Recently, I was watching a television show on the orphans left behind after a country experienced severe war trauma. Children of all ages found themselves alone; dealing with the challenges of finding food, safety and a place to sleep at night. The need prompted the building of some large orphanages, staffed with those who would take care of basic needs such as; clean clothes, meals, a bed, some education, and a time and space to play with the other children. It was a great improvement over what many of these children had before the orphanage, certainly! But not ideal.
There was little affection provided to the children, and any individual interaction and encouragement on personal level, was just impossible with so many children to staff ratios. This resulted in the interaction being "corporate" rather than "individual" by the staff, and the children's personal, and emotional well-being was left to the children themselves to administer to each other.
Although their basic needs were met, the children were missing the best, and most basic of structures to provide what they needed to grow up in.
The small and intimate unit God created called a family.
A family that could not be replaced with a large, however good it was in meeting basic needs, institution; called an orphanage.
We are created to live and grow in families. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. There are good substitutes, but as the saying goes; "the good is the enemy of the best".
Families, are the best.
There is a lot of discussion of definitions these days about what defines church, and what does not. In recent blogs posts, I too, have been discussing aspects of simple, organic, fluid church from my perspective. I've also commented on where I see the movement at this point in time, and where I feel, we still need to go.
One of these areas that I believe still needs to change in our understanding, is seeing church as family (with all of its aspects,) instead of church as a gathering, a institution, a place we "go to", or "attend".
Church as family, is core to the discussion of what defines church. A family has certain characteristics that are shared, regardless of the culture or country it is experienced in. It can be large or small but the basics of a family stay the same. It is a universal structure, undisturbed throughout history in its form and function until recent years.
Now, you may be experiencing in your fellowship together, the sense of being "a family" with others already. That is great, and I'm preaching to the choir with you!
However, the majority of those who call themselves Christ followers do not experience this.
What is more often the case, (because we love to take words and water them down or change the meaning to suit our purposes), is that you are more likely having large group interactions. Interactions most likely on a superficial level, that function more as a organization, a school, a training center, a mass of people filling a building, a "congregation" instead of a family.
I've heard large churches of hundreds of people refer to themselves as "a family". I would agree in the broadest sense of the word (as the family of God), certainly. But I don't think any of us would really believe that a group of hundreds of people, could, and do, have the quality of relationships that would define a healthy relational family unit. That would be logistically impossible!
The phenomena of large churches creating weekly "small groups"," kinship groups", "cell groups", etc. in the last couple decades, as been a because we as humans are created for intimate, honest, consistent, committed relationships. The large group concept simply was not producing fruit and meeting the needs of people. This was obvious. The response was to add a small context to the large for that purpose. Again, good, but not the best.
Our relationships together are supposed to model after our relationship with The Father, and His Son (certainly words referring to familiar relationships of intimacy by their very definition!). Now THEY have a simple church - the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit!
God Himself, placed Jesus into a family to mature; "and the child (Jesus) continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom;and the grace of God was upon Him" Luke 2:40.
Jesus had his own simple church of relationships with the group of disciples around Him (men and women) that he treated like family members and when dying on the Cross, pointed the young John to his own mother for mutual care.
The book of Acts is full of simple churches that functioned as family both in the natural formation of a existing family; (Cornelius and Lydia), and the natural family with the addition of outside persons forming a whole familial unit of a spiritual family.
"Then he (Paul) left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all this household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized." Acts 18:7-8
We are not created to be birthed, grow, mature, receive discipline, accountability, intimacy, love and ultimately long term commitment in a university, a hospital, an organization, a business - and yet that is what we have turned "church" into. No wonder we have such little fruit and impact - at least in the areas where BIG IS IN! Our western preoccupation with big and thus "better" is a delusion, and I'll take on that issue in the next blog post.
Is no one paying attention to China, India, Africa, Iran and other places where the simple, small, home, neighbor to neighbor type of church is growing, producing disciples, and evangelizing whole regions?
