Throughout Scripture we see a beautiful metaphor emerging for that of God’s people; we are called a family. As God’s created design has each of us born from the union of a mother and father we uniquely can understand what it means to be the family of God. Yet in our day of gender confusion, family fissures and forgotten fatherhood it is something which can easily be lost upon contemporary believers. What must be regained is a simultaneous resurgence of the family at home and the family of church. These two are interconnected in Scripture and need to be reconnected in our day. It may no longer be assumed that people see a loving family on their way through childhood so that church can offer a family to the familyless. Additionally, the church can mentor young men and women to establish new families in our day which might again unite the church as a family in ever deeper ways. In the short essay we will do three things. First, we will outline what Scripture teaches about the family of home and the family of church. Second, we will look at the nexus of family/church relationships and leadership. Third, we will explain how we see this interconnection being lived out in the complexities of our lives together in the 21st century in face paced central New Jersey.
An Outline of Biblical Teaching
- We all come from an original family consisting of one man and one woman. He builds families through Fathers and Mothers (Genesis 1-2, 1 Corinthians 11:11,12)
- This family’s sin corrupted us all and results in painful family relationships which expand into the false gospels of culture (Genesis 3-11)
- God reveals himself to us as Father (Jesus’ most used term for God)
- He calls parents, within covenant community with others, to be the primary shaping influence on children (Deuteronomy 6)
- Children are set apart as holy, part of the covenant community, by virtue of their believing parents (1 Corinthians 7)
- Fathers and Mothers have unique and irreplaceable roles (Deuteronomy 6, Proverbs 31,1 Thes 2, Ephesians 5-6, Colossians 3)
- The church is a family of brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers (1 Timothy 5)
- The church community serves parents in their role and bear burdens along with them (Ephesians 4-6, Galatians 6)
- Parents serve others in the church by modeling Christ in the family (Ephesians 5) and training the next generation of mothers and fathers (Titus 2)
- The government of church is based upon the government of home - Husband is head who is to honor and serve his wife in sacrificial, life giving kindness (1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3:19, 1 Peter 3:7) and woman is helper (Gen 2:18-24). Her response to his servant leadership is submission (Ephesians 5, Colossians 3:18 1 Peter 3:1-6) and his response to her helpful leadership is praise (Proverbs 31)
- The Husband is a servant of his wife loving and leading sacrificially like Jesus. He is to give his life for her and bring his children up in the fear and instruction of God (Ephesians 5-6, Colossians 3:20,21)
The Family/Church Nexus
The interconnectedness of church and family is visible both in our relationships and the leadership/authority God gives to his people. The following two diagrams demonstrate our relationships to Christ, Church and Family as well as the gracious gift of leadership given by God to his people. Each one will be treated in turn.
Our Relational Reality
Scripture teaches that all believers are “in union with Christ” (Col 3). Furthermore the church universal and invisible is called his very body and the temple where Christ dwells by his Spirit. So relationally speaking, church, home and believer all exist in the realm of unity with Jesus…in the figure below Christ is in all and encompasses all. Furthermore, all Christians exist in the covenant community called the church - the one’s called out together for God’s purposes, worship and mission in the world. Finally, all families, the arrangement of home, are in relational community with others (single, married, widowed, divorced) who are in covenant with Jesus. So the Christian is in family, which is in covenant community which all exists by Jesus and for Jesus…see figure 1 below.
Under Servant Leadership
The Scripture uses wonderful terminology for describing the leadership God has graciously given his people. Jesus is called the bridegroom and husband of the church, he is called the head of the body (the church) and he is called our good and chief shepherd. So all authority in heaven and on earth has been given by the Father to the Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20) and we live under his leadership each day. Jesus fulfills all the types of anointed covenant leadership expressed in the Old Testament offices of Israel. He is our true prophet, the incarnate Word, bring the Word of God to his people. He is our great high priest ever interceding for his people before his father as our one covenant mediator. He is our great King who leads his people through spiritual battle as we sojourn on mission with him in this word. Furthermore his leadership is one of a servant, who willingly washes his followers’ feet and shows his great love for his family by laying his life down for them. There is no greater love than that of Jesus and he is both the model and the means to all servant leadership in God’s family.
Jesus has called then calls some of his men to be elders/overseers/pastors to follow him as willing under shepherds giving their lives in service to God and his flock (1 Peter 5:1-5). These pastors are to be examples to others, model godly leadership in their own homes, love their wives and kids with Jesus as their God and leader. They are to proclaim the Word of God as Jesus ministers his word to his people. They are to lead people to Jesus in baptism and the Lord’s Supper the appointed signs which point to Jesus’ priestly role in bringing us to the Father. They are to exercise godly leadership and discipline in the church to help God’s people grow and follow Jesus who is King. Under the care of the pastors of the church are the families of God, small communities organized under Jesus as well.
The fathers in the home serve as extensions of Jesus leadership to their families. Men are to serve as prophets, bringing Jesus’ word to their homes. They are priests to lead the family in worship to God. They are kings who are to manage their households well. There is no believer who is not under God’s gracious authority. The family and the church are all under Jesus as Lord.
