The word “family” is a powerful word. It can cause great emotions to swell up within us. Emotions that may be beautiful and peaceful…emotions that may be unsettling or awkward…but always powerful. “Family” conjures up memories of holidays, reunions, and meals. I remember family dinners at Grandma’s house, where, as a child, I never got to sit at the big table. I always sat at the folding table…and if I was real lucky, I got to eat my dinner using a TV tray…aww…those were the days…
We all need family. We need family because we can’t get where we want to go alone. We need love and support from others. We need encouragement and comfort. We often say a team is like a family. Some see their co-workers as family. We often regard our close friends as part of the family. We all need family.
That is what is so wonderful about the church. The church started out as Family…by God’s design. Notice the example of the early church.
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
This is the very picture of the church functioning the way God intended. By God’s design, the church is to function as a family. Think about the import of what Jesus says in Matthew 12:46-50, “While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” Jesus is not dismissing his mother and brothers. Jesus is making a point about his followers being a part of his family. As Christians, we are part of God’s family.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14).
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).
As Christians, we are part of God’s family…we are a family. We come together as a church and receive comfort, love, support and strength. And what a blessing that is. That’s what God intended.
I often think about churches with which I have served. And I know most every church can relate to the difficulties that its members experience in life. At one particular congregation, an elder lost his adult son in a tragic automobile accident. A daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing. A young family lost a three-year-old son to cancer. Three deacons with young families suffered untimely deaths, leaving five teenagers without a father. An elder’s son-in-law paid the ultimate price, giving his life in service to our country. Travel anywhere, speak to anyone, and they will have similar stories to tell. But for this particular church, in these instances, the church family surrounded those grieving families, showing great support and love. These life experiences, and the response of the church members, helped grow and strengthen the faith of many and cultivated an atmosphere of genuine love. There were comments made by many people in the community about the love and support that the church family expressed toward these families in their time of sorrow. Folks in the community would talk about what a loving place that must be. Their love for one another was evident to all. This makes clear the truth of Jesus’ teaching that we will be known by our love (John 13:35).
First impressions are everything. I remember the first time I met Lindsey, my future wife. I was trying so hard to impress…her boyfriend. I was working as assistant baseball coach at Crowley’s Ridge College, in Paragould, AR. Her boyfriend was a real good catcher, and we needed a real good catcher. I was on the recruiting trail trying to get him to come play for us. He did…she followed…they broke up…and…well… as they say, the rest is history. But, first impressions are everything. As Christians, as congregations, we should make sure we are doing all we can to ensure that everyone coming to worship God with us will find a warm, loving welcome.
We’ve all been in uncomfortable family situations, either where there was awkwardness, or where we felt uneasy. When you hear “in-laws”, what comes to your mind? There are jokes. There are stories. There are nightmares. For many, “in-laws” has a negative ring to it. We might think of Ray Barone’s mother, Marie. We can think of movies and TV shows that revolve around the cold-hearted in-laws. You may have heard the story of the man who took his wife and mother-in-law on a trip to the holy lands. While they were there, the man’s mother-in-law died. The undertaker sat down with the man and explained his options. “You can have her body shipped back to the U.S. for a cost of $5200. Or, you can have her buried here for just $150.” The man thought about it and decided the best thing to do would be have her body shipped back to the U.S. The undertaker was curious, “Why would you pay $5200 to ship her body back to the U.S. when you can have her buried here for $150?” The man said, “Two-thousand years ago, a man died here and was buried…three days later he rose again…and I just can’t take that chance.”
For those that are married, think back to what it was like the first time you met “the in-laws”. Do you remember the awkwardness? Do you remember being nervous? That’s the feeling a lot of people have the first time they walk into a church. They are meeting people they have never met before. They are not sure what to expect. It’s a bit awkward. The important aspect of this reality is that we as individuals, and collectively as congregations, should recognize this awkwardness and do all we can to make others feel comfortable.
Some people have had experiences with icy in-laws. The awkward silence. The cold shoulder. The avoidance. The negative vibe. As a church, and as individuals, we need to make sure we are not being the icy in-law.
Almost universally, every family has that one family member who is in everyone else’s business. Maybe it’s the overbearing aunt. You all know her. She has to know what everyone is doing at all times. She is not satisfied until she knows every detail, so she can share what she knows. She’s the one who pinches your cheeks. She’s the one who asks, “Have you put on some weight?” Or, “Are you feeling alright? You don’t look well.” She gives unwanted advice. She’s…well…overbearing. As a church, and as individuals, we need to make sure we are not being the overbearing aunt.
The Bible is clear in its teaching that the church is a family. We are all responsible for making people feel welcome in our family. Church family is such a blessing, and we should want everyone who comes to worship with our family to realize this truth, to feel the warmth and love of our family. It takes everyone to make this happen. And it’s something everyone can do. It’s simple. It’s a simple hello, a warm smile, just a quick comment, letting them know how happy you are that they’re here (without feeling pressured to exchange life stories). It’s making sure that no one comes and sits down near you without receiving a warm welcome. As a church, as a family, we need to make sure we are doing all we can to be a gracious, inviting, loving, welcoming family, so we can avoid that awkward moment when…