Church as Family
This morning as I was scrolling through social media, I saw one of the people that I follow talk about how modern church is like a school and it should be more like a support group (think AA). Both of these are true statements. While I agree with both parts of this statement1, I believe the pattern for church was built on something much more ancient: family.
This shouldn’t surprise us. God is a Father and a Son in relationship with each other. Jesus emphasized the brotherhood of all believers (Matthew 23:8). This wasn’t just a term of affection, but a call to really act as brothers of a family. New Testament churches were often started in the homes of men or women of peace (see Luke 10:6) who would give a church planter an audience to his or her extended family. The spirit of family within each church would be greatly aided by the fact that most of the early members were part of the same family. Paul himself saw his apostolic ministry in the context of being a parent to the churches he planted (see 1 Corinthians 4:15, 1 Thessalonians 2:7). The church functioned first and foremost as a family.
I don’t think it’s surprising to most of us that the early church acted like a family. I think what surprises many is when churches today act as family towards each other. Often we pick other organizing principles, particularly those of business and education and structure our time around production and education instead of what builds us up as family.
So how does the church act as a family together?
They love each other. This starts with spending time together in a way the builds and facilitates relationship. There is plenty of time and space for relationships to develop, trust to form, and support to be given. Many times this love is expressed through serving each other in ways that reflect how Jesus has loved us and laid His life down for us.
Commitment is seen. Often church is seen as something that can be walked away from when it becomes inconvenient. If the teaching becomes stale, I’ll look for something better. If the worship becomes out-dated, there’s a more contemporary worship gathering down the street. But when churches act like families, the members don’t bail at the first sign of conflict or the opportunity to get a better experience. They commit to the bonds of love that the Lord has called us to.
There is mutual give and take. In every family, each member fulfills a roll of some kind. Rare is the family gathering where one member of the family does all of the talking. There is a back and forth kind of conversation that happens. Not everything everyone says in a family is of equal value. There are various levels of maturity, but conversation is the main method of learning and interaction and it produces well-rounded disciples.
There is growth and reproduction. Every family that doesn’t grow and reproduce will die off. I’m part of a large extended family in the natural, helping raise the fourth generation of Kolders that have come from the line of my Grandpa and Grandma Kolder. But each generation has had to grow up, move out of mom and dad’s house, and have little Kolders of their own. The same is true for the church. Family can seem safe, but there is a responsibility in family to step out, grow up, and pass on what you’ve received as part of your family to the next generation. Churches do this when they reach the lost, make disciples, and pass on the dynamic of Christianity as family to those they are discipling.
There is a lost generation of men and women all across our country. Not only are they far away from God, but they have a hunger in their heart for something they’ve never had: family. The answer starts when a person enters into a life-transforming relationship with God as their Father. It’s fully recognized, though, when a flesh and blood spiritual family adopt this new believer as one of their own. This is the reality that drives out the orphan spirit in us once and for all. To do that, the church may need to stop acting like a school or a business and devote themselves to becoming a family once more.
1Church as we know it has largely adopted a meeting style from the educational system (one person teaching, rows of students, listening-based). Support groups such as AA have much to offer the church as a means for growing their body (high accountability, high intimacy, intentional mentoring, etc.).