The nature versus nurture debate has engaged professionals, academics and the ordinary layperson for many years. When you speak of ‘Nature’ you point to all of the genes and hereditary factors that influence who we are—from our physical appearance to our personality characteristics. When we refer to ‘Nurture’ we think of all the environmental variables that impact who we are, including our early childhood experiences, how we were raised, our social relationships, and our surrounding culture.
In case you’ve missed the saturation advertising, this Sunday is Father’s Day. Father’s Day is a day when both nature and nurture can be front of mind as we consider our family of origin which lead to the physical creation of our lives as well as significantly forming us into the person we are today in terms of character, personality, opportunity and experience. As we consider our nature and nurture we can experience a range of emotions from thankfulness through to grief, lament through to joy and everything in between. Father’s Day can have a range of meanings across our community but as a church I hope it gives us an opportunity to pause and consider our role in God’s family.
While I have not read extensively on the nature and nurture debate and profess no level of expertise, it seems to me that both nature and nurture are important. We are both a combination of DNA and genetic markers as well as countless relational experiences.
When I consider our creation and formation by God, I see both nature and nurture actively working in our lives. Scripture tells us that we are known and formed in our mother’s womb by God, we are called, chosen, adopted and set apart. Many have identified an aspect of the human condition that longs to know it’s creator, some have called in the ‘God-shaped hole’ in our lives. I believe it is part of our nature to seek after God, and to only feel a true sense of completion when we are in relationship with God.
Much of scripture focuses on the need for and the need to nurture. Paul talks about starting with spiritual milk and then growing in our maturity through the nurture of God’s presence and community.
Spiritual nurture can come from our family of origin. My own story is growing up in a faithful and committed Christian family where I was encouraged, taught and given many opportunities to experience God’s presence in my life. I do realise that this is not everyone’s experience however.
As much as I value and thank God for my family of origin, I have become more aware as I have matured in years, that my church families, communities and the general nurturing I have received through the whole people of God has had so much more impact in my spiritual formation than I would initially have thought possible.
In a world of physical distance and isolation the nurturing power of Christian community has never been so important. Yes we can be nurtured in our times alone, yes we can be nurtured in our families, in our schools, in our workplaces and in our places of recreation. But there is something about belonging to a church that you cannot get in those places.
As we have been journeying through our church DNA identification process, one of the reoccurring thoughts in my mind has been “what can church do that no other place, person or community can do”. My best answer so far is that church is the only place of consistent deep nurturing. That is because the church is God’s primary tool for exercising God given gifts, meeting needs and celebrating diversity in a unity of love and service through Jesus Christ.
Our nature causes us to yearn and seek God, but the nurturing of God is most fully realised in the activity of the Church. I pray that our church will be a place of deep nurture for you personally and I thank God for your role in making yourself available to be used by others as they are nurtured and matured as disciples of Christ.
Happy Father’s Day and thanks to our heavenly Father.