83. The Church as a Family

             When we become a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, our relationship with millions of other human beings  abruptly undergoes a dramatic metamorphous.  In Christ, we who were separate are now joined .  The Bible uses all kinds of metaphors to try to describe the relationship of believer to fellow-believer.  We’re the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:6-9), the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) and brothers and sisters in God’s family; (John 1:12). 
            Imagine that.  When I enter into a saving relationship with Jesus, I become intimately connected with others half-way around the world whom I’ve never met, with others who have died and with still others who will come after I’m gone.  We all share a profound spiritual unity and bond in Christ.

            Yet, I’m going to be candid with you this morning.  The truth of our heavenly family relationship in Christ is unshakeable and established, but I question how many in our churches are living out this reality week to week.  Are we actually connecting with each other in the way that close biological families do?  Or has the church more of a Sunday morning spiritual social club; a place where friends with like beliefs can enjoy companionship, share some spiritual inspiration, shake hands, and then head out until next week?  What’s your church like for you? Let me ask some questions and you decide.

How much time do you spend connecting with your church brothers and sisters?

Could a marriage or a family build and maintain a close relationship based on an hour or two a week, mostly spent watching a program together, with a few minutes of chatting afterwards?  The answer is “no”.  It’s hard to build quality without quantity.  It’s not just building a relationship, which takes time, it’s also maintaining it. If my time with church people is limited to Sunday morning it will be difficult to get beyond club status to family status. The next question ties into this point:

How much do you want to hang around with your church brothers and sisters?

Are these people more than spiritual colleagues – are they good friends?   When I come home at night, I just like being around my wife even when we’re doing separate things.  I find comfort in her presence.  Is there are strong social component with at least a few of your fellow church folk? Are they people you enjoy connecting with during the week, hanging with, talking on the phone, texting, sometimes for fun, at other times in a more serious way?  Is there an emotional bond which draws you and makes you want to be together when you can?   

How well do you know significant spiritual and other truths about those in your group?

Now, I’m not suggesting that we can be best friends with everyone, or even close to everyone, especially in a larger church.  But whose life are you tracking and who’s tracking yours?  In a club, people mostly smile and keep it light, in a family, people also have light moments, but there’s a greater breadth of understanding.  We know their ups and downs, their strengths and weaknesses, some of their current concerns. Paul makes this astounding statement about the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  Does this reflect you and your church?

How much of your resources are you willing to commit to your church?

It’s amazing what biological families will do for each other.  I’ve known people to work two or three jobs, to go without basic needs, to labor a full week and then spend the weekend caring for an aged parent.  That’s all good and I’m not suggesting that we can give to the church to the extent we give to our biological family.  We have limits.  But the stronger the family aspect grows, the more effort and sacrifice we’re willing to make to bless our brothers and sisters and keep the family healthy and growing. A club mentality, on the other hand, carefully limits time and resources to a respectably bare minimum.

How much are you willing to put up with and to forgive?

Our families drive us crazy sometimes, but they’re still family and a healthy family works things through. The same is true of local churches.  If we’re to grow close, we have to pay the price.  Part of that price is pain. It’s unavoidable, especially if we get to know each other very well. People will disappoint us.  We may not like this pastor as well as the last.  Some folks are extra needy.  That’s what Jesus puts up with having us in His family, are we also willing to count that as part of the cost?  The club mentality isn’t.  That’s one reason so many people move from one church to another.

How much do you need your local church family?

We’re surrounded by spiritual resources, godly people, internet preachers, books, Christian music, etc.  How necessary really is your local church for your spiritual well-being?  Can you do just fine without it?  If you can, then the family aspect has not kicked in. The Bible makes a big deal about local churches.  There’s something about being in an actual group of people, and living Christ together that cannot be replaced by outside resources. These brothers and sisters know you personally, unlike the TV preacher.  They personally bring various spiritual gifts to bear.  They hold each other accountable and provide encouragement and support. To the club mentality, this family need is marginal at best.

How much does  your local church family need you?

I had a brother once say to me: “I come to church when I feel I need it.” (which wasn’t often, by the way). I can’t remember my reply, but it should have been, “Why not come because the church needs  you?”  You and I have spiritual gifts which, Paul says, are “indispensable” just as a physical body needs each member.  The club mentality, on the other hand, is mostly about ourselves.  It’s a consumer mindset.  What others need from us is an afterthought, at best.

            I’ve written this in the form of questions, leaving you to answer for yourself.  But let me conclude by giving my opinion. If you exceed my perceptions, praise God! Keep on doing what you’re doing.  My sense, though, is that, in the United States, most of us treat churches as clubs, not families.  The reasons are many. I’ve already hinted at a few. To be frank, as Americans, I’m not sure that many of us even want a church family; at least not in a deeper, actual family sense. A quick shot of spiritual camaraderie and inspiration seems plenty for many, if not most of us. We don’t want the messiness or sacrifice that Paul describes in his New Testament letters to the churches. Plus, we’re busy!  We’ve got other things to do, ya know! And besides, some of our fellow-church members aren’t even people we’d want to hang around in the real world.

            The truth is, however, that Christian clubs are pale imitations of a real Christian family.  And it’s in a healthy church family that much of God’s best work is done. Are you part of one?