A | Worship
Note: Seating is limited for this event.
People—their opinions, words, or actions—can control us because we want love, respect, or approval. Thankfully, Jesus speaks to this dominating struggle with depth and hope. Ed Welch helps us learn to let go of what people think and experience the freedom of God’s acceptance.
For more information on this topic, consider buying Dr. Welch’s book, When People are Big and God is Small.
A vibrant church community is dependent on us being both needy and needed. So we want to grow in how we ask for help and how we give help. This conference is designed to guide us in those skills, with a focus on how these work in everyday friendships. Even in our professional culture, God is pleased to use needy people and ordinary conversations to do most of the heavy lifting in his kingdom. It’s the perfect system. If God used only experts and people of renown, some could boast in their own wisdom, but God’s way of doing things is not the same as our own. This conference is for ordinary people who need help and want to grow in giving help, and, as we grow, we hope to contribute to the ongoing transformation in our local churches.
You can purchase the complete conference set for the 2015 National Conference, “Side by Side,” or you can purchase individual sessions.
If you are interested in the individual sessions from the conference, you can find a list of them by clicking below.Individual Sessions