I’ve only done it twice in two nations. I still need many advisers. North America is baffling. My dad, Lloyd Jenkins told me to start watching Duck Dynasty to put together a church planting model. I can’t remember a time his advice steered me astray. I’m 46, married for 23 years, have 5 kids, and I still pay attention to my dad. I think Duck Dynasty is North American Church Planting 101.
I grew up in the ‘70’s and 80’s going to Bible believing churches. I heard a mantra over and over again of “The nuclear family is the basic social building block of America.” Dad, mom, and the kids were it. Our faith’s wandering into the political fray of the day felt under attack. It was time to defend the nuclear family.
Then I moved to Africa in 1993. Many things startled me in that transition. One was discovering that for the majority of the world the nuclear family was a selfish social model. Africa taught me that the extended family was the basic social building block of society. Grandpa and grandma, uncles and aunts, dad and mom, cousins, brothers, and sisters all blended together into a world of shared community care. I opened my Bible and read of genealogies, clans, extended families, and new churches that acted like extended families.
My evangelical American upbringing had missed the mark. The nuclear family is good. Yet, the extended family is better. In fact, the extended family is more Biblical, and simply pragmatically wiser and more compassionate.
The most shocking social phenomenon in my return to the United States after 19 years away is that I now believe for most Americans the most basic social building block is the individual. In that process North America has become a polarized and lonely place.
Before I began making my case that America was losing its social fabric when churches created the idol of the nuclear family I called my dad to check notes. His response was, “David, I think you’re right.” Then he told me stories of the transitions he observed growing up in the post-World War Two boom. Farms became bigger and more mechanized. The extended family farms were phasing out. Prosperity brought white flight and suburbs. Ethnic neighborhoods declined. Post-secondary education and professional jobs created mobility. Few noticed but the extended family was in decline.
|My dad, Lloyd Jenkins with a Northern Pike who lost a disagreement with an eagle|
Then my dad pushed back, “What does this practically mean for church planting?” He knew my tendency to become “academic,” and “philosophical.” I did my, “Duh” and started retreating into big words. Dad told me, “Duck Dynasty.”
I think he’s right. If we want to plant healthy churches in North America we need to watch Duck Dynasty. What is going on here? Why is this appealing?
- The extended family is the basic social building block. Father doesn’t always know best. In fact, as little kids it was comforting to hear grandpa say, “I spanked your dad and I can spank you too.” All of us are learning, and the grumpy old gray haired straight shooters are the wisest people in the room. We never forget our grandma’s proverbs. Sometimes we need to talk candidly to someone who will respect our confidence and offer good counsel, and usually it is an aunt or uncle. Many of us have an overly generous uncle who pretends to on occasion be just a little psycho. Our favorite childhood memories are slumber parties with all our cousins. In a jam it is nice to be able to drop our kids off at an extended family member’s home instead of day care. Weddings, births, graduations, and funerals are the defining moments of our life. We can’t wait to get to heaven so we can all be together again.
- Eccentricity is cool. The modern world’s commercialism keeps telling us to all buy the clothes advertised in Cosmopolitan and GQ. Yet, at grandma’s home we read Bass Pro Shops and the Sears catalogue as we dreamed about Christmas. Our eclectic intellectual aunt kept stacks of National Geographic and though she never traveled abroad she hoped we someday would.
|CCR Youth Concert Pastor Uniform|
When we feel comfortable in our extended family we explore as an individual. Love and acceptance are unconditional. We twit and Facebook our generation’s proverbs just like grandpa’s buddies trade stories at a coffee shop. If our uncles can wear blaze orange to church we can wear retro clothes, dress Bohemian, and even adopt a style from across the world. Family photo albums teach us every generation has a style that will make them later go, “What was I thinking?” Thus we can take some risks and explore.
- Food, food, food and more food make life full of joy. It is easy to have a good natured debate around a dining room table. Yet it is hard to get angry and resort to name calling with the wonder of food. We don’t know how it happened, but there have been some times when dad didn’t know how he was going to buy groceries that week. Then mom cooked up a wonder with leftovers and scraps. Our table is not for us alone. Somehow we could always find an extra chair and a little more when a friend or neighbor dropped in. Food reminds us of God’s bounty. Food teaches us to look over eccentricities that become irritating and forgive our extended family’s sins.
- Teach with proverb, story, and humor. It probably is easier to learn for an academic exam Yet in the tests of life it is proverbs and stories that get us through. When we face the unknown the oldest wisdom is the best. Life can be painful. There are times we shed lots of tears. Thus we must laugh at every opportunity. In fact, sometimes we don’t know how to express all of affection for one another. When the junior high teen tells us, “Stop touching me,” we resort to good natured teasing. In fact, we only pick on people we like. We know the marriage has taken when we start calling our in-laws, “the outlaws,” and laugh like we’ve created an original joke.
- We listen to the sincere and humble. The real reason we stop for a moment in our channel surfing is to make sure our crazy cousin is not on the Jerry Springer Show. In our extended family we know we’ve all messed up. It’s hard to find a struggle one of us hasn’t struggled with in the past. We all wish we had not said stupid things in anger. We also were silent at times when we should have spoken. When the preacher says, “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” we nod our heads and can’t wait to hear about grace.
