The Church Should Focus On It’s Own Family

Many years ago when I was driving through Colorado Springs I saw a bumper sticker directed at Focus on the Family that said, “Focus On Your Own Family”.  I thought it was sort of funny but I didn’t really give it a lot of thought.  But the phrase sort of stayed with me.  Whenever I’d see something from Focus I’d think about that sticker and smile.

But in thinking about it, this might actually be a good idea.  Now to be clear, before I start, I like a lot of what Focus the organization does.*  I’m not picking on them here.  However, the Church’s focus on the nuclear family is a huge problem with far, far reaching implications.

As I’ve stated many times, I’m not against the church teaching on family or how to be a good husband, wife, parent or even child.  I’m not against that all.  If I’m married and/or have kids, I need to learn how to do that in a Godly way.  In other words, if that is my context, I need to follow Jesus and grow in my ability to fulfill that role.  Absolutely.

However, if that is the focus of our church or if we lift up the nuclear family as the answer to how the kingdom advances, or as the thing that helps make us holy, or makes us eligible for leadership in the Church or as the model for the church instead of the other way around, we end up on seriously shaky ground.  Frankly that is exactly where many churches are today either by intent or by accident.

The kingdom does not advance by the nuclear family.  It advances through Jesus and His family.  The nuclear family does not make us holy, Jesus does.  Being married is not a requirement for leadership in the church – hello Paul and . . . uh . . . Jesus.

I’ve covered all of that before.  But what I want to say today is what brings us back to that bumper sticker.  What if the Church focused on it’s own family.  Because frankly most church families are a mess and that’s not even to speak of the body of Christ as a whole.

Now I get that church is messy. It’s made up of humans and we are all sinners.  People sin.  Against God, against each other, against non believers.  Whole nine yards. That’s not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is are we teaching our churches how to be a family.  Is that our focus?  From a global level: How do we treat fellow believers that we don’t quite theologically agree with?  How do we talk about them behind their backs?  How does the “local church”** talk about missional “para church” parts of the body and vice versa?  How do church planters talk about the old church that is literally down the street?  Protestants and Catholics how we doing?  This list could go on and on.

From a particular church level:  How welcoming are we to new people that might join our family?  Have you gotten to know anyone in your church family?  Is our teaching inclusive to those who have a nuclear family and those who don’t?  Do we love each other?  Is there actual church discipline?  Who is accountable to who?  Who actually knows anything about the people leading the small group?  Could anyone walk in and feel welcome?  Not necessarily agreed with, but welcome.  Do we hold the Kingdom picture of advancement or the “lets live in the nuclear family bubble” picture?  Are the people Jesus welcomed welcome?  By each member?  Again the list could go on.

Bashing the church is not my point here.  The point is this – the church should focus on it’s own family.  We should be focused on getting our own stuff in order.  We should remember that marriage and the family point to God and His family, not the other way around.

You see God is the creator of the family unit.  He really is.  This means it’s a good thing.  But just like everything else that He created we tend to start to count on it instead of God.  We start to elevate it over God’s Kingdom, just like we do many of his other good creations.

Jesus said, Who are my mother and brothers?  In other words, who is my family?  He answered, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.  At the end of the day, and for sure at the end of days, the Kingdom family will be the one that lasts.  It will be the one that is most important and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the nuclear family.  The church should focus there.

When we don’t do it, we set up everyone to fail and alienate many.  When we do focus on the Kingdom family we set up everyone, including those with nuclear families, to thrive.

 

 

* Focus does a lot of great things – especially in regards to children and parenting.  For example, if you’re a parent and not looking at Plugged In for movie reviews you’re missing out.

**The idea of the local church is totally misunderstood and mis-taught. First, in the city and suburbs there is almost no such thing as a “local” church.  Parishes are long gone.  People drive by 50 churches on the way to the one they want to go to.  The local church in the bible was all the people in that location, regardless of the place they worshiped in.  When God looks at your town, He sees one church, not hundreds.  Your church is not the answer.  The Church is.

