A week ago I finished a sermon series called “Church As…” The series explored four metaphors that the book of Ephesians uses for church: Bride, temple, family, and body. While all of these metaphors have profound implications, I want to further share my thoughts on church as family.
While Christians sometimes speak of the “church family,” the significance of this metaphor is rarely experienced within local congregations. The familial language of church has lost its value in the midst of familiarity.
In the earliest days of Christianity this does not seem to be the case. People used the terms “brother” and “sister” to refer to others in the faith and seemed to live out this sibling type relationship. While there were many arguments amongst those early believers, we still read, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” This sounds like a family.
In my sermon on church as family I offered two modern applications for church as a family: 1) Switching churches is rarely a good thing. 2) Segregation amongst age groups is unhealthy and unnatural. Here, I want to offer a few more thoughts on the importance of this metaphor.
It seems that there is an innate proclivity to take care of our kin. While I have encountered some people who care little about the well being of their family, most make sacrificial efforts for the good of those they share blood with. When a family member calls in the middle of the night and says, “Something happened, I need help,” most will not hesitate to offer assistance. This mentality should be applied to those we share Jesus with. We should restore, care about, take care of , and share with one another (see Galatians 6:1-10). This is what families do!
Seeing church as family should also cause us to recognize that different people in a congregation should be treated differently. This doesn’t mean we play favorites; it means we view our relationships in terms of family. I don’t talk to my dad the way that I talk to my sister. I don’t talk to my sister the same way that I talk to my niece. Likewise, age and gender should play a role in the way we approach relationships in the church. 1 Timothy 5:1,2 says, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” Too often in church people act as if they aren’t “related.” A church should be a place full of spiritual sons, daughters, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, grandmas, and grandpas. This doesn’t mean we will all know each other well – this is impossible. Instead, it means we must treat all people with respect and that when we go to a church function we don’t look around at the other people and see them as people we have no connection to, when we go to a church function we view the people there as family, some of whom we may not have met yet.
A third important aspect of viewing church as family is that it means people need to love others for who they are. I grew up watching the TV show Family Matters. If you don’t remember the show at all, you still might remember the most memorable character character, Steve Urkel. This young, immature, nerdy, and accident prone young man lives across the street from the Winston family. At times, Urkel, annoys, hurts, and destroys the property of the Winstons. But, at the end of every episode, they love him and we are all reminded that family matters. Churches have urkels. They also have people who are grumpy, don’t help, complain, and have wild opinions. Despite their difficulties, others in church must remember that family matters and love them just the same.
A final reason that recognizing church as family is valuable is that it teaches us that everybody should help out. I posted a video of Mark Driscoll preaching on the subject in an earlier post. It is appropriate to quote him here. “Those who are really the family of God, there doing things. They’re picking up chores, they’re owning the mission…where you serve feels like family. In your history and in your life, look back. The people you felt closest to, that you knew the best, that you knew the best, that you were connected to, those relationships that were helpful and enduring and endearing, you weren’t a consumer. You weren’t a consumer; you were a servant. You did something with people.”1
To think of church as a family is both encouraging and frightening. I like the idea of being brought into a family where people care about, love, encourage, protect, and nurture me. When I think about the familial nature of church from the perspective of what I get, it is awesome. On the flip side of that, when I think about what church as family in terms of what I must give, it is a much scarier concept. I have seen the good of families, but I have also seen the difficulty family can bring. It can be very tough to love certain people when all they do is add drama. It can be hard to care about people when they only seem to care about themselves. It can be harder still to support people who continually make mistakes and don’t seem to care to change. Family is hard. Extending that family to the mass of the church seems like a daunting task. But, if we are going to live out the nature of church as described in the New Testament, we must overcome the fear, face the difficulties, and treat church as family.