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