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We'd be like family

Out of the blue recently, as I was brushing my eight-year-old daughter's hair as we got ready for church, she sighed and looked up at our reflections in the mirror.

“Mommy, why can’t churches just be in houses?” she asked. “I mean, what is our church anyway? It’s just a building, where some people know us but most don’t. If we had church in houses we’d know everybody and they’d know us, too. We’d be like a family.”


My daughter’s overheard a lot of my conversations about rethinking how-we-do-church and what it means to live in the Kingdom. But that little comment makes me consider that she’s starting to think through and own some of that in her heart. And I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Heh, maybe both.

My daughter’s concept of family is pretty concrete. It’s people who know and love each other. Who eat and play together. Who hold you when you’re scared and tickle you when you’re giggly. And she's astute enough to realize that she doesn’t get that when we go to church on Sundays.

Perhaps we’ve made the idea of the Kingdom family too much metaphor and not enough real-life. Perhaps the relationship between the physical family and the Kingdom family is more concrete than we think.

Perhaps there’s a bit more to why Jesus and the New Testament writers chose to refer to each other by familial terms. Maybe that day when Jesus’ mother and siblings came to see him, there were more basic reasons to why Jesus chose to refer to those he was sitting with as his brothers, sisters and parents. Perhaps it wasn’t just to give us a sense or metaphor of what our relationships are like in the Kingdom. Maybe it was a little more concrete than that. Maybe there’s more of direct relationship to the physical family—including what we do together, how we relate to each other and even our size.

The early church seemed to keep their groups family-like, especially in size. Their groups were small enough to meet in houses for a couple hundred years. Now, I know that that was about their only option at the time, but I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps it was a bit more divinely ordered than that. I get that “church”—this living together in the kingdom—must have the freedom to look different in different cultures, times and places. But I also think about how things like government, social structures and cultures vary across the world and history, but the family unit is remarkably similar. Maybe, just maybe, that’s part of doing church, too.

We can’t get that once a group of believers grows too big. We lose touch with each other. We lose intimacy. We stop eating together. We stop holding each other. We stop living together. We stop being a real family and become a family in name only.

For me, that longing to experience God’s people as family can get almost painfully overwhelming. And that’s when I’m tempted to do one of two things: get cynically jaded about the brokenness of the church today or spend all my time and energy thinking about how to fix it.

But something I’ve learned over the last year is sticking with me. As Wayne Jacobsen puts it, it’s not about how we do church but “whether or not you’re coming to know [Jesus] and walking alongside those he is giving you at any moment to help them on their journey.” I’ve begun to embrace that it’s about living the journey and then walking with those you encounter as you go. In my experience, sometimes there seems to be an abundance of people who are sharing the journey. Sometimes, it seems you go miles and miles before encountering another soul desiring to go God’s way. But God is always there—present, loving, holding, leading, waiting, working, and good. And it’s in his hands and being that life is found.

So, right now I’m waiting. I’m walking with and trusting Jesus. As I walk with him, I’m asking him to open my eyes to those who are walking around me, to those whose paths cross mine as I cross theirs. I’m asking to experience Kingdom family the way he wants it to be. And I’m holding back my expectation of what that might look like, because I don’t want to miss his timing, his revelation.

Church is broken. We aren’t living together right. We aren’t being the body right. Perhaps part of that has to do with the tendency to be family in name only. But I’m holding on and trusting that God will work that out. I think he’s big enough to build his Kingdom family and lead us to live as we should. And, if the testimonies I’m reading in blogs and books are right, I think he’s already doing it. And so I’m waiting and trusting that he’ll lead me and mine there too.

(Images: bread basket by fishlamp at flickr; mom and daughter by Miss Zoot at flickr; big hug by Wam Mosely at flickr; some rights reserved all photos)


Beth said…
Out of the mouths of babes, huh? Amen! Went to a couple churches until we found our new heavenly-bound-together family at our current church home. When we walked in, we knew we'd found "home."

