Sat, 08/30/2008 – 08:08 — David Watson
One of the great metaphors for church is Household/Family of God. Paul writes in 1 Tim 3:14-15 (NIV),“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” In 1 Peter 4:17 (NIV) Christians are referred to as the “family of God.” This metaphor has tremendous implications for a Community of Believers.
The basic building block of society is the family. God established the family at creation. The Bible has defined and refined the roles within a family, the position of family within society, and the interactions between families. The relationships found in family are typically deep and complicated. Even dysfunctional families usually have high expectations of roles, identity and acceptance within family, and how the family represents itself to the rest of the community.
Any metaphor breaks down when pushed too far. But metaphors should give meaning and dimension to our understanding. In this case I think we need to focus on the ideal concepts related to family and how these would relate to a Community of Believers. It is understood that none of us will achieve the ideal, but I think we should strive for it.
Following are some adjectives that come to mind as I reflect about family. These are in no particular order. I just wrote them down as they came to mind. These descriptors have implications for my biological family as well as my spiritual family. Let me know if there are other adjectives you think of as you reflect on family and what it ought to be.
- Generational – more than father, mother, and children. There are grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and more. Some of these relationships are close. Others may even be unknown. But all are family. Families have longer life cycles than individuals.
- Led – there are usually one or more elders in charge of the family. Decision-making varies, but generally involves a group dynamic with different generations and nearness-of-relationship having more or less influence on decision-making. There is no single way families lead themselves. The very fact that families blend through marriage result in each family being somewhat different from other families, even within the same culture. The way families lead themselves can change, especially when there is traumatic change in leadership. It is also interesting to note that some families lead other families that may not be related to them.
- Open – people can marry into family, children may be adopted, and sometimes friends can become like family. In some cultures this openness allows generations to separate into new distinct family units. In other cultures families can grow to be tight knit clans that are multi-generational with set hierarchies and succession. There is opportunity for two families to become one blended family in situations where a person who already has children marries another person who already has children. There may also be times when extreme strife divides a family. Potential new members are scrutinized, but usually become fully associated and identified with the family once integrated.
- Protective – family members look out for each other, watch each other’s backs, care for the young and weak, close ranks around those who are unjustly attacked, and stand by those who may be justly attacked, providing appropriate care and nurture. To attack one member of a family is to attack the whole family. In good families this protectiveness promotes growth. Protectiveness allows an environment where the young can grow, and the weak or sick can have opportunity to become stronger.
- Supportive – It is expected that family members will support each other emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially. The level of support given/received is based on need, closeness of relationships, and maturity. In times of crisis roles may reverse, and boundaries that have been set may become more or less restrictive or even disappear.
- Encouraging – Good families cheer for each other and help each other reach personal and/or family goals. They want each member to reach his or her full potential. Love, demonstrated in forgiveness and selflessness, is at the heart of encouragement. The whole family participates in and celebrates the successes of any and every member. Appropriate rivalry and/or competition spur to growth and do not tear down the weak or limit the strong.
- Identifiable – people outside the family know who you are because of your family, and what you do reflects positively or negative on the whole family, not just yourself. Families have names – sometimes good, sometimes bad. Many families have reputations that set positive or negative standards for the community in which they function. Family will mold its children to the standards of the family, and may influence communities positively or negatively. Families may have “black-sheep” children or relatives, but these family members are a part of the fabric of the family, and may even be looked upon with pride, depending on what put the black sheep outside the accepted norm for the family. It is generally known who is a part of the family and who is not, by both the family and the community.
- Reproductive – one of the purposes of family is to reproduce itself, to multiply and to grow. It is expected that family will be multi-generational. Family lives longer than any single member of the family. It is natural for families to produce multiple branches that may or may not maintain contact with each other.
- Nurturing – helping/encouraging/training/educating/mentoring each other to reach his/her own potential intellectually, physically, emotionally, spiritually, educationally, career-wise and financially. Leaders are grown. All learn to follow before they lead and as they lead. Team work is developed, and individual virtuosity is capitalized for the benefit of the individual and the family.
- Caring – meeting the needs of members and non-members. Good families do not just look out for themselves and their members, but for the community at large, and perhaps for people they have never met. Care is expressed in generosity to those in need, regardless of background or family membership. Care for family members will come first, but is not exclusive. When neighbors or strangers are in need, then families that care for one another will turn that care to others. Families that care for each other, give care to others.
- Mobile – no family is found in only one place. Some families divide and move because of circumstances. Other families plan their divisions and movements. Families survive by planting themselves in many places.
- Versatile – though families are often identified as being part of one community or one profession, this is not usually the reality of any family. Most families are highly diversified. Successful families are always diversified in educational backgrounds, occupational backgrounds, political affiliation, and sometimes nationality. Versatility promotes survivability. Changing with the times assures the future of the family, just as heritage provides stability for the family. Innovation and tradition are required for true versatility. Tradition provides the stability and platform for innovation. Innovation keeps tradition from becoming petrified and limiting. Great tradition is based on principles that propel the family into the future. What has been will become greater through innovation. The nature of God is creative. He bestowed that nature on mankind. To deny innovation is to deny the very nature of God. Families need traditions that promote creative initiatives. Families need innovation in order to remain viable and healthy.
- Loving – putting one another before self. Expecting and wishing the best for each other. Making the best happen for one another when and if possible. Accepting what cannot be changed. Changing what must be changed. Picking each other up when we fall. Giving room to fall. Forgiving and being forgiven when we fail. Hope for improvement, and striving to make it happen. Remembering the good. Learning from mistakes. Forgetting the bad. Blessing each other and being a blessing to each other. Being the stepping stone to success for each other, and giving a hand up to others as we become successful. Helping the weaker. Healing the sick. Sacrificing so that others may grow, benefit, succeed. Open to strangers, yet fiercely protective, caring, and nurturing. Giving one’s life that others or another may live. Giving all we know that others may grow. Generous. Recognizing growth, success, character, generosity, achievement and sacrifice. Humility and excellence. Giving and receiving. Learning and teaching. Serving. Loving. (I’m having a hard time depleting my thoughts on love, so I’ll just quit for right now.)
All the above has overwhelming implications for a Community of Believers. This is the kind of church I want to be a part of. This is the kind of church I want to foster. This is the kind of family I want to grow.
From Henderson, TX