DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Church as Family

Written by: on June 2, 2019

The Rev Canon Dr. Emma Percy has studied history in Cambridge, theology in Durham, and serves as Chaplain and Welfare Dean at Trinity College, University of Oxford. Yet, in her book What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, it is quite clear that her best training to become a priest in the Church of England was in her home through the everyday aspects of motherhood. This life station is the metaphor she selects to give a fresh expression of the life of the clergy.

Language is often used in the church describing relationships as family. The church of my childhood used the title “Brother” and “Sister” as if they were the religious “Mr.” and “Mrs.” I tend to use these more as terms of endearment with my closest colleagues. I also have found Paul’s exhortation to Timothy regarding the relationship between men and women to be an excellent guideline, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”[1]

Anyone who has been in the church for any length of time has also discovered that, like most families, the church has dysfunctional patterns and behaviors. This makes Percy’s concepts intriguing and unique in regard to her purpose for the family metaphor. Her emphasis is on the family as the location for cultivating maturity and character. It is “at best the place in which we grow up, developing the virtues and values that enable us to reach maturity.”[2] Percy likens parenting to discipleship and states, “As a parent, what we hope for in our children is that the language, values and manners they have learnt in the household will fit them to take their place in the wider world, behaving in ways that, though unique to them, accord with the values we have tried to instill.”[3] I could not help but dream of the Church if every local expression made this their aim.

Percy focuses specifically on the role of mothering as a parish priest. The nurturing role that shapes a child is her premise for the shaping of hearts to lead them to maturity. Nurturing connects to human flourishing and the intent is that through proper feeding and nurturing one grows to leave the home and make their place in the world as designed by their Creator.[4] This takes intentional parenting on a moment by moment basis while also keeping the household functional in all its practical necessities. After pastoring for thirty-eight years and parenting for the same, I relate to Percy’s work in a manner I had never considered and as I survey the state of the church in America I fear we have focused on keeping the spiritual household functional without giving as much attention to the maturity of the souls within it.

“The devaluing of caring roles in our society, because they are associated with the domestic and the feminine, has implications for the caring nature of a priest’s work and increasingly for the way it is valued.”[5] I also must admit feeling the sense of being devalued as a stay-at-home mom was real and experiencing the shifting sands of culture negatively toward the clergy is heightening that experience as well. There is a societal perspective that tends to treat stay-at-home-moms (SAHM) as less productive than those who pursue a career in the marketplace. Much work has been done to assess the monetary value of a SAHM and in a recent article by Motherly the annual income, if paid, is estimated to be $162k per year in the U.S.[6] It has been interesting and heart-warming to see many young men become stay-at-home-dads so their wives could pursue their careers. This serves the metaphor well for priests as nurturing is not a gender-based ability.

Well-nurtured souls become mature, interdependent people who have the ability to enter the world, be what God has designed, and pass on what they have received. They are less about themselves and more about others and find their authority from within rather than without.[7] In all the training I have received over forty years regarding spiritual leadership and pastoral ministry I grieve that little has addressed this most important aspect of pastoring. I wonder if we have been so distracted by the “household” growth, finance, buildings, and activities that we forgot the main thing of maturing those living under the roof?


[1] I Timothy 5:1-2 (NIV).

[2] Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2014), 16.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Percy, 18




About the Author


Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

8 responses to “The Church as Family”

  1. Tammy, I so appreciate you sharing your experience in church leadership as it intersects with your own experience as a mother.

    Seeing church as family is not only a good novel model to consider nowadays; I believe it’s thoroughly biblical. Christians are “born again” into God’s family. One cannot be unborn. The church is happy in good times, but must stick together when times are turbulent—just like a healthy family would do. Just like you, I so wish believers would consider one another as brothers and sisters in a real way.

  2. mm Sean Dean says:

    Thanks for this Tammy. In my church I’ve found the restoration of speaking of God in the feminine as well as the masculine to be quite helpful in getting people to understanding the nurturing aspects of faith.

  3. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Tammy I think you articulated well why it is so easy to feel like little you do is valued while being a ministry mom. Both are nurturing roles in a context that values productivity. I appreciate you drawing out how we are perhaps dropping the ball on growing believers up. It resonates closely with what Haidt pointed out about how we are raising up our youth as well. Safetyism is keeping us from stretching our natural and spiritual children. I wonder how we might reclaim the value of nurture towards maturity both in the home and in the church? Unfortunately, as has often been the case, it is likely that until we see a lot more men taking on the role of primary caregiver we won’t see such a shift. But given more and more men are taking time to nurture at home in some way, perhaps there is hope. How can we do a better job of creating space for women to lead out of their domestic experience? How can we increase the value of home nurture as job experience? Could we begin to encourage woman to include it on their resumes as valuable experience? Should we begin to look for it and count it when we are on the hiring end? How do I mentor this ‘family’ to be more welcoming for my daughter should she consider ministry?

  4. mm Mary Mims says:

    Thank you Tammy. Knowing this is written after the election you went through is very important, since now I understand why you felt compelled to run for the highest office. If nothing else, this book should help us understand another aspect of leadership, care for the body. Maybe everyone should read this book to understand how some of these “soft skills” of leadership are very important. Blessings!

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Beautifully said Tammy. Thank you for such a moving post.

  6. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    We are all so fortunate to have such a wise woman leader of faith among us. Your faithful love of the church as well as your keen critical eye both compel us and correct us. Percy’s “The devaluing of caring roles in our society, because they are associated with the domestic and the feminine, has implications for the caring nature of a priest’s work and increasingly for the way it is valued.” really nails it. Because nurturing is culturally tied to domestic feminine roles it has traditionally been devalued (even in the Church). Not in Hallmark cards and the hearts of children, but in societal and even denominational perspectives. You are absolutely right, nurturing is not a gender-based ability. Thank God I can start affirming, valuing, and stressing this critical ability in my coaching networks! Thanks again for all that you are and how you influence our cohort’s discovery learning process, H

  7. John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, Tammy, for your wonderful and great piece of reflection on Emma Percy’s book. You have strongly and well articulated how the book speaks to many of the issues affecting the church today as a family. You have reminded me of the way I saw people calling each other whom they were fellowship together in a very respectable and simplistic way. I appreciate you Tammy for being such a blessing to us as a good leader

  8. Thank you Tammy for clearly delineating the dual roles of the clergy as feeding the soul with spiritual food but also mothering to maturity. You’ve also pointed out the worrying trend of neglecting the motherly role of maturing in the church but also in the family. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and felt challenged to relook at my ‘motherly’ role of nurturing believers and my children to maturity.

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