The Church Is Fighting Yesterdays Battle

Right now there is a lot of reporting out there about the American Evangelical culture and it’s impending doom.  While I think that reports of it’s death have been greatly exaggerated, it should lead to a lot of reflection in all sorts of contexts.

As I watch it unfold and watch the church interact with the culture in several ways and in many different contexts I see a couple of things that we have to get past.  These things play out in all sorts of different ways, but of particular interest here in the space, is in relation to singleness.

Here are two major problems (not that there aren’t more – as well as many good things) that I see over and over again in different cultural exchanges.

First, the church is in constant reaction mode and almost never in leadership mode.  There are numerous reasons for this including insulating ourselves and living in fear of everyone else’s opinion.  We want everyone to like us – and come to our events.

Secondly, we come late to every fight.  Now in fairness – we almost always get there – just not usually first, or when the problem starts.  So bottom line, we react to what is going on around us too late, and then fight the battle that we should have fought earlier.

There are sooooooooo many examples of this in the last 50-60 years.  Marriage is one – I don’t remember the protests when no fault divorce was being ratified state by state across the country.  I don’t remember bakers not doing third weddings?  But now we want to take a stand on marriage.  Here’s one happening right now.  We are now in the last decade or two really figuring out that we ought to do poor urban ministry – heck we should even all move there.  But the next wave – it’s already coming – is called the rural poor.** I’m not seeing a bunch of hip young believers heading out there to “live among” the people.  That’s probably a little harsh.  But the point is valid.

What made me think of this is a recent sermon series from a church about family.  I’ve talked a ton here about the the churches nuclear family idol.  To this particular church’s credit while they did talk about the nuclear family, they started and clarified that the church is a family and we have many different family make ups.

But regardless it was their series description that got my attention and that I want to discuss today.  The first part of that read something like this: Our families are in crisis, marriages are crumbling, kids are hurting . . . .Rediscover how the family (read nuclear) can be transformational.

I’m not picking on this church today.  But this is a great example of the problem.

For starters, the idea that families are crumbling is only sort of true.  Actually most marriages aren’t in crisis.  The divorce rate is actually going down slightly for first time marriages.  Even better news is that the idea that divorce is rampant among practicing believers is not true at all.  The funny thing about this is that the church probably should take some credit here.  But instead of pointing to the success of their marriages, they are reacting to the sky that was falling 25 years ago.

The reality is that the boomers caused the divorce rate to skyrocket. They’re still doing it actually – now they are leading an all time rise in “gray divorce“.  But the new problem, the one going on right now, is not divorce – it’s lack of marriage.  It’s the fact that people aren’t getting married.  The new “family” problem is not “My parents got divorced”.  It’s literally that “My parents were never married”.

You see while people aren’t getting married (or divorced – as much) they are still having sex, living together, and having kids (sometimes alone on purpose – future post).  40% of the kids born in the U.S. today are born out of wedlock.  Don’t look for that number to drop.

Basically what we are doing is telling all the people who probably won’t get divorced, how not to get divorced.  I guess that’s good.  It’s for sure easier.

The problem we are facing now is different.  Why aren’t people getting married?  We have to be willing to actually look at the real answers to that.  Why aren’t they at church?  66% of the people that don’t go to church are unmarried.  We have to be willing to deal with the real reasons for that.

If we want to go make a difference in culture we have to figure out how to talk to single people.  We have to stop being the church for the family and start being the church that is a family. We need to stop looking to save the family and start trying to save the people.  If we do that, the family part will take care of itself.

 

** For free – Read that link and ask – where’s the church in this story?  We should be going there now.

 

You Can Be A Single Saint

I’ll be honest.  When I started writing this blog four years ago, I thought I would share some thoughts about my experience as a single for over 20 years of adulthood and specifically in the Church culture.  Somehow in my mid thirties I had a sort of awakening that a whole lot of what I thought I knew about singleness, what I’d be taught and even what I had taught others was wrong.  But I had no idea how wrong we were.

This is why now and then I’m responding to some posts from prominent leaders in our church culture.  They represent what we teach and when it comes to this context, they come up almost unbelievably short.  It’s astounding really.

