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 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.