It IS out there and it's powerful when done correctly and with His love. I am blessed by ours and I wish the same for you!
Carmen Andres said…
beth, thank you for stopping by! interestingly the local church which we attend is seriously one of the best institutions we've attended. it has fantastically creative and well-thought-out worship services, great ministries, children programs, important services to the community, etc. truthfully, i find it a very impressive coming together of Christians--the best i've seen, in fact. plus, i've made some of my closest friends there. which makes my longings all the more poignant. it makes me realize it's more about church culture than it is about finding a particular insititution or church--even a very good one. there's a prevelent assumption among us that church is a place we go rather than a living-together and doing-together that we *are* as we go. and, like i said above, i think perhaps even very good churches or even small churches lose something when we get too big to be a family. anyway, my thoughts.
Kari Murphy said…
Ah, Carmen, how this speaks to my heart!

We have recently been taking a "break" from our chapel. Some things arose which made us go, "Hmmm..." and back up just a little. We simply needed/need to re-assess. Make sure we were still there by the Spirit's leading and not because our own hearts are so intertwined with theirs.

Then I figured out (in other words - was hit over the head by the Holy Spirit Himself with the realization) that being intertwined with one another like this *is* being the church!

We've taken almost (more than?) a month off from "going" to chapel...but not a day goes by that there isn't an e-mail in my inbox, a message on voicemail, a letter/package in my mailbox! And how I can feel effects of their prayer raining down on us! I could *not* be separated from them were it not for the peace the Lord is granting, the joy in Him alone. And He's providing so much of it through our *family* of Believers!

This "break" came out of a situation we wish had not happened. Yet *how* the Lord is using it to change us, to seal for us that church is not a place we go - but is *the body*. Colossians 3:12-15 is exactly what the Lord has impressed upon my heart as His vision for us in this local family - which is only a part of such *the* family of God!

I do think that even bodies of believers who meet in a "New Testament" manner like ours can quickly become too large. There is good reason for being a smaller body - but intertwined with the body of Christ at large.

Loved this post!!!

In Christ alone,
Lorna said…
This is a terrific post -and dear to my heart too. What a gem of a daughter you have :)
hipastorzwife2B said…
What a wonderful post, I feel the same way.
David said…
Great post Carmen. I know you moderate, and only a percentage of my comments get published (!) I don't mind if you edit - I have a friend who calls me the spiky prophet!

I want to ask 'what will you do then?' Will you leave Ur and go where God leads you, even if that means being misunderstood and even maligned? Even if you are not sure where it is he is actually leading you? I will post about our last year soon, but it has been wonderful, freeing, scary, lonely and frustrating. But I wouldn't go back for anything. God needs people to go... and also to stay. I like the way you very gently prod the status quo, but is that enough? Despite your gentle words I sense a deep frustration...
Carmen Andres said…
heh. *very* good questions, david. spiky prophet, indeed, lol.
ReneeM said…
Awesome Carmen... and such a sweet smart kiddo!!

and yet... you can be in a house church, and that aspect is going great, and then I wonder about this kingdom living, and how it is that we are to change the world... sigh.

I love and hate how we never get it right, and God is continually morphing us...
Carmen Andres said…
renee, i'm the first to admit i'm not sure what this doing church right looks like. house churches can fall into the same ruts and behaviors as institutional churches. i actually think it's all about the kingdom living, that the doing church comes out of living in God and his kingdom rather than the kingdom coming out of doing church right. my .02 worth. blessings, carmen
Emmy Taylor said…
While I have no problem at all with your sites content, nor the intention of this blog. I was not asked permission to have my copywritten photograph uploaded onto your server, and displayed. I respectfully request that my photo (you have retitled it "hands holding") be removed from your site.

Thank you for understanding that I do not wish my daughters' photograph nor any other artwork created by me to be used without permission.

Emily Taylor (Flawed Emmy)
Carmen Andres said…
i feel abolutely awful. i am so very careful about choosing photos to use on this blog, making sure i get them from photographers that have given permission for their photos to be used. i don’t how that one slipped through. i sent an e-mail to the photographer apologizing, and want to post it here to publically apologize, as well:

“your photo has been removed from my site and i have posted your comment as well. i very much apologize, especially since it upset you. being a published writer, i completely empathize with your work being used without your permission. i often double-check to make sure the photos i use are from the area of flickr that have copyrights where the photographer has given permission for their work to be used, but i very obviously missed yours. i tried to post on your site at flickr to publically apologize, but i don't have an account and wanted to get this to you as soon as i could. feel free to post this if you want.”