In a post on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Page, they share from a speech from Al Molher (whom Time called the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.” – Yikes) in which he addresses the “sin” of delayed marriage.  I know you’re getting excited already. . .

There are some amazingly bad assumptions going on here.  There are three main things that need to be addressed as they are three staples of the Church’s response to increased singleness.  They are 1. The idol of the nuclear family, 2. It’s all the men’s fault, and 3. God has chosen someone for you.  You can’t make this stuff up.

First let me say that I’m for more marriage.  This situational singleness that our culture has created is not a helpful trend.  Calling it a sin is a stretch, but if you are called to marriage, then I do think you should pursue it, not just wait around for it to happen.

But if we go about that the wrong way, or with the wrong understanding, we are setting up both the unmarried and the married to fail.

For today, let’s focus on point 1.  Mohler and company have a serious idol in their culture and it’s called the nuclear family.  In addressing that people are trying to build careers first, Mohler states,

“What is the ultimate priority God has called us to? In heaven, is the crucible of our saint-making going to have been done through our jobs? I don’t think so. The Scripture makes clear that it will be done largely through our marriages.”

Oh.My.Gosh!  Where does scripture say this?  1st Families chapter 3?  Wow.  Just wow.

I’m going to be honest here.  I don’t know how else to say this.  This is wrong.  It’s completely wrong.  It’s so completely wrong that it is borderline heresy.  I’ve never used that word here, but I don’t know what else to call it. If he meant it the way he’s says it. . .

Let me be absolutely clear.  Your identity is not in your marital status!  It is not!  The Kingdom of God is not about being married with 2.5 children.  When you get to the gates God will not decide what kind of saint you are based on whether or not you were married here on earth.

Here are some results of this sort of teaching.

Unmarried people of all kinds, the divorced, the widowed, the not yet married, those who are celibate by gifting, calling or fall of man, end up excluded from the family of God on earth.  It turns what should be the most inclusive, welcoming place on the planet into a club for a few.  It helped create same sex marriage (more soon) and it stands completely counter to what the New Testament teaches.

But not only that.  It keeps married people from being missional, keeps their children from seeing a missional life style and creates the bubble that is whats left of the Christian Culture™ today.

Unless Mohler and the evangelical movement is suggesting we go back to the pre-Jesus method of Kingdom advancement and God’s pre-Jesus faithfulness, it is completely wrong.

Jesus says this, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  And again, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to his disciples he said, “here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus is saying this because he is creating the new family . . . the family of God.  Jesus is constantly pointing out that God’s favor is not on the people who have the most or who have the perfect family scenario but instead upon those who respond to Him.  He is throwing open the Kingdom (and therefore the sainthood) to all who would come to Him. In fact He is saying that if you don’t have Him first none of the rest of it matters much.

We are not going to be married in heaven and being married on earth will not earn you extra points when you get there.  Our identity is to be in Him.  Our calling is to follow Him. He is the way.  Not marriage, not childbearing, not success, not earthly riches, not cultural standing.  This is the scandal of the gospel.  The marginalized have just as much access as everyone else.  You will be judged on how you responded to that, and on how you loved others, not just your spouse. That has to be our starting point every time.

Unless that is our starting point, anything else we teach about singleness, marriage, and frankly everything else, will be a counterfeit.  Putting an over emphasis on the nuclear family screws up everything . . . including the nuclear family.

The Nuclear Family Or Kingdom Family

A few people in the church starting to wake up to the fact that the cultural context has changed.  Not only that but some are even beginning to see that they are part of the problem because of the ways they’ve handled that.  I myself have admitted many times here that I’ve taught many things wrong through the years – and I was teaching it as a single person.

Now the majority of the church has yet to even roll over, let alone wake up.  But it is encouraging to see some movement.  Over a couple of blog posts I want to sort of encourage (read challenge, push, bother, implore) them to not just offer band aids or think that a few simple thoughts are going to solve this.  If you are a pastor/elder/leader type person, you need to know that it’s going to be slower and more all encompassing than you think.

My fear for this discussion is that churches who are starting to see the problem of having family as an idol or not doing well with singles will only look to give simple answers that won’t actually unmask the deeper assumptions and mistakes that we have made and/or are making with this topic.  Changing what we say won’t be enough. We have to go back and rethink the whole thing to have a chance.