None of us like to be lectured by those who are confident in their own righteousness. We stop to listen when someone who has been through our struggle shares how they overcame with God’s love and our community’s support. Our patriarchs are testaments to human depravity being redeemed by God’s grace. Our family finds its dignity in sincerity and humility. With that combination we can listen to some of the most difficult lessons. I’ve googled over and over again for months Duck Dynasty reviews. Generally even those who don’t share faith in Jesus’ resurrection listen, disagree amicably, and conclude, “The Roberstons are sincere.”
- However, Biblical preaching is costly. There will come seasons when we hear old preachers say there are only three responses to a sermon. We’re either glad, sad, or mad every time the Bible is taught. We’re glad we’ve accepted the Bible’s truth and we’re on a path to see our departed grandma. Sometimes we’re sad that we know we should listen, but something holds us back. Occasionally, we’re just angry at an uncomfortable truth. We’ve all reacted those ways to a sermon so we shouldn’t be surprised when others also do. We can complain about the preacher’s presentation style, tone, use of language, body language, and eccentric dress. Yet, the world always needs prophets to speak the truth and hold us to account. Most of the time those prophets of old are eccentric characters. They pay a cost with the loss of favor. We will too.
- History is a mess but family loyalty matters. I hope this blog will be discussed by those concerned about growing churches and Christ’s influence in North America. Yet, it is personal. I’ve met the Robertsons once. The church they attend, Whites Ferry Church of Christ has a ministry called World Radio that gave us the financial backing for our radio start in Uganda. A couple times I’ve passed through their church to say thank you. I’ve once shook Phil and Allen’s hands. I was struck by their approachability, generosity, wisdom, and humility. My duck hunting brothers and friends cheered that I had met the Duck Commander, but at that point few other groups considered their family “celebrities.”
I’ve watched Duck Dynasty, read one of their books plus read the GQ article and the recent social commentaries. I can find little in Phil’s dialogue that is off base with my understanding of the Bible and America’s shifting social dynamics. Phil’s words are simple Bible with an honest Louisiana duck hunter commentary.
Yet, I’m troubled by his comments about race. I don’t think Phil’s comments reflect historical reality. Also, it is personal. I have two children with black skin.
For a moment let me discuss perception. I have white skin. There are some neighborhoods and cities where I feel uncomfortable and even unsafe. It may just be my perception and may not be reality.
|Our family "going native" in Chicago|
At times I also feel that way when I travel with my children with black skin. Sometimes I’m in a neighborhood, city, or state where we feel unwelcome. Sometimes I’ve noticed people staring at us with glares that felt threatening. I quickly hurry into our car and keep driving. I’ve never stayed in such situations long enough to know if my perception is accurate.
A few times I’ve seen my extended family with white skin connect the dots when their family members with black skin are the victims of prejudice. I’ve never seen such righteous indignation. Phileo (family) love is the mama bear of all loves. It is instinctual and may not be reasonable. It is nurtured by experiences that can be ambiguous and undefined.
I understand the Robertsons have an extended family member with black skin. I imagine the Robertsons feel the same as we do and cannot stomach racial prejudice in any of its forms.
I spent 4 years of my life in Arkansas. I’ve hunted ducks with friends, who define themselves as “white trash.” Those friends feel more affinity economically with poor African Americans in the South than they feel with upwardly mobile Caucasian Americans in the South. I believe my white trash duck hunting buddies would in good conscience agree with Phil’s comments on race. Their experience does not reflect the broad picture of history and race, but it does reflect their personal experience. Poverty, non-literacy, and systematic injustice can be pervasive. All are victims – even the oppressor.
Bible preaching and living confronts those unjust systems.
When I went to visit the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ with my full family I drove quickly through Louisiana. A few times I felt uncomfortable stares at gas stations and fast food restaurants. Then I drove into the church parking lot and felt at home. People noticed all my kids and treated them all with fairness and honor. I believe that is the belief system and culture of the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ. In that social network called “church” we’re all extended family.
|Tarbet clan Christmas 2012 (Jana's church planting family)|
That extended family of the church is one of the oldest and most controversial testaments to our faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Language and culture communicate the Gospel. Worship reflects itself in ethnic nuances. Yet, in the church Jesus prayed for gender, age, ethnicity, race, and nationality are irrelevant. We’re all family.
We can’t re-write history. We can’t heal every wound with our human attempts. Yet, family loyalty matters. In fact, family loyalty is one of the best ways us humans can undo the messiness of history.
- Yet, what about those who don’t have a nutty extended family? As I write I’ve tried to refrain from telling too many personal stories of mine. I’ve also tried to refrain from the details and partisan banter about the Robertson clan. I’ve tried to remind us of the good of the old extended family memories many of us share. It is my hope those old memories will call us to plant churches in North America that rise above the mess we’re currently in.
Yet, I know some who read this will not have memories of a growly grandpa, nutty uncle, grandma’s cooking, and an intellectual aunt. They never had a slumber party with dozens of cousins. Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings, births, graduations, and funerals are not the defining good moments of life.
For that reality we who have received must give. Our extended family can no longer just be those with whom we share biological and adopted affinity. Our extended family must be our local church. Duck Dynasty is Church Planting 101 in North America.