“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)