As an example of this I want to respond to parts of an article written by Scott Sauls for Relevant.  Let me be clear – I’m not coming at Scott.  I don’t know him personally but know folks who do and I’ve heard only great things about him.  I also want to give him a lot of credit for writing about this.  He is obviously way ahead of the curve which is apparent in much of what he writes.

I’m simply using his post as a launching pad to challenge some of the things that I believe the leaders in his, and similar circles, seem to assume.

So let’s look at the first part today.  While talking about the family Scott writes:

The Bible does have a lot to say about the significance of the family structure.

Family is the chief biblical metaphor to describe how God relates to us. God is our Father and we are His children. Jesus is husband and we are His Bride, the Church. “We are our Beloved’s, and our Beloved is ours,” says Solomon’s Song.

The marriage between a man and a woman, in the purest sense, is a pointer to and picture of the love between Christ and the Church. In our shared union with Christ, we are also sisters and brothers to each other.

God established three structures to advance His Kingdom and support the flourishing of societies and persons: the Church, government and the nuclear family. As the family goes, so goes a society.

But like any good thing, when family becomes the main thing, it can cause more harm than good.

It is true that the Bible does indeed have a lot to say about the significance of the family structure.  This is true in the sense that there are many direct instructions for families and without doubt it is used as a picture of the Kingdom in many different ways.

I’m not sure that we can call the family the “chief” biblical metaphor for describing how God relates to us.  It is certainly one of them.  But, the problem here is that Jesus changes so much of what the family has to do with the Kingdom.

In the Old Testament, marriage and offspring were basically THE way that the kingdom was advanced. God chose the Israelites as His people.  They were His family so to speak. They needed to continue the line from Abraham to Jesus. After all, this was the promise that God made to Abraham.  His descendants (blood family) were to represent God to the world and advance the Kingdom.  Basically if you think being single now is tough, being single in the Israelite family was by far worse.  If you had no physical lineage, then you had no way to advance the Kingdom.  You had no children in the Kingdom.

But that is not true after Jesus.  Jesus throws open the Kingdom to everybody.  Not only do you not have to be physically born into it, you CAN’T be physically born into it.  You must be born again into it.  What this means is that the nuclear family is NOT the way that the Kingdom advances.  Read that again friends.

For a great message on this take some time and listen to what Hunter Beaumont has to say here.  I was fortunate enough to hear him share a similar message a few months ago. His main point, as I took it, was that we must have a theology of singleness (and marriage frankly) that stems from this new idea that Jesus started.  While important in many ways, the nuclear family is not the way that God’s family is built.

All this to say, that while the family is a metaphor for the way that God interacts with us, it is not the only one and certainly not the way that God is bringing in His Kingdom.

Setting aside whether the Song of Solomon is a metaphor or not (which is open for debate at the least) Scott is right to suggest that marriage is a picture of the love between Christ and the Church.  I’ve said as much many times.  However, it is not the only picture of the Kingdom. What gets left out is that the celibate life is also a picture of the the Kingdom.  It is a picture of what it will look like in the end (which Scott mentions but doesn’t name).  That is a picture of pure and total devotion between us and God.  A person who is called to this is a demonstration of what is to come every bit as much as marriage.

The bottom line is that while the nuclear family is indeed a structure that God created and does indeed present a picture of the Kingdom, the Church family is THE picture and it trumps the nuclear family.  The nuclear family is not the the structure that advances the Kingdom.  The Church family is.

This is why focusing on the nuclear family is wrong.  In fact,  Jesus says that unless you love Him more than your family you are not worthy of the Kingdom.  In my opinion simply saying as the family goes, there goes society, ultimately (even if unintentionally) leaves the unmarried out.  It’s still focusing on the nuclear family. God’s family has to be the focus.  As God’s family goes there goes the society.

This is not merely semantics.  I wish it was, because that would be much easier.  But this baseline, that the Church family must be the focus, is the only way to avoid the traps that Scott mentions at the end of the quote – that is making too much of the nuclear family.

