House Churches and Kids: Church Is Family
One of the ideas we’ve often lived by is the idea that church is family. Church isn’t supposed to just be *like* a family. It actually is a family of people, from different biological, sociological, and societal backgrounds, but because Jesus has come and changed us, we all become brothers and sisters, born of the same Father.
Jesus was clear about this: “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father,” (Matthew 23:8-9). Our position before God is not one of roles, but one of love. He loves us as a father and we are to love each other as brothers and sisters.
The apostles continued this teaching in their days. Paul says it this way to the Thessalonians: “As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too,” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). This was the way that Paul lived among those on his ministry team and those he ministered to. He was like a child and, to the extent that he was further along than the new converts, he was like a nursing mother. There were plenty of metaphors Paul could have used, but the ones he chose were deeply family-oriented.
Paul would later write to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:15 about how people should conduct themselves “in the household of God.” The Greek word for household is oikos and literally is the Greek word describing a family that lives within a house. The Apostle John would also write about how the church was made up of children, young men, and fathers, (1 John 2:12-14) and would write a whole epistle to a woman who was likely the leader of a house church and her dear children who were likely other participants in this gathering (2 John, for more on this statement, reference Chapter 6 of “Stick Your Neck Out“). The more you investigate this topic, the more you begin to see the early church understood themselves as God’s family and operated as such.
Often, we treat the church as a hybrid between a business and a school. There is a message that needs to be communicated and a product that needs to be offered. However, when church is a family, love and care become what drives what happens when we gather. This is why Paul, in the midst of correcting the Corinthians about the excesses in their meetings, spends an entire chapter on the importance of love (1 Corinthians 13). The point wasn’t that everything would be done mechanically, but that everything would be done in love.
I grew up in a family. It wasn’t perfect, but we did love each other. I also grew up in an extended family. My father’s family had five children and each of those children married and had 2 or three kids of their own, so when we gathered together there was always a huge crowd at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I often relate my experience of church as family back to these times growing up. There was always room for even the youngest of kids to be around. Not every gathering was super structured, but we made allowance for kids to be kids, while still allowing them to participate in the functions of the family gathering.
And I believe the church can be like that if it begins to believe that church is family. Remember, we do teach when we gather, but teaching/preaching isn’t the point. Love is. Remember, Paul said, “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church,” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
I have a friend who was briefly a part of the underground church in China. He would often tell stories about what it was like to be a part of their meetings. One of the things that stuck out to me was that there was no child care. The believers would often meet on Sunday mornings for a meeting where everyone would be a part, including the children. Then they would break for a communal meal together. Then, after the meal, the mothers and the small children would take naps together while the men dealt with sensitive affairs of the church. Those of you with small children will understand how important this is.
I believe the church can incorporate children, but it will require the church to become like family again.