As a senior in high school, I could (and did) go from singing “I’m So Glad I’m a Part of the Family of God” in church on Sunday morning to dancing to “We Are Family” at the disco that afternoon. Most people in my uber-conservative new-to-me church would have called an intervention had they known. I, however, had no Christian baggage myself as a new believer, so I blissfully sang and danced with no internal conflict.
My dreadful musical heritage notwithstanding (some things you simply cannot unhear), I got the message. Family matters. Whether you’re singing about the family of God or anyone you’ve chosen to claim as family, the people you declare to be your people matter.
In fact, people are doing a lot of choosing their own families these days, for various reasons. Whether it’s because of distance or dysfunction, more people are jettisoning their family of birth and creating a family of convenience and/or choice.
The time is perfect for the church to be what God called it—a family.
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. (Ephesians 2.19)
Yet for so many reasons, we fail so often. The roads out of our church buildings are strewn with the corpses of people who came there for The Brady Bunch and got Game of Thrones. Maybe you’re one of those people.
Maybe you still attend a church, but you honestly don’t believe you will ever find meaningful family there.
God created this thing called the church. It seems a foolish thing to us, sometimes. We wonder why he chose such an imperfect vehicle as his Kingdom parade marshall. But He did.
Jesus told Peter He would build His church. (Not ours. Important distinction.) He did it by creating communities around disciples wherever they scattered after his death. As each disciple told the story, people gathered, and a church was born. It’s important to remember this—church was not a nebulous concept. It was a flesh-and-blood group of people. They did not have the luxury we indulge in of saying, “Well the church isn’t a place, it’s an idea.” That would have been nuts to the first Christians. Of course it was a real thing. It had to be, to keep the lions at bay.
Paul called these churches households—families. And he made it clear that this was God’s plan for taking His kingdom into the world. The church was to lead the parade.
The gates of hell would not stand against the church, according to Jesus. But sometimes it seems they don’t have to, because like the fall of Rome, the destruction of the church these days is an inside job.
That means it’s resurrection can also be.
When Jesus says people will know his disciples by their love for one another, He was telling us that we cannot truly represent God outside of community. Try as we might to be good followers of Jesus, if we’re doing it solo, we’re failing. We may be displaying a great person to the world, but they don’t need a great person. The world is full of great people. They need a place where not great people can learn to be what they were meant to be. They need a safe place where we work out together why we’re all here in the first place.
Because we know, instinctively, that we can’t figure that out in a vacuum.
We know we need family.
There is no Plan B for letting people who don’t know God see what a family was meant to be.
Why does being a part of the church—not just the Church—matter? Because when God call us family, he means for the world to see wha a family is supposed to look like.
Church—the local church—is the hothouse for nurturing robust seedlings that become plants that feed and beautify the world.
Church—the local church—is the incubator where the baby gets the strength to go out and be who he was created to be.
Church—the local church—is the petri dish where we grow good bacteria that will go out and infect the wold around it with Jesus germs.
OK that last one wasn’t the best analogy, but you get the point. Without penicillin, after all, there would be a lot more dead people around. Good things do grow in petri dishes, even if they always looked gross in sophomore biology class.
I know. You’ve been hurt. You’re bleeding. You found what you thought was a safe place, and it turned out to be a shooting range. So stepping away for a while may be what you need for healing. There is no guilt in that.
But don’t step away for good. Don’t discount that healing among other broken people may be just what you need. Don’t forget that God didn’t promise to build individual towers. He promised to build a community–the church.
And even still, the kingdom remains a mystery just beyond our grasp. It is here, and not yet, present and still to come. Consummation, whatever that means, awaits us. Until then, all we have are metaphors. All we have are almosts and not quites and wayside shrines. All we have are imperfect people in an imperfect world doing their best to produce outward signs of inward grace and stumbling all along the way.
All we have is this church—this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church—which, by God’s grace, is enough. (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday)