Monday, January 11, 2016

Church Family

Let me ask you something: who do you go to church with? No. Who do you really go to church with?

I think one of the greatest disservices that we've done to our church families is that we've segregated them. The kids show up and "go to church" with all the other kids, somewhere off in another room by themselves with one or two adults present. The teens show up and "go to church" with all the other teens, attending teen classes and then sitting together in the teen section of the sanctuary. The women show up and "go to church" with the other women, attending women's classes and serving in women's ministries. The men do the same. The seniors show up and "go to church" with the seniors. The pastors with the pastors, the worship team with the worship team. Maybe they're all attending the same church, or maybe they're all just in the same building at the same time.

It's a product of our culture, really. All of these people, all of these groups of people, they have different "needs," we say. The children need coloring activities and simple crafts. The women need time to fellowship with other women, without kids. The men need time to discuss men's issues. The worship team needs prep time. The pastors need strategic planning. The seniors need a break from..well, everything. The teens are in this awkward transition phase that is very sensitive and requires just that special touch. And so on. As though there's not one thing the church can offer us that we all need, or a way that the church can offer it that satisfies each of those needs.

Really? We struggle that much to think of just one thing the church might have that might bind us all together?

How about Jesus?

But I digress. Because this post isn't really about Jesus. (Sorry.) It's about His church. It's about a church that started out as a family, and we still call it that, but it's become more of a modern family than an essential unit, and that's a shame. The modern family is a bunch of scattered people, all doing their own things in their own ways, occasionally passing each other in the halls between bathroom breaks and kitchen runs. The kids are always on their tablets, the parents are always catching up on work, and the grandparents are quietly observing all of it, wondering what is happening to this world. (Stereotypes, but work with me here.)

The family, however, was once much more than this. Do you realize that the smallest unit of personhood in the Bible is not the individual? It's the family. It's Noah and his family. It's Abraham and Sarah and their family. It's Jacob and his sons. It's Saul and his son, Jonathan. It's Elizabeth and Zechariah. It's Mary and Joseph. It's the house of David, the house of Judah. 

It's the house of God. 

And it's meant to have a family in it.

The family was more than just a social unit in the times of the Bible; it was a community. A community within a community. And each individual within the family unit had something to offer. The patriarchs and matriarchs (the older generations) offered their wisdom and their protection. The middle generations (the modern moms and dads) offered their labor and their provision. The younger generations offered their honor and their eagerness. Everyone had something to bring to the table. And yes, there was actually a table. And yes, they ate around it. Together. 

In the New Testament, God ordains the church as a family unit, and I can't help but think that He saw what was already starting to happen to the family. In the Roman Empire, as life became more urban, more settled, more industrial and less agrarian, the family structure was already changing. In the city, the family could leave near one another, but not necessary together, unlike in the rural areas where it made the most sense to live on the same plot of land. In the city, men could do a whole host of different things, instead of being tied to what the family had always done. Most stuck with the family tradition, but the possibilities were there that they wouldn't have to. The family was starting to become less of a community and more merely a kinship. So the church became the community, the new family unit. 

In the church, we're supposed to have the same experience as these older, traditional families. The patriarchs and matriarchs of our churches, the older generations, have wisdom to offer. They offer their protection. They know more about the church than the rest of us because they've been there the longest. They've lived it the longest. They know how to "work the land," as it were, and they can help show the rest of us how to do it. The middle generations serve in the church. They do the bulk of the work of the church - the teaching, the facilities maintenance, the evangelism, the community outreach, the community partnerships, the continuation of the church's teachings in the personal home. This is where the church's living wage comes from, from this generation that has learned and is still learning, that has taught and is still teaching. It's provision. And the younger generations still come with their honor, taking on the traditions and the tone of the historical church (whatever that happens to be in the present location), and their eagerness, that young passion for the Word of God that reminds all of us what we're doing here. And so much more, from every generation, as well. The lists are endless.

But most of us worship on Sunday mornings without even realizing the tremendous gift that God has given us in our churches, without recognizing the family that surrounds us. Because we stopped going to church with our family and started going just with our friends. Because we don't put the generations together in the church often enough to truly reap the full benefit of what each has to offer. Because our churches have become modern families and not family units.

And that's a shame.

Because God has given the church for just this reason: that His people would never forget that the smallest unit of personhood is not the individual. It's the family. God's family. Back in one house. God's house. Where stories are told, memories made, traditions passed down, and where everyone...everyone...has something to bring to the table. And yes, there actually is a table. 

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