One note must be made from Jesus himself; we cannot take this more seriously. This is the account of John Mark in chapter 10 of his account of the life and teaching of Jesus:
42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In our day where pastors can pimp the church for profit, power and posterity it is important for God’s men to wrap the towel around the waist and wash the feet of the household of God. We need more men who serve and honor their wives empowering them to their God given callings. We need more men who will teach, mentor, instruct and discipline the kids that they love deeply. We need more pastors who are more like Jesus and less like the power brokers of politics and the corporate ladders.
In summary, Jesus is senior pastor and good shepherd; his realm of authority is all things heaven and earth. His pastors shepherd the church under his guidance in covenant communities where families are lovingly served by husband-fathers who extend gracious leadership in the home. The following demonstrates the overlapping realms of Jesus’ authority.
Figure 2 - Leadership - Responsible Christ, Responsible Pastors, Responsible Fathers
All theology must not remain conceptual but needs to find a grip on everyday life in all contexts to which Jesus has called his church. Jacob’s Well is called to live out the realm of home and church in a fast paced, success oriented, power hungry culture of central New Jersey. As part of the New York City metro area, with institutions of education, medicine and business all around, families must swim against the tide of culture to have families together for the gospel of Jesus Christ. To this task we now turn.
Living in 21st Century Central New Jersey
As we look at life and culture in the northeastern United States we find a people that are on the treadmill of 21st century life and business. Many people do not live in the same town in which they work with some commuting anywhere from 30 min to 2 hours each way. Time and finances are stretched for many and both parents working is many times the rule for those with children. In this cultural fabric we must work to, no fight, to maintain a different rhythm of life. We must carve out a rhythm where families can still walk together in spiritual formation and real community as the people of God. The following are but a few lines in the battle.
Fight for Meal Time (with Family)
In order for families to grow in grace men and women need to fight to share a common meal together. This will be a matter of schedule and priority for moms and dads to shape each day to make this a reality. Some families may find an early morning breakfast table easier to achieve while others may seek the solace of a dinner table appointment. Either way, a time to eat, share Scripture, pray for one another and worship must be found. A meal is a great thing to fight for. Suggestions for content and structure for such devotions is being provided in our Jacob’s Well Family Worship piece currently under development.
Fight for Face Time (with Kids)
To respond to the biblical commands for parents, specifically fathers, to instruct children in the faith several things are needed. First, it requires a committed relationship where kids trust can grow in the voice, teaching and character of their parents. Kids need to see and be with their parents to learn to trust them. Furthermore parents need to engage kids in active, real life learning in the course of everyday living. In other words, teaching needs to happen when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. This will require significant face time in the course of everyday life. Men and women will need to schedule well, carve out time, and exercise discipline in order to configure schedules to be able to walk along side their kids.
Fight for Date Time (with your Spouse)
Many times parents can be so focused on their kids that they forget that their first relationship before God is their own marriage covenant. Part of raising kids in a context of the gospel is allowing them to see God displayed in marriage (Ephesians 5), to see forgiveness granted for sin in real relationships, to observe healthy conflict and reconciliation and to grasp the meaning of the gospel lived out in their home. Kids will learn about masculinity and femininity as parents live out the marriage relationship with them. Additionally, God has given marriage to bless his people and the joy and refuge which a husband and wife can be to one another is a treasure that the busyness of life often robs from us. So we want to encourage creative ways for husbands and wives to be together. We encourage couples to keep a regular date night as a practical measure of carving out time. This can be something as simple as slow time together on the couch, a leisurely stroll, going shopping (yes men, you can do it) or something fun that requires a bit of cash. The point is to have the flow of life directed so that you can get time together.
Fight for Faith Time (with our Church)
Many churches excessively burden families with such a dizzying flurry of programs that the average Christian has little to no free time for other things. Churches should slow it down to a very minimum amount of activities so that families can spend time together and on mission in their respective communities. Simplicity should be valued and practiced when putting together a church calendar. With that said, we are still to come together for Word and Sacrament and a corporate expression of worship before God. This requires a commitment to unite as a family for the worship of God. The church’s ministry to children should supplement and undergird the teaching and discipleship ministry of the parents. Older men and women and more mature Christians should teach and model parenting to new families and provide curriculum and resources to help the family towards certain devotional realities in the home.
Fight for Mission Time (with friends, families, co-workers and comrades)
Finally, Jesus is on mission in the world among the lost and the hurting. He calls his church and sends us on mission with him in our world. If Christians only have time for their family, their work and their church stuff there is usually no time left for mission. Let me revisit for a moment parents spending time with their kids. If we see all of life as mission and our nature and identity as his sent people families will be engaged in more activities that watching “safe” TV and playing Jenga on the weekends. Our families need to be on mission with Jesus in all things. Be it with other families at the soccer field, getting to know neighbors on an evening walk/bike ride, serving those in need, visiting the sick, celebrating at weddings, etc. etc. Those who live the mission of Jesus with their kids in all of life will find they might just see Jesus as more than “their parent’s religion.”
All of these require margin…work to change the rhythm of the day so that life can happen…God give grace as we work together towards a lifestyle where family, work, mission are found daily under the rule and reign of Jesus.