In Jesus’ classic style of pedagogy He used many forms in expressing many truths. Many of these forms are loaded with picture words, or types, analogies and metaphors that are in parabolic form bringing clarity to the truth of His essential teachings. For the kingdom He used land, pearls, parties or banquets. For lost things He used coins, sheep and prodigals. For the church itself He chose many pictures. These include: a bride, a body, a building, a candlestick, sheep, a garden, a loaf, light, salt, an army and a family.
When we see the church as a family of families our ecclesiology takes a shift away from the corporate business models that infatuate us and moves us towards seeing the relational phenomena of the nuclear family as the complete microcosm or building block of the larger macrocosm of the church. The church becomes a family of families.
It seems that God could have chosen to reveal His truth about the church and how it functions in so many ways, yet the most obvious way, was the way that was foundationally behind His intent, his purpose, His plan. He was not looking for a marketing firm or an ad agency, or an elite group of scientists or engineers to try to explain how he chose to be manifest among the earth. He wasn’t looking for a club; a society; a fraternity or a sorority. He wasn’t looking for a conglomerate; a consortium; a service agency or a think tank. He wasn’t even looking for a cluster or a cloister of people who saw “eye to eye” and lock-step in head knowledge or in doctrinal sync.
Nope! He said, just give me a family. I’ll begin with mom and pop and the kids. God seems very satisfied to faithfully use this little sound-bite or segment of our culture, especially as it learns to rely on Him, learns about Him, and discovers how they are designed to relate to each other as man and wife, as parents and as siblings as His lesson plan for the ages. How the family grows in treating one another through the good times and the bad times, how they learn to honor one another with mutual respect, tenderness and nurture, and thus how they grow closer and closer in support of each other, will be His chosen model.
As this couple welcomes offspring, boys and girls come into the family with a different “birth order,” different giftings, personalities and needs, and how the growing family learns to respond to those needs and live in sacrificial harmony will becomes a visual model of church and community. That imagery, that forethought, that expression guides God’s matrix. How they as a working family give and pass along all of these challenging qualities and values to the generations of families that are ahead of them will be God’s way of taking Who He is to the nations.
For generations to come, they will have something to follow as they learn to live in their individual nuclear families, and as they reinforce those families realities learning to encourage, stimulate and provoke one another to deeper family harmony, and in response, ”all the generations of the earth are blessed.”
Definitions Are Extremely Important
There is an old saying, “he who controls the language controls the argument,” so redefining the church in terms of the family is radical, crucial, even fatal! Definition always determines relationship. If you see the church as a machine, as a business, a set of programs, a series of meetings, even as a building a place or an address will determine how you will out your life as the church.
How you define something determines not only how you think about something, how you relate to something. We are going to end up becoming what it is we decide we are going to be. Jesus decided that His church would be the family of God, rather than a smooth running institution to be proud of or a successful business to invest in or even an organization with great efficiency. Plain and simple, He offered a family, a way of relating, and a way of being, and He still does.
Gary Goodell is a former evangelist, pastor, college dean and instructor involved in ministry stuff for almost 50 years. He and his wife Jane live in San Diego, California USA and he is a father of two and grandfather of seven. As an author and consultant he is an itinerant mentor working with the international church planting movement known as Third Day Churches, that he and some friends founded in 2001. Third Day Churches now involves leadership and ministries in over 20 nations.
His two books, “Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century,” and “Where Would Jesus Lead?” are both available online.