Church = A Family
At the start of a new church season, we know it is not going to be like what it was. But, as we are re-shaping and re-imagining church in this season, we won't have to start from scratch. John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, said that church is essentially four things: 1) a Family, 2) a Hospital, 3) a School and 4) an Army. The coming four Sundays, we'll explore these four themes in the messages.
When we pivot together in this new church season, discovering what church can be like in the rest of 2020, these four functions of the church are a great starting point. That’s what we’ll do in the coming four messages.
Church = A Family
Countless times in the New Testament, believers are addressed in this way: ‘brothers and sisters’. This shows us that there was a deep sense of belonging together in the early church. Every believer was seen as part of the ever-extending family. Through this consistent use of family terms to address each other, they emphasized belonging and equality.
The fact that we all have become children of God connects us together. We belong together. We’re a family. The family of God.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul even literally uses the word ‘family’ in relation to the identity and calling of the church. After explaining how God has formed one new people (and a people is of course really an extended and connected family over many generations) out of Jews and Gentiles through Jesus Christ, he says:
Ephesians 2:19-22 (NIV)
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
In this passage, we find three keys to embrace our identity as God’s family:
1) We all belong,
2) We are joined together in Christ,
3) We are God’s dwelling place.
1) We all belong
Every Christian belongs to this worldwide family of God. In Christ, we have become children of God, and therefore we are part of His family.
Every Christian belongs to this worldwide family of God.
In a family, we find some of our most intimate and fundamental relationships. Let’s explore just a few things about family and see how they apply to church life.
A family shapes you
The family you grew up in has had a huge impact on who you are today. Your relationship with your parents and siblings, their relationships – or lack thereof – the values you were brought up with, your early experiences, etc. they all played a huge part in becoming who you are today.
In a similar way, the first church that you belonged to, whether as a child or in the early stages of your journey with Jesus, has a huge impact on your spiritual formation.
Healthy churches inspire young believers to trust God fully and follow Jesus radically. They breed disciples.
The counterpart of that is also true.
If you grow up in an unhealthy church environment, it can take years until you finally get rid of that faulty image of God, you distrust church people and struggle in following Jesus.
This is why I believe it is so important to invest in our kids ministry and see it flourish, because this church environment has an enormous impact on their faith development.
A family gives identity
Our whole lives we identify by the name of the family that we grew up in, or married into. We literally identify by the family that we come from.
Family is a relationship for life, because it is part of your identity. In most cases, it is also a bond that lasts for your whole life.
You choose your friends, not your family. With some of your family members, you wouldn’t even be in relationship at all if you were not connected to them through shared DNA.
As a Christian, you belong to God’s family – whether you come to the family reunions or not. Now, luckily, we are free to choose a certain church that connects with us best, but even in that church, you don’t get to choose all the family members.
This can be challenging at times, because suddenly, you relate to people that normally wouldn’t be your friends. Yet, you also know that, whatever happens in your life, there is a family that you belong to and where you are welcomed.
2) We are joined together in Christ
We are bound together, not through a shared DNA, but through our shared faith in Jesus Christ.
This is one of the things I find so special at Vineyard Groningen. We are people from different continents, colors, cultures and church denominations, but we are connected together in Christ. He is the One that binds us together!
Now, in a family, there are certain family roles. The basic roles in a family are that of child and parent.
The children need to be loved and affirmed by the parents. They need to be educated, supported and protected. And one of the main roles of parents is to lead the children towards independence.
Now, this seems like a very one-sided relationship – the one gives, the other takes. But here’s the thing – the growth of the children is the joy of the parents. Last week, Anja and I (mostly her) taught our 3,5 year old daughter to ride a bicycle. Now, it was a bit of a struggle and perseverance and patience were definitely needed, but oh the joy of seeing her growing in confidence and then actually doing it!
We are people from different continents, colors, cultures and church denominations, but we are connected together in Christ.
In a church family, the stronger, or more mature believers, also devote their time and effort to help those younger in the faith, to develop and grow towards independence. Perhaps not as parents with children, but as older brothers and sisters. Yet, certainly with the same joy and devotion to each other.
3) We are God’s dwelling place
This family has a purpose – to be a place where the presence of God dwells.
In the Greek text this passage was originally written in, the word used for family here is oikos – which is more literally house or household, and in some cases even means Temple. It’s in the use of this word that we find something of the purpose we’re called to.
And in a church, all of these things come together; we are a family – a household – that is a dwelling place for the presence of God.
This is a major shift from the time before Jesus to the time after Jesus. Before Jesus, the oikos of God was the Temple – a building where he resides.
Now, the oikos of God is a household – a family. People who experience His presence when they gather and carry the presence wherever they go.
In our gathering and belonging together, we become a place of God’s dwelling. In forming a family that cares for one another, educates one another and is committed to each other, we experience God’s presence among us and flourish through His presence.
It’s my prayer that we will continue to grow both in intimacy as a family, and in our reach as a family on mission.
I pray that our relationships will grow deeper.
I pray that our care for each other will grow.
I pray that we will make the children that are part of our community a high priority, making sure they grow up in a healthy church community.
I pray that we will always be ready to welcome new members into our family. Wherever they come from. Whatever burdens they carry with them.
I pray that joining Vineyard Groningen will be like coming home in God’s family.