This past Thursday, I spent Thanksgiving with my folks.
The meal was both delicious and familiar, each dish prepared exactly as it had been since I was a little girl. Both the traditionalist and the sentimentalist within me were in holiday heaven!
After the meal, we sat around the living room with coffee and pie. For the next few hours, we talked everything from shop and theology to history and ethics to family and future. We retold family stories that over the years have become more legend than fact, belly laughing through each vividly reenacted part. We sang Christmas songs quite loudly and off-key. And at the end of the night, my mom handed me a stack of Tupperware filled with leftovers as I made my way to my car. My parents each gave me a big hug, told me they loved me, and waved goodbye as I drove away.
During the drive home, I reflected on the last 8 hours with my parents. On the 210 Freeway, with tears in my eyes, I realized how truly thankful I was for my family.
This year in many ways has been the best year of my life, a gift I will forever treasure. But this gift has come at a cost. Not only has this been the best of years, it has also been in many ways the worst. It’s easily been the most difficult year of my life.
And when things get difficult, you don’t necessarily need a lecture. You don’t necessarily need someone to analyze your problem. You don’t necessarily need another Christian book to read or sermon to listen to. You don’t necessarily need to go to more conferences or serve more or give more or work harder or have a better attitude. Maybe you need some of those things and maybe you don’t, but here’s a guarantee of what you will always need: You need to know and stand on the truth of God’s Word, you need to engage in sincere prayer where you can hear the Holy Spirit speak to you; and you need FAMILY to lean on.
On that drive home, I was thankful for family to lean on.
We need family because family heals. Or to be more accurate, family the way God intended heals.
Perhaps for you, this statement is hard to read because family has not healed but has wounded. Chances are some of your greatest pain and struggles have originated in dynamics within your family.
I understand. Growing up my parents fought most of the time, my father drank way too much, and my sister tolerated me at best. During the second half of my teenage years, my father hardly spoke to me. I know what it means to be wounded by family.
I also know what it means to be healed by family. When I was 19 years old and in so many ways broken, it was the family of God, the Church that welcomed me and embraced me- flaws and all. And it was the family of God that encouraged and challenged me to heal from the pains of my past.
Thank God for the people who held my hand and picked me back up when I stumbled under the strain of recovery. Thank God for those who saw the best in me when I was struggling to see it in myself. Thank God for Christians who weren’t content with fake answers and shallow conversations. Thank God for the family of God who knew when to hug me, when to cry with me, when to say or do the most idiotic things that would turn my self-focus into roaring laughter.
It was the family of God that challenged me to forgive and to reconcile with my father. It didn’t happen overnight, but God has done a true miracle in my family. My parents have been married close to 40 years now; they love each other and they love Jesus. My father has been sober for 23 years. My sister is more than a sister to me; she’s my best friend. We all love each other deeply. Sure, we annoy each other every now and again, but we always show up for each other and find ways to cheer each other on.
I attribute where my family is today to the goodness of God and the kindness of the family of God. Because of the family of God in my life, my own family is now a family that heals.
The point is we all need family. The enemy of our souls, Satan, knows this and for far too long has waged war on families. Darkness knows that families are far more powerful than any man-made institution, and has placed his greatest attacks on the family. Just look at stats related to everything from violence to education to depression to disease to addictions to sexuality, and you will see that issues and trends formed first not in Hollywood or the White House or Wall Street, but in the home.
God knows how powerful family is. He made family. It is His design for us to thrive relationally through family. In fact, so strong is our need for family that the Bible describes the Church as the family of God, uniquely connected one to another, bound not by mere attendance or membership, but by blood (Christ’s blood to be exact).
The Bible describes the Church as family, and not as a corporation, a brand, an institution, a dynasty, a monarchy or empire. Why? …Because each of these conveys ideas of power, not people. They speak of progress, but not personal connection. They talk of agendas and products, but nothing of love and discipleship.
I love the Church. She is the family that I belong to. She will always have my heart. And she will always have my service. I will scrub toilets for her, I will greet in the parking lot for her, I will give financially for her, I will give the very best of my gifts and abilities to see her strong. I will travel the world and I will mentor the young and I will preach the Word of God to whoever will listen just to see her vibrant and flourishing.
But I will not dumb her majesty down to a conversation of corporate tactics. I will not treat her like a show or a business. Franchises and big-budget productions and the greatest minds of the world can never do what the family of God can. When people need healing they don’t look to a brand or a corporation. They don’t want a product or a perfectly produced service. They want someone to see them and remind them that they matter. They want someone to listen to them. They want someone to share a meal with. They want someone to pray with them. They want someone to show up for them. What they want is personal. They may not be able to use the word ‘family’ to describe what they need, but it is in fact the family of God that they are desperate for.
I’ve been in fulltime ministry for a decade and a half now, and a part of the local church for 21 years. To be clear, I have absolutely no objection to large churches. I celebrate them because it means more people are being introduced to Jesus! And I also think there is nothing wrong, in fact, there is everything right about giving our very best to God, and being excellent from the look and feel of a service to the music to the print pieces. I believe excellence honors God. And I believe leaders in the Body of Christ have a responsibility to make wise decisions about things regarding vision and culture and strategy. When I write to tell you I will never treat the Church like a corporation, I am not implying that bigger is bad or excellent is wrong or strategic is ungodly.
But none of these things replace the true calling the Church has to be family to one another. It’s how we treat each other that matters to God. It’s our commitment to one another that sets us apart from the world.
And so I wonder: Does it matter how many conferences we attend if we still struggle to have real relationships with one another? Does it matter how great our worship band sounded if we don’t know how to personally disciple the people showing up to our church services? Does it matter how articulate the sermon was if the people we preached to don’t know how to read the Bible for themselves? Does it matter how well we executed each element of the service if the majority of people attending have little understanding of what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit? And does it matter what church consultants we listen to if we don’t know what is really going on in the lives of the people we are called to minister to?
I don’t have answers, nor are these questions a criticism. These are merely ponderings that I will simply turn into prayers…
My prayer is that we as believers would see one another as family first. I pray that we become more and more the family that heals. I pray we serve one another, welcome each other into our homes, pray with one another, visit one another when we are sick, teach one another how to study and love the Word of God, share one another’s burdens, see the potential in one another, give grace to another, and have each other’s backs. I pray we show up for each other. I pray we don’t quit on each other when we need each other most. I pray we give our time to one another. That we make moments like the one I had with my family this past Thanksgiving, uninterrupted moments to simply be with one another- listening, learning, laughing and loving.
Family is who we were meant to be. After all, it’s family that heals.
I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
-1 Timothy 3:15 GW