What I’m suggesting here is not that we stop teaching on how a family should operate (we probably need more of this) or that we stop saying that the family or marriage is a picture of the Kingdom.  But we need a sort of clean slate.  In other words we need to repent of how we’ve idolized the nuclear family –  not just offer excuses, justifications and rationalizations for it. We need to put God’s family first.  Then, and really only then, can we begin to paint the whole picture and include everybody.

 

 

We All Need Touch

About 15 years ago my brother and I went to a Rick Springfield concert.  I can’t believe I just typed that.  You have to understand that I was a child of the 80’s and Rick, was well, sort of awesome.  He had 17 top 20 hits.  He was smooth with the lines and the ladies.  So anyway in 2000 or so, long after he was cool, he was in concert to promote a new album that of course no one actually bought.

At any rate there we were at Station Casino and it’s packed (meaning there were like a thousand people there. . . maybe).  Rick steps up on stage, and forgets the words to his opening song.  Haha. Then he says, “I sort of forgot the words there, but it’s ok.  I feel I’m among friends tonight.”  The “crowd” roared.  From then he was on fire.  Flawless as he belted out the tunes as we sang along.

At one point, he starts to sing one of those top 20 hits called The Human Touch.  “We all need the human touch.  We all need it. . . I need it too”.  Then he went out into the crowd and began hugging people and giving high fives.  My brother and I died laughing as we watched a 40 year old woman run screaming to a friend, “He touched me! He touched me!.”

I know at this point you are wondering why I’m sharing this story, but I share it because I think we actually do need human touch and as a single person it can be hard to come by.

Touch is a powerful thing.  It starts when we are young.  As infants we need to be held, rocked, and physically moved.  If we don’t get those things our development goes bad in a hurry.

Growing up we test out our strength against our parents, siblings and eventually our friends.  Did you know that your family is supposed to be the safe place to test all of that? The family is where you first learn about being touched and touching, what is ok and what isn’t, and about the warmth of embrace that makes you feel safe.

And that is just the first place.  We next take it to our peers be it at school or in the athletic contest.  We test our strength and begin to find out what our bodies can do.  This is all before (or hopefully before) we even get to any sort of “romantic” touch.

It’s of course a whole new ball game when it comes to the opposite sex and our first touch experiences with them.  The first embrace, the first kiss, the first. . .

You can see how many ways this can, and often does, get messed up along the way. There are all sorts of good touch and all sorts of bad touch.

As a single person, the older you get, the less places there are for the right kind of touch.

We live in a culture that is more and more individualized and isolated.  50% of America is unmarried.  50% of those people live alone.  That’s not a recipe for good touch.

But it gets even tricker as a follower of Jesus because you are of course trying to avoid sexual immorality.  So we are told don’t look, and of course don’t touch.  In truth, there are a lot of people living in so much fear of bad touch that they don’t have good touch.

But we need it.  There’s a new study out for example that says people that sleep in a bed with someone else sleep better and actually live longer.  Touch has all sorts of therapeutic benefits, not to mention that it’s one of the five love languages.

Somehow we need to fight for this in the church.  Jesus is constantly touching people. Almost always when he heals someone he touches them.  How do we do this right?

For starters we need to own it.  We need to re-establish good, kingdom touch.  We can’t live in fear of bad touch to the point of not offering this kingdom touch.  What does it look like?  Should we run around touching people?  Should we hug every stranger?  Should we drop all of our boundaries when dating someone?  Should we cuddle with random people? Um, no.

Here are a few thoughts on what we should do (I’m talking here non-romantically – I’ll come back to romantic touch in a different post).

We need to recognize our touch history.  Where there has been bad touch in our lives we need to recognize it and seek healing.  Where we have been the one initiate wrong touch we need to repent.

We also need to think about our present touch situation. What physical touch is in my life? How do I react to touch?  Why?

Finally, we need to learn to both receive and initiate the right touch.  I’m talking about the quick hand on the shoulder of the friend you know is hurting. It might be the arm around the crying friend. It’s the hug of a good buddy.  The high five with the opposite sex friend. Heck even the fist bump would be a step for some of us.

