The value of the word “family” is at an all-time low. While we can measure stats about marriages, how many nights a week families eat together, etc… What I’m talking about is the use of the word itself.
How do I know this? Because rarely a day goes by when I don’t see a post on social media where a young person says: I love my ________ fam! Here are some examples:
Young person gets a new job at XYZ coffee shop: “I love my XYZ fam!”
Young person on a sports team: “Huge win tonight for the team #family”
Young person returning from camp: “Cabin XYZ forever #fam”
Here is what I almost never see:
· Young person on a weeknight: “Great time at dinner #family”
· Young person after a vacation: “Crazy adventure with the #fam”
Those two posts might sound too lame and almost unrealistic to even imagine from a young person, but you get the idea. In some ways this isn’t a bad thing. Teenagers are in the midst of a natural transition toward independence which includes establishing new relationships and identity. So, it makes sense that they would want to publicly announce their excitement. On the other hand, and without knowing it, they are reimagining their own definition of family. In my opinion they are lowering the bar of what “family” means… and sadly we can contribute to the depreciating value of the word “family” too.
Here are some basic criteria for family:
- Time together
- Engaging challenges
Now in some ways you absolutely can get a good dose of these through a new job, joining a sports team, or going to a camp. But perhaps the two biggest differences between “shallow fam” and “deep fam” are timeframe and meaningful purpose. True family is a very long-term commitment that, at its best, changes the direction of lives and even generations.
In our context, let me be more specific:
YL is not meant to supplant one’s biological family.
YL is not meant to become one’s entire spiritual family.
For these reasons I hesitate when I hear people say or post something like: I love my YL fam! I might be a bit of a Grinch when it comes to terminology. But, I understand that there is a kernel of goodness which we can salvage from this well-intentioned phrase. YL can introduce young people 1) to a basic model of healthy family dynamics, and 2) to what it looks like to be a member of the spiritual family of the body of Christ.
Here are some parting ideas:
A top priority for those in YL leadership is to make a long-term commitment to relationships. In our community we ask for a minimum leadership commitment of two years and we talk about this often. We also work to publicly celebrate when a leader finishes well. We always invite leaders back to visit our leadership parties and retreats (think family reunions which then encourage continued relationships).
We should ask young people about their biological family and help guide young people toward a healthy relationship with their parents. One tip: find ways to speak hope into their relationship with their parents, even if you have to get creative.
We must quickly introduce young people to the broader community of Christians outside of YL. Lest we create a bunch of weird uncles who live alone in a cabin in the woods and don’t come to family gatherings.
Pray for the families of the young people you know. Our ministry is for all of God’s kingdom, not just teenagers. Stick around for a little while and you will see parents come to Christ through YL.
Nurture your own relationship with your biological family. More is caught than taught…
Nurture your own relationship with the broader spiritual family. Again, more is caught than taught…
What are your thoughts? Come on YLHelp fam I’d love to hear from ya 😉
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