I was reminded today of how often churches love to describe themselves as “a family.” For many of us, there is something very comforting about that analogy to describe our church home.
“Church family,” at its best, conveys warmth and love. When it’s used it’s meant to express that “this is a place where we sacrifice for one another” and “this is a community in which you can be truly seen and unconditionally loved.” For those who find “church family” a desirable descriptive, it’s a powerful witness to the ability of the Church to bring people together.
Shocking as it may sound: I don’t think the Church should be like a family. At least not any family I’ve seen.
Even for families in which love and warmth are present and freely available, the whole system is built on a closed structure. Entry into the family is only granted (sometimes begrudgingly) after months or years of dating someone already on the inside and the occasional appearance at a holiday party – just to be sure they fit in. Children born into the family are brought up in a slow and steady manner in accordance with the identity of the family. Entering a family takes either a lot of time or right of birth.
Being a “church family” is nice, but not good enough. The family is insular. The Church can’t be.
Have you ever invited a stranger to Christmas dinner? Did you not only invite them in and welcome them with the full love of your family, but also make a place for them in your home, hoping they would stay? I would imagine not. Families aren’t invitational; they don’t go out looking for new people to love.
If the Church is to be a family, it must be one different than our families of ancestry and marriage. It must be a family that is filled not only with love, but also with a zeal for extending invitations to friend and stranger alike. It must be a family willing to feed all of Christ’s sheep, and invite all of God’s people – not just the occasional ones we judge to fit well in our family – into life-giving discipleship.
This ministry asks us to be vulnerable and risky. It requires us to be brave and to have faith. It might even disrupt the comfort of our “church family.” But when we do it faithfully, our “family” might grow into something more beautiful, diverse, and life-giving than we ever could have imagined.