Church: Team Or Family?

What you call the church determines how you will relate to it. Some of the newer terms we have used to market the local church, and even solicit involvement and participation are the use of the common term “team.” It gets printed on t-shirts, banners and baseball caps, whatever necessary to both foster morale and to esteem cooperation, it seems a “team” spirit works thematically for a missions project, an evangelistic endeavor or even an annual call to practical service.

But when we begin to call ourselves a team and not a family, too much shifts, and often too much is lost. A team is a group of people banded together for the express purpose of achievement, winning a game, accomplishing a goal, or completing a project. The Chargers are a team, so are the marines, and United Airlines.  A team usually has a coach, an owner, and of course players, all trained to accomplish a task.

If the right guard keeps missing blocks, the coach is obligated to the owner and the other team members to bench him and even eventually replace or trade him. Sometimes when churches operate as teams, the leader (lead pastor) acts as a captain or a coach, sets up goals, and then initiates the action to achieve those goals. If someone gets in the way, misses a catch, sprains an ankle or is just plain too slow, he gets let go, dismissed from his charge, is asked to leave the game and is dropped from the team.

However, if the right guard is married to the coach’s daughter, or is the son of the owner, that becomes a different subject.  Now the team is a mixture of team and family and families operate on a different level.

Whereas teams are committed to achieving goals and winning games, families are committed to each other. In fact, the goal sometimes may be no more than simply sticking together. Staying committed, as a family, staying together particularly when things are not running smoothly means everyone at all times gets to play, because participating is more important than winning, and in family it is more important for the overall morale of the family that everyone makes it. Becoming someone in the family is more important than accomplishing something, even if that accomplishment is letting the opponent score and second goal when you turn the other cheek.

Churches, who set themselves up as teams, or even institutions, are missing the purposes of God. Churches are not teams committed to a common goal, even if that goal is as lofty as winning souls or sending missionaries. Churches are families, whose basic commitment to each other in order to accomplish anything.  A son has a right to leave home, but a father does not have the right to fire him from his Sonship drive him away. The coach may bench an ineffective player, but in family when the game is over, we still eat at the same table. We are family first…team second.

Community Precedes Proclamation

The Book of Acts gives us a pretty balanced picture of the early Christian experience: evangelism and the church, proclamation and community, witness and fellowship. The two primary concerns of the early church were mutual edification and proclamation. But all evangelism sprang from community, and the community grew through its witness. Evangelism was not merely something that individuals Christians did; rather it was the natural result of the presence and influence of the Christian community in the world. The living community gave credibility to the verbal proclamation.

John Howard Yoder, “Pragmatically it is self evident that there can be no procedure of proclamation without a community, distinct from the rest of society, to do the proclaiming. Pragmatically it is just as clear that there can be no evangelistic call addressed to a person inviting him to enter into a new kind of fellowship and learning if there is not such a body of persons, again distinct from the totality of society, to whom he can come and with whom he can learn…if it is not the case that there be a given place men of various characters and origins who have been brought together in Jesus Christ, then there is not in that place the new humanity and in that place the gospel is not true. If, on the other hand, this miracle of new creation has occurred, then all the verbalizations and interpretations whereby this brotherhood communicates to the world around is are simply explications of the fact of its presence.

In other words: proclamation presupposes a living, witnessing community. If Jesus actually gave more time to preparing a community of disciples than proclaiming the good news, then the contemporary church must also recognize the importance of community before proclamation.

“Like love,” we keep looking for models of “church” in all the wrong places. We keep looking in corporate structures, in megachurch models, and even multi-site experiments, when all along we need simply look at how a family works. Families that work by actually living out the qualities and transferable values of community call to us throughout Scripture.

The Trinity

All of creation begins with an agreement in community, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” Genesis 1:26. Whether described as the perfect picture, the model of models or even the divine dance.  Biblically, community is three or more gathered together (Matthew 18:20). So God, the highest life in the universe, has chosen to exist in community!

As it has been said and sung, if God were one person, there could be power, if God were two persons, there could be love between them, but as God is manifest in a Trinity there is community. In fact, it seems very that possibly the only time in all of eternity when the Godhead did not live in community were those dark hours on the cross when Jesus paid for our sins.

The Garden

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them, ” Genesis 1:27. The first man and first woman were placed in a garden to live in community with each other and with God. Satan’s real work in the garden began by an attempt to break up community, causing blame casting and a division within the created man and woman.

The Family

God designed the family so that it would always create community. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it,” Genesis 1:28. Accountability to and responsibility for each other was to be the fundamental characteristic of “God’s family”. Again, satan’s response was to incite Cain to murder his brother Abel, thereby sowing the seeds of destruction to the first family unit. Cain’s response when confronted by God about his brother was as much a statement of principle as an excuse to a question. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9.

The Jethro Principle

God instructed Moses, through his father-in-law Jethro to form an administrative infrastructure that would cause the people of God to be adequately cared for as needs arose. And of course this was already superimposed over a culture that was already tribal in nature. Exodus 18:13 – 26. These numbers were not chosen randomly, but in the wisdom of God. With a conservative estimate of 1.5 million Israelites, would mean there would be somewhere around 150,000 cells of 10, maybe 30,000 clusters of 50, 6,000 groups of 100, and according to Exodus 24:9, 70 elders who would been over the thousands.

Even in a crowd this large God was revealing His purpose to function best through a reduced sense of size and a more manageable format of relationship and reasoning.

Jesus’ Chosen

In Jesus, who could have kept a large following at any time, instead handpicked 12, Mark 3:14, that they might be with Him (in relationship) and then that he might send them (in ministry).

Jesus’ Circles

Even within Jesus’s chosen followers, there was a subgroup of 3, Peter, James and John, and a chosen ally in 1, John. He also had His 70, Luke 10:1, His 120, Acts 1:15, and at any time larger groups that He fed and ministered to, Mark 8:20. And yet in His infamous style of intimacy He spent most of His time with the 1, the 3, and the 12.

The Generations

Interesting, even without biological parents to leave, God plants within the first couple the seed for more generations as He blesses this act of duplication and multiplication, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” Genesis 2:24.

The Church Is Not:

1. An organization made up of programs, systems, and methods dedicated to attracting monies and members to itself.

2. Buildings and offices, departments and positions, manipulated by hierarchies given to earthly display and self-aggrandizement for the purpose of being better accepted within chosen social spheres.

3. Another worldly institution dedicated to applying a balm of humanistic principles and solutions to man’s personal and social ills.

The Church Is:

A family, a family much like the one described by Edith Schaeffer many years ago:

1. Family is the place where we no longer need to pretend that we are anything other than what we really are.

2. Where acceptance of each other is not based upon levels of performance.

3. Where we don’t have to be afraid that our relationships will be broken.

4. Where our material possession are spontaneously shared.

5. Where our unique callings in life can be sought out and called forth with another’s help.

6. Where each member’s celebration or pain is felt by all.

7. Where we are free enough to admit we are needy, asking for help and expecting to receive it.

8. Where we are freed from the horrible burden of seeing life as a demand, as oughtness, as duty, instead as a gift, a feast, and a banquet.

And, periodically these families (microcosm) gets together with other families (macrocosm), as a family of families, maybe in a larger building, a tent, a warehouse, a gymnasium, wherever they can gather in a certain geographical sphere or given locale to celebrate like a family reunion encouraging one another at a larger scale and collectively worshiping God. But all of its strength, all its vitality comes not from the numerics of the gathering but rather from the family dynamics of the gathering.

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.