Dear Pastor Jay,
I read enough blogs, note what’s being published, and have picked up on some of the bigger themes in your teaching, and I see that there is a movement to make not just ‘the’ church but the local church a big deal again. I guess I am wrestling with this idea because I feel like what the local church has become is not what it used to be when I was a kid. I grew up in a strong Christian home and my family considered the church to be very important. But that meant going to Sunday worship, and occasionally a Wednesday prayer meeting or church picnic. Back then we did not have all the events and programs that so many churches have today – like you all have at the Bible Church. We did not even really have a youth group. Local church was worship. Now church is worship, plus youth group, plus a small group, plus other focus ministries, plus being involved in your outreach ministries. That’s like 20 hours a week, I think!
But, the big rub for me is that I feel like this is more than just a time commitment. It seems like the church is replacing what God intends for families to be. We have youth pastors instead of parents. We have all these service events, when families should be living a full Christian life and serving in their places of influence. If we were to really dive into church, I feel like my role as a dad would be outsourced. So, my wife and I don’t really encourage our kids to be part of the youth group. For now we come to morning services and put our youngest kids in Sunday school, but that’s about it. That leaves us with a lot of room and time to be family. Our kids can be fully committed to their sports teams, we can use our nights and weekends as family, and we can make it our priority as parents to disciple our kids, rather than the youth pastor. Don’t get me wrong, we appreciate your teaching and the worship, but I’m OK with that being your contribution to our family’s life, and I don’t feel too compelled to get any more involved at church, since I use my work as a place of ministry, I read lots of good Christian books, and our family is growing spiritually as we are being an intentional Christian home.
So, can you explain why we ought to make the church a ‘load bearing wall’ as you often say, if we’ve already got good ‘load bearing walls’ as a family?
Dear Family First,
Let me begin by saying that I wish I had more people like you to persuade into a deeper or thicker life with the local church. You are fundamentally right, may I say Biblical, in your vision of family. Yes, the family was God’s first and primary means of discipleship and community. I don’t think anything has changed that in the New Covenant era (after Jesus has come). But, even in the OT, and its stress on the biological family, the nation of Israel, in terms of extended families, towns, clans, tribes, and the entire nation, was also very important. Community was more than the family. Not less, but more. That theme continues in the NT and even more vividly. The family is still core in the NT, but the importance of the family of God becomes central. Look at places like Mark 10.29-30, 1 Corinthians 11 and the communion table teaching, and the joy Paul demonstrates in the book of Philippians over his partnership with the church. It is so great your family is Christ-centered and intentional. But, that should not compete with the beauty and exalted status of the local church. Local church involvement should not just be for those without family in the area, or those without believing family, or those who want to outsource their discipleship to the professionals. No, it seems that a deep family life can complement a deep local church life, comprised of more than one service on Sunday mornings.
My first suggestion is to simply look again at the NT letters and see how Paul and Peter and the others regard the local communities they were writing to. Look at the exalted status of those communities in the apostle’s theology. The fancy name is ecclesiology (study of the church). The apostolic ecclesiology was very exalted. They loved the church because of what they believed about the nature of the church. It did not replace the biological family but it was the greater context of the biological family. So, however you proceed, make sure you can confidently say it reflects the Bible’s teaching on church.
OK, as for what church has become versus what it used to be. Yes, churches are now becoming larger and more organizationally complex than ever. Some might say busy and littered. I do agree that most churches need to de-clutter the programs and events, or at least not baptize the passion and ministries of all our missional people into formal initiatives of the church. But, part of what has happened, I think, is that churches are becoming more robust in being local churches, and are thinking about truly wise and helpful ways of discipling people in an era where there are not a lot of mature believers and families like yours. So, the abundance of specialists can be a good thing. The church is getting better and better about reaching people, engaging culture, doing public work of great depth and gospel faithfulness. The more robust organizational life allows us to do this. Also, our world is very fractured, due to some of the cultural changes that have taken place since you were a child. I bet you spent more time than you think with people from your church, but life back then allowed for it in more organic ways. There was less busyness, less technology, less overall distraction. The church today has to find ways of pulling people back into slower, methodical, community and mission with its programs, events, and staff leadership. Our desire, though, is for the institutional part to be subtle and begin to hide once relationship and bonds are fixed.
OK. I have made some conceptual points, but the question of why your family might/should plug in more is still out there. Here is the deal: while you may not need the resources we provide because you are self-feeders and intentional in your own lives of mission (again, nothing but awesome!), need is not the only reason to plug in past Sunday mornings. Nor is guilt, might I add. This is not a drive-by guilting 😉 Joy-producing investment and ministry are also reason and actually should be the controlling reasons once you pass a certain place of spiritual maturity. Your kids may not need our youth pastor. But, what if our youth pastor was able to help them invest in other youth’s lives, grow in their leadership, give them opportunities within a worshiping community to evangelize and serve our city? At that point he is not supplanting you, but rather supplementing you and your wife. Our youth pastor is not intended to replace parents. He is there to encourage and supplement. Why not take advantage of that and plug your kids into church-based service, if in fact the church is God’s plan A of mission in the world? Same for you and your wife. Is there a place you can use your gifts in our church? I love it you use your time at work to reach out. But, what if you shared some of that time and energy at church? We could use your partnership and I think you would be blessed.
Let me finish by saying it is never our intent for people to do everything we offer. In fact, here is my ideal. We all worship together at a weekend service. We invest in a Life Group. And we have one place of service. Your kid’s version of a LG would be our children’s ministry or youth group. I find that model keeps our family together for most of the time, and the time apart is not really that much in the long run. Do we have to say no to certain opportunities to live this way? Yes, but it is so worth it.
Hope you’ll consider some of these things, especially the study of what the Bible says about the local church. If something is true, then it’s also good and beautiful