Rowland Croucher writes:
"All who believed were together and had all things in common;they would sell their possessions and goods and distributethe proceeds to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:44-45).
"Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of ourLord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and thatthere be no divisions among you, but that you be united inthe same mind and the same purpose" (1 Corinthians 1:10).
"Forwhoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brotherand sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50).
"There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised anduncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; butChrist is all and in all! As God's chosen ones, holy andbeloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and,if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive eachother; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also mustforgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which bindseverything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace ofChrist rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were calledin the one body. And be thankful" (Colossians 3:11-15).
"But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither toforget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let themslip from your mind all the days of your life; make themknown to your children and your children's children"(Deuteronomy 4:9).
"Like newborn infants, long for the pure,spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation" (1Peter 2:2).
"Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another inshowing honor" (Romans 12:10).
"So then, putting awayfalsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25).
"Keep ondoing the things that you have learned and received and heardand seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you"(Philippians 4:9).
But our songs sometimes do not match reality. About that timea popular Christian book had this complaint:
'Our churches are filled with people who outwardly look contented and at peace but inwardly are crying out for someone to love them...just as they are - confused, frustrated, often frightened,guilty, and often unable to communicate even within their own families. But the other people in the church look so happy and contented that one seldom has the courage to admit his own deep needs before such a self-sufficient group as the average church meeting appears to be.' [Keith Miller, The Taste of New Wine, Waco: Texas, 1965, p.22]
An unnamed 'serious man' once reminded John Wesley that 'the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.' He was right. God's antidote for loneliness is community, koinonia, rich fellowship, experienced in the church.
The key purpose of the church is to continue to do in our world what Jesus did in his. It's as simple as that. But the key difference between Jesus and the church is that Jesus did not need to be redeemed! The church - every church - is a mixture of good and evil. Jesus the head of the church is there, present with his people, who comprise his body. God'sSpirit is at work in the church; so is the Devil. The church is not yet spiritually sanitized, just forgiven.
Last week an ex-church leader came to talk to me. He was driving his wife and ten-year-old daughter to church these days, and not attending himself. Why? He'd been hurt, and was disillusioned by the church. But as we talked I think he came to see that though his diagnosis was right his attitude was flawed. He should be there, with his family, meeting God, who still ministers to us in worship as we minister to him. We are to have the same attitude to the church Jesus has: he loves the church, not because it is perfect, but in spite of its imperfections. Jesus always loves like that. So must we.
So the local church ought to be the best resource in our culture to create 'community'. It is God's family, where we are accepted with all our faults and sins.
When people attach themselves to your church group they ought to quickly feel at home. Your church circles should be semi-circles, opening to include new people. But here's the rub: deep down many church-folk are scared of their 'networks' becoming flexible, because their security is tied up with the predictability of those relationships. In church after church I ask the leaders: Is yours a friendly church?To which they mostly answer, 'Yes'. Then I ask: name the adults who have joined your church through conversion in, say, the last eight years. Many churches have great difficulty naming them. And when I talk to people who tried to 'break into' an established fellowship they say, 'They were nice to me the first few Sundays, but I didn't seem to get invited to any of their homes. They didn't give me the "cold shoulder". I just knew I wasn't welcome.' Why is this? Deep down we are fearful of new people upsetting the chemistry of the group that satisfies our needs! So we preserve the group intact at all costs - even if we don't realize we are excluding others.
Churches are actually clusters of groups: fellowship groups, service groups, mission groups, social groups etc. When someone enters, they need to be attached to one or more of these groups within a few weeks, or they'll drift between them and out the back door.
Now the most common fallacy I encounter at this point is 'we must get so-and-so onto a committee so he or she will feel involved.' But many committees stifle creativity, and are not the best place to initiate involvement. In any case, in a church that's alive, the first group ought to be a 'faith development' group of some sort, where new people's spiritual gifts can be assessed before they are invited to be involved in ministries.
We can't talk about the church as 'family' apart from the notion of 'covenant'. This means that God has redeemed, rescued his people, and invites them to live in obedience to his will. His will is discovered especially in Scripture, and is 'incarnated' in Jesus and in the redeemed community. So one of the purposes of the church is to nurture godly families. The image of God is to be transmitted not only genetically, but also in the way that parents raise their children. The laws of God are to be taught to children, who, hopefully, respond by freely choosing to obey God, to walk in his ways.
What is the best way for children to be motivated in this direction? Kid's clubs? Sunday School? Junior Church? I remember the well-known American church consultant Lyle Schaller being asked this question. His response: children's programs are good, but they are not the key ingredient in the development of a living faith. Children watching the Big People 'lost in wonder, love and praise' as they worshipped is by far the best stimulus to a child's godliness. Also, as children see the church modelling life in Christ by rejecting exploitative attitudes and practising love, forgiveness and self-sacrifice they will find the church to be very attractive.
This kind of church family/household is thus an open community where all are welcome. It will resist buying into cultural attitudes which are ungodly or discriminatory, like legalism and moralism, racism, slavery, sexism, or the greedy exploitation of God's earth. In such a church the marginalized (name them in your town) will find a home.
How does the church-as-family relate to the biological (or extended) families within it? If we had to rank-order priorities I believe the list would look like this:
'Family nights' are a good idea - one night a week where all church activities shut down. I would encourage families on this night not to answer the phone, to refuse all other invitations, and if anyone visits, to explain politely that they might come back at another convenient time. Turn the TV off (videotape 'essential' programs). Plan talking time over the meal, and a fun time afterwards. Maybe older children can go to their homework at, say, 8 o'clock.
More broadly, every local church should ask: we cannot do everything for everyone, but what can we do well? Those ministries will probably come under one or more of three headings: primary (support networks for those in need of help by the church generally), secondary (self-help and issue-centred groups and the creation of support networks)and tertiary (for example, a church-linked professional counseling service). One church I know, for example, operates half-way houses for homeless youths and women; they have self-help groups for single adults, men in search of their masculine soul etc., and have a 'Barnabas House' counselling service on a pay-as-you-can basis.
Every church should run father/son, mother/daughter events,Dobson's Focus on the Family films, family picnics... the list is endless. But, more importantly, various families should do things together - and include fractured or single-parent families. In other words, children should have opportunities to relate meaningfully to mature Christian adults other than their parents; adults should be able to find meaningful friendships with other like-minded people(eg. parent networks); and all should reach out to a limited number of marginalized people. Who for example, helps older single adults, especially widows in your church? Or seniors? Or the unemployed, early retirees, and single mums?
Every church should have 'family services' where whole families participate - perhaps a 9.30 am service every Sunday in large churches, once a month in smaller ones. And every church should run a 'How to Help your Friend' course at least every two years, and seminars for parents etc. from time totime.
The church is uniquely placed to do in its world what Jesus did in his - teaching God's truth to everyone, and relating to the 'little people' like the mentally ill, the lonely, children from dysfunctional families. Then we shall be truly God's family in a heartless world.
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This article is published courtesty of Rowland Croucher, John Mark Ministries. If you would like to peruse more articles from the pen of Rowland Croucher, visit his website at http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm.
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