Our culture offers a lot of the two extremes – inappropriate touch and isolation.  Neither of those represent the Kingdom.  But we have the chance with how we handle touch to be different, to stand out, to offer the ministry of the right kind of touch.

So, what do you do with the lack of touch?  When is a time when the right kind of touch has ministered to you?

 

Singleness And Christmas

During my 20 years of singleness the holidays were some of the hardest.

The holidays are tough as a single person.  Especially if you are over 25.  Christmas is magical as a child, it’s a great time to do nothing as a college student, but the older you get, unless you just love Christmas, the tougher it is.

It’s during this time of year that most people have some time off to reflect, and whether we like it or not, it can be a time where singles are constantly reminded of what they don’t have – for yet another year.

We are often the ones that travel for Christmas.  After all, Santa doesn’t come to our house – just to our nieces’ and nephews’.  And most likely we will go to our parents not the other way around.

There are also the Christmas cards from our married friends – pictures of couples and kids arriving every day in the mail.  It’s not that we don’t love all of those people, we do.  It’s just that it is another reminder.

If we head to a party at the office, with the organization we work with, or at church etc, we go alone even when spouses are welcome.

If we have a gathering with our parents and/or extended family we will inevitably face all of the singles questions and platitudes we hear in that setting.  And we have to determine how to deal with them.

Then Christmas is over and we get to head to New Years Eve.  Yeah!  Celebrating another year passing – alone.

Bottom line, the holidays can be lonely, frustrating and emotionally tiring for singles.

Before I give us some thoughts about some things I think can help, let me say this for any married people who might want to tell me what I’m saying isn’t true.  Just don’t!  I’m married now and it’s not close.  Yes you can still have family dysfunction.  No doubt there can be some pressure and managing of kids etc.  I get it.  But it just is not personally as hard.  It’s not close.  I did it single for a long time.  I’ve done it married for the last two years.  Waaaaaayyyyyyyyy better married.  Not close.  At all.

So what can we do as single folks?  Here are a few things that helped me over the years. These aren’t formula as we are all different with different backgrounds.  But these ideas helped me.

First things first, as platitude like as it sounds, I’d pray for it.  I just learned to try to submit the time to God.  The whole couple of weeks.  Time with the family, other stuff I have planned, parties and other gatherings – all of it.  I know it sounds basic, but starting here will help with the rest.  Ok, on to the suggestions – some with links to more on the subject.

  • If you have nephews and nieces nearby – go see them and join in the spoiling of those kids.  Yes it’s a reminder that you don’t have a kid, but man you still get to see them enjoy Christmas kid magic.
  • Think about how you to respond to the platitudes that family will offer.  Just be ready for it.  I offered some general thoughts here on responding
  • If you still have grandparents, don’t blow off their thoughts.  My grandmother always brought it up – but she also prayed for it all the time.  If I had it to do over, I’d talk to her more about it.
  • Fight to be who you are now at home.  A couple of years ago I wrote this blog for a different site.  Often when we go our parents home it seems we are still treated like kids.  One way to avoid that is to not act like one.  For years I didn’t take my best home to my parents.  Once I realized it, it changed the game.
  • Do stuff to celebrate Christmas your way.  For most of my single years I didn’t put up a tree or anything.  But in my early thirties I made a decision to fully engage.  I always got a tree and decorated it.  I put lights on my house – something I’d always wanted that my family never did when I was growing up.  I hosted a Christmas party for all of my random friends.  Celebrate your way.
  • Don’t run from community.  Go hang out with people.  There were years where I just sat around and felt sorry for myself and turned down invites.  I think most times it’s better to engage.
  • If you have significant time off, have a plan.  For me, this is the deadest time of the year for my job.  I usually have the week after Christmas completely off.  So I would use that to go see friends in places I lived previously.  It was a great time to catch up.  I would go to one place for two or three days and then another.  I’m not saying that particular plan will work for you.  But have A plan.
  • If you’re feeling opportunistic this is a great time to sign up for online dating sites.  Dead serious.  I don’t know the stats, but I would bet that more people sign up for online dating during December and January than any other two month period.  A lot of quality people who maybe otherwise wouldn’t will take out a trial run or sign up for a three month stretch.  To see a great ranking of online dating sites go here.  For some thoughts I have on online dating go here.

