Building a healthy family in today's culture
Bible-based advice for raising strong families.
Building healthy family relationships doesn’t happen on autopilot. Over the years, Joel and Sharon Chelliah have learned and earned some vital keys to keeping their family deeply connected throughout life’s joys and challenges. As senior ministers of Centrepoint Church in Western Australia, their passion for healthy Christian marriages and strong families is evident through their ministry and the church culture they’ve cultivated. They speak candidly about raising teenagers, the highs and lows of their personal experiences, and love sharing Bible-based and practical advice for parents.
As parents of three teenage boys, Joel and Sharon are intentional about speaking to their children about important topics such as puberty, sexuality and even age-appropriate conversations about pornography and its effects. “We decided to be proactive with our children. From six to eight years old, we started having these basic, simple conversations with them,” says Joel.
The Chelliahs believe that teaching children what the Bible has to say from a young age gives them a foundational biblical perspective, rather than being reactive to what their kids hear at school.
“We also fostered friendships with our children so that they would feel comfortable enough to talk to us. When we talk about sexuality, there is no shame in it. They can ask any question,” shares Joel, noting that this helps to keep the door open for more conversations.
When it comes to building healthy family relationships, Sharon says it’s less about grand gestures and more about the small things.
Building healthy family relationships means being transparent and modelling your values, says Sharon, rather than simply paying them lip service. “Let it be a lived experience, so they get to see your values modelled through the way you behave and your habits. Kids do what they see us do more than what we tell them to,” she says.
Joel and Sharon encourage parents to be involved in bringing positive community connections and peers into their children’s lives, as close friends can significantly influence a child’s decision-making. “We have done everything we can to surround our boys with good people. And sometimes it costs us curries and dinners at our house to bring good people into our lives,” says Joel.
Meals around the table play a core part in relationship and community building for the Chelliah family. The dining table is also a central meeting place where the family connects. “Every weekday between six and seven, we ask all our kids to be back home. You drop everything. [We tell them] ‘Call us if you’re running late because we want to do this together every day,’” says Joel. Living in a multigenerational home with Sharon’s parents means that grandparents are at the table too and sometimes Joel’s parents will also join in. “That is one of the best traditions that we started early that has really paid off for closeness,” says Joel.
When it comes to building healthy family relationships, Sharon says it’s less about grand gestures and more about the small things. It’s as simple as being present to engage. “As soon as the kids come in the door, we stop what we are doing, and we welcome them. It’s just those little moments that create that sense of belonging, being seen, being valued,” she says.
Everyday things such as car rides can be an opportunity for meaningful conversations. “You have to take your kids to sport and school. You can waste those moments, but we spend the time talking. I turn the music down and sometimes the silence encourages them to talk,” shares Joel. School drop-offs are also a key time for the Chelliahs to pray with their sons. “The boys will tell us what’s causing them anxiety and fear through their prayers,” he says.
“When I’m home, I need to make sure that I’m present with my family, maximising that quality time with the people who I love the most.” – Joel Chelliah
The Chelliahs live full lives and have learned that balance is less about having life perfectly poised on scales and more about finding happy rhythms in life together. “Balance is a more fluid concept I find. When I’m traveling, I want to maximise the ministry time and focus on that. But then when I’m home, I need to make sure that I’m present with my family, maximising that quality time with the people who I love the most,” says Joel.
“I liken this balance to harmony. Everything sounds right. It feels right, but it’s in constant motion and there’s ebbs and flows. That really helped me because with kids and ministry, it’s always shifting and changing,” says Sharon. She reminds us that we have the Good Shepherd looking after us, and he brings peace and calm in the busyness of life.
This reliance on God became more important than ever in 2015. Their family was plunged into a terrifying season when doctors discovered that Joel had a brain tumour. The 13-hour operation to remove the acoustic neuroma left Joel with no hearing on his right side. He lost the ability to balance, to speak, eat or drive, and complete recovery would take 18 months.
“Sharon had to carry the load of not just the children, but also being a full-time carer for me. My recovery was so painful that there were moments where I was suicidal in my thinking just to end the pain,” says Joel. “There was the thought that maybe I would never be able to regain my old life. Yet even in those dark periods, the Chelliahs had a strong sense of the presence of God shepherding them.
That season of dependence on God extended to a deeper dependence on others. “All of our life, as pastors, we’ve contributed to other people in their time of need. There was something powerful about being on the receiving end of the church. It brought home to me the power in this community, loving and serving and ministering to each other,” shares Sharon.
“If we save marriages, we save families. And if we save families, we build healthy churches.”
Joel acknowledges that it isn’t easy for ministers and leaders to let the church community care for them in their time of need. “It requires vulnerability. A lot of pastors are a little bit too proud to confess their need for their congregation to help or to pray for them,” he says. “I know some pastor friends who have passed away with cancer and their church had no idea that they were getting treatment or that they were dying.”
As dark as that season was, the Chelliahs feel that the experience also transformed their perspective on their marriage, building a healthy family life and church community. “There will be times when we have what others need, but there are also times when we need what others have. That is a God-ordained design. That is why he created us for community,” says Joel.
He encourages ministers and leaders to “prioritise your first church,” which is our own household. “I know too many families that have been placed on the altar of ministry,” laments Joel. He encourages that “if we save marriages, we save families. And if we save families, we build healthy churches. And if we build healthy churches, we change the city. And if we change the city, we can change the world.”
Joel and Sharon founded Centrepoint Church in 2006. Joel serves as the State President of the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) in Western Australia and on the ACC National executive board. Joel has written a Christian resource for parents to begin a conversation about puberty and sexuality.