Are we missing the correlation that they (the above mentioned) resemble Scripture more than our large corporate gatherings? In fact, our large corporate gatherings resemble more of the very institutions that rejected Jesus!
Do we simply ignore the fruit and impact of these small family expressions of faith that are "over there", and satisfy ourselves "over here" with fancy buildings, large staffs, programs that keep people busy and attendance numbers?
I had a conversation recently with someone I know who was updating me on a mutual friend who pastors a church. This person kept repeating to me; "They have 1500 people in their church!" I'd say; "Are they producing fruit worth 1500 people in the area?" .
However, each response of mine with a question of what those 1500 were impacting, was returned with; "they have 1500 people!" Clearly, the goal is the number of people. We are stuck in the western mindset that "quantity is more important than quality."
I read in my Bible and see that David counted his people as a response to Satan's influence.
"Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel." I Chronicles 21: 1
It then says after this was done, that "God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel", verse 7.
God rebuked Davids pride and it had terrible consequences. David, and ultimately the people themselves, who paid the price of the judgement, were punished for the pride of counting the people that God had given him to lead. What other reason would we have for promoting numbers over fruit, maturity, and ultimately - impact, if not pride?
Let me just go on record saying - numbers do not equate with impact. It certainly could! However, the very nature of the huge beast of numbers is like a lumbering giant; hard to move, fat and lazy through constant self feeding, self absorption and indifference to everyone.
Can pride trip up small groups? Absolutely! I'm not saying that large groups monopolize that sin. We all need to check our own hearts often and have the close, intimate, family type of relationships that can hold each other in accountability regularly!
I've seen many small simple churches simply a "shrunk down" version of a large fellowship with the same dynamics and results! I'm not making an argument necessarily for the size, as much as the essence of "church as family". That said, having a healthy family with more than a dozen or so people would offer great challenges in the every way. I don't think the historical track record for "large" is a good one. That said, I'm looking forward greatly to when Christ returns and makes us into one large family in a way that only He can do. In the meantime, we will function best as small family units (natural and spiritual) of fellowship.
I'm not one to trash anyone else in how they practice fellowship in the Body of Christ as a Christian. In fact, I work hard as someone who values bridge building with traditional and the simple church expressions. If your happy with where you experience God and the life in Christ with other Christians, then great! I'm not out to convince anyone to leave their "happy place" of fellowship. However, I do feel that there is much more to experience in living a 24/7 paradigm of Christian fellowship, in families of intimacy, accountability, commitment and real Christian love, as well as provide a natural interaction and inclusion with those who don't know Christ that the simple, organic and missional paradigm offers above all else.
I recently read a blog post from someone who is supported in full time ministry defending the practice of large amounts of people attending weekly services for an hour, regularly supporting the projects that the leadership determines warrants funding and volunteer service involvement, and ultimately calling that church.
I'd call that a school, a place to involve yourself in a project or mission for a season - not a church.
My friend John White is passionate about describing church as family. John encourages the basic familial unit of a husband and wife as a "church" and calls them CO2 (Church of Two), and from that basic unit, as in nature, new life results with the birth of children (natural and supernatural) and the church expands. In fact, he has invested his life into training and establishing such churches with the ministry he leads called LK10. If you'd like to read more about this you can at; http://storiesfromtherevolution.blogspot.com/2010/07/co2-hyatt-family-1.html
We need to see church, and our fellowship together, more as a family, and function as such. If we continue to see it as a "thing we do" or "a place we attend" we will function more like those orphanages where basic needs are met, but real family dynamics lacking.
This week I'm off to Brazil with my kids and two other young people to experience mission, relationship and ministry together. I got a letter this week from one of the "father's" of the simple church that one of the young people joining us is from. In it he says; "Take care of our boy!"
Now, that's the concern, love, support and commitment of a family man!
"But He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction, and makes his families like a flock. The upright see it and are glad; But all unrighteousness shuts its mouth. Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things. And consider the lovingkindness of the Lord" Psalm 107:41-43