These are just some of things that helped me. What are some things that have helped you? What is the hardest thing for you on the holidays?  Leave some thoughts below – maybe it will help others.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Focused On Which Family?

When I think about family, one of the first things that comes to mind is dinner around the table. Kids grow up there. Couples grow old there. It’s where the day is reviewed and the world’s problems are solved.  What’s amazing is even if there isn’t much to eat, you still do it together.  There is something about it.

A mentor of mine (father figure is more accurate) lives in a beautiful large home.  In that home he has a dining room table.  Interestingly the table is round, not long, so there is no head of the table so to speak.

Let me describe what happens when you go to dinner there.  When you pull up in the driveway you set off the driveway bell.  They have that bell so that by the time you get the door they are already there to greet you – usually with a hug, not a handshake.  Then you go inside.  Typically there are some drinks and often even some sort of good snack.  This is followed by the choicest of meals.  You eat this while seated around the round table.  My mentor will then have some sort of question that he wants each person to answer. (By the way, this is the furthest thing from fast food possible – you could be there for three hours – but it won’t seem like it).  He genuinely wants to know about the people around his table.

All sorts of people have sat around that table.  Politicians, dignitaries, business partners, business competitors, refugees from third world countries, people from a bunch of different walks of life, and even me.  And every one of them is welcomed and listened to.  “Now wait, we haven’t heard your story yet. Tell me about. . . . ”

It’s a picture of family – God’s family.  It’s a picture of The Kingdom.

We live in a time where it seems like the nuclear family as we’ve known it is being blown apart.  There’s the divorce rate.  There’s the fact that more women in America have their first kid out of wedlock than in it.  More and more people are choosing to not actually get married or if they do it’s much later than ever before.

This actually hurts our society in several ways (shrinking middle class anyone?). And the Church has seen it and often has become focused on changing it.  But the problem is, focusing on the nuclear family won’t turn the tide.

First, it leaves out and alienates too many people.  Families go to church.  Single people don’t.  50% of Americans are unmarried.  And guess what, most of them aren’t going to church.  Part of the reason? Focus on the nuclear family.

Secondly, Jesus wasn’t focussed on it.  Jesus said things like, “unless you hate your mother and father, or brother and sister, you are not worthy of me.”  He said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, . . . a man’s enemies will be members of his own household”. Once when he was teaching, his mother and brothers came and he says, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” He points to his disciples and says, “Here are my mother and brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Try preaching that one on Mother’s day.

None of this is to say that family is bad or that the church shouldn’t speak to what marriage and family should look like.  It should.  People who are married need to know it and people who aren’t need to know what it would mean if they did get married.  Not only that, but marriage and family are set up by God.  Marriage happened pre-sin in the garden.  It’s not a concession, it’s a gift.  But the problem with focusing there or calling the family “the foundational institution of human society” is that God never said that.  God’s Family is the foundational institution of humanity – not my family – thank goodness!

The point of marriage, family, or for that matter celibacy, is to point to God, how he loves us, and the Kingdom, not the other way around.  When we lift one up over the other, we limit the picture of the Kingdom and we leave people out – the exact opposite of God’s picture.

You know what the safest, most welcoming place in the world for the single person should be?  The Church.  It should be the place that calls them family, not the place that makes them feel like they dont’ have one.  You see the Church should be a place where you can find fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.  Maybe if we could figure out how to do that, we’d have less to worry about on the back end.  What we need is for the Church to focus on the Kingdom Family.

Which family is your church focused on?  Who are your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters?

I believe this:  There is a family dinner table – and you are invited.  When you show up the Master meets you at the door – with a hug, not a handshake.  He serves the choicest of meals.  It doesn’t matter what your story is, how “important” your earthly role is/was. Married, never married – whatever.  It won’t matter except as part of your story.  Everyone has a seat.  He wants to hear everyone’s story – your story – even though He’s knows it. There’s no hurry.  You’ve got an eternity – and after all, this is family.