What If the Church Was a Family?

It was close to a decade ago. A man was having Thanksgiving dinner at a breakfast diner alone… even pausing right there, no one should be eating Thanksgiving alone. He could not quite get comfy in the booth, and he could not quite figure out when asking for another refill of coffee was too much. The waitress came up to him and asked, “Can I get you anything else, Sir?” At that moment he realized that none of the people around him even knew his name. The depth of the relationship he had with anyone present in that room was displayed as being called “sir.” A formality for those who are anonymous guests in a diner. 

The man thought to himself: “How can I feel so alone when I am surrounded by so many people?”

Sometimes the worst loneliness happens in a crowd.

Solitude is a gift; loneliness is a pitfall. You can have thousands of “friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Instagram and still have no people in your life that truly know who you are and what is going on in your life. You might as well be called “sir” or “ma’am” and that be a reflection of the depth of relationships in your life. 

This isn’t about personality type–of course some of us find more energy in connection with people, and others are more comfortable being alone and don’t need as much relational time. We typically label that “extroverts/introverts,” although it’s more complex than that. Regardless, we all thrive when we have meaningful relationships. 

We know that.

But do we know that the church is meant to be the epitome of a thriving and relational community? Do we know that the Church was once considered a family? What if the Church was a multi-ethnic, multi-generational family of people who all are bound by the saving grace of Jesus Christ the Lord?

More than being some “organization” or a “non-profit,” the Church is a family–one that is expanded across the globe and across generations.

How might the way we look for community change by changing our perception of the local church community that we find ourselves in?

One thing is for certain, there would be no one having Thanksgiving dinner at a diner by themselves. You see, there is nothing wrong with the concept of the nuclear family. Family members ought to be cared for! But what about those who are part of church communities who lack family? Maybe they are widowed or divorced. Perhaps they lost their parents earlier than expected. Maybe they are single (by choice or circumstance). Or maybe they are relocated to the area and don’t even have a friend.

There are a variety of scenarios, but all have this in common–there are people needing for the Church to recover her roots as a place where people are treated like–and even become–family. 

“The earliest Christians lived as a single family. When you live together as a family under one roof, you don’t see this chair, this table, this bottle of milk, this loaf of bread, as ‘mine’ rather than ‘yours’. The breadwinners in the household don’t see the money they bring in as ‘theirs’ rather than belonging to the whole household. That’s part of what it means to be a family.” (N.T. Wright)

Unfortunately, equating the church to being a “spiritual family” does not hold the same weight as when you drop the adjective “spiritual” and just call it what it is–family. Sure, churches engage in “spiritual things,” but if that language creates a schism between spiritual life and the rest of life then the categorization does more harm than good. No one should have a better reflection of community than the Church. Yet, those with a storied past could tell times when being jumped into a gang gave them more of that sense of community than any church they ever participated in. Granted, the effort to find community at a church might have been left wanting. However, for those of us who do consider ourselves “Christians,” who are members of his body–family members of his Church–we have an obligation to ourselves and to others to become the paragon of a family-like community that is not limited to bloodlines or birth names. 

That’s where we need to take the passage in Acts 2:42-47 a little more seriously in how we think of Christian community.

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, NLT)

Here is where the disconnect often lies: Many view the Church as a resource for their spiritual growth and as a missional organization that serves the world tangibly and with the gospel–and that’s it. That’s it? Don’t get me wrong, those are incredible and important emphases for the Church to embody! But embracing the Church as a family is the glue that holds all that we do together.

Our mission, vision, and purpose fall flat if it is not a “family business.” 

“The idea of salvation cannot be reduced to a personal relationship with Jesus. God’s plan is much more encompassing. God intends for salvation to be a community-creating event.” (Joseph H. Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family)

Salvation as a “community-creating event” is a radically biblical idea! Each person who gives their life to Jesus suddenly discovers that they have a rich heritage of faith and a family that can be found all around the globe.

What if that lonely person at the diner was invited into a family–God’s family–with a community of people who would walk with him? Would that not change the world? Rediscovering the power of seeing the Church as family might be the single most powerful tool to evangelize the world around us. 

I am reminded of how Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, a community of believers that he personally had pastored.

We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. (1 Thessalonians 2:8, NLT)

To share “our own lives” is just as much part of the work of the gospel as preaching the gospel itself!

With all of this in mind, what might be a few ways for our churches to begin living out our identity as the family of God?

1) Speak warmly of other churches and denominations.

It all starts here. If we become a church that says we are the “only church,” well, we are drawing lines in the sand, sure, but we might find ourselves on the outside of the very lines. I want to see unity in the Church as much as the next person. But berating other churches who don’t see everything eye-to-eye with you is not getting us any closer. Yes, there are some core things that make Christians “Christian” in belief and practice, but those things are not quite as vast as some denominational differences tend to be.

2) Don’t wait for others to make the first move–take initiative in forming the quality of community that God wants to develop!

We all want community and connectivity, yet we might not be willing to work for it. Fostering familial connections (between biological members or church members) takes effort and intentionality. And often times it ends up being a stalemate where nothing happens because no one makes the first move. If the Church is going to become a family again–like truly become a family–we need some initiative! 

3) Be open to inviting people more into the ordinary moments of life. 

Maybe you are planning on going for a walk, or need to go to the store, or … fill in the blank! It’s amazing how many opportunities there are to invite people into the ordinary. Community is built in the common parts of life. If we are waiting for extravagant opportunities, well, they will not be often. Let’s not miss the chance to make time for community even in the day-to-day tasks.

These are only a few ideas. What else would you add?

P.S., Life Groups are a great way to gather and grow together. Click HERE to learn more about what Life Groups are currently being offered.

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