My previous blogs have suggested that the concept of church as family has an important part to play in helping us understand what church is meant to be like, as long as we use Jesus and his disciples as our model rather than our own poor experience of family.
Family is in crisis in our society, and is also being redefined!
Family means different things in different contexts. For many it is the cause of much hurt and disappointment. This surfaces when we start talking about church and family and can cloud the issue.
Today many are not living close or even on the same continent of their birth family. For people from cultures where the wider family is very important, e.g. African and Asian cultures this is particularly difficult. However it is true for everyone living away from “family”. In such circumstance “family” has been redefined.
The result is ethnic communities taking the place of family. E.g. my sons live in India and Hong Kong respectively. They each predominantly hang out with other local Brits, these communities have to a certain extent taken the place of family. This also explains the predominance of “tribal churches”, people worshipping together with others from the same background. In Luton we have many churches like this. Across the world there are many churches full of Brits wanting to worship together, to be family together.
I don’t think this is the same picture of family that we find in the New Testament! I don’t think his is what Jesus and Paul meant when he talked about the church being family.
Western nuclear family is breaking down. Families include many step children and kids have multiple grandparents. There seems no such thing as a normal family! The TV programme Friends didn’t try to repair the nuclear family; it re-created an extended family out of the rubble of the broken-down nuclear family.
For many in the west friendships have taken the place of family, or at least challenge the historical role that family played. Many have “Friends” as the ideal they are striving for in “family”. However it causes confusion and disappointment. Friendships are entered into with high expectations that aren’t often realised. The relationships modelled in the Friends TV programme are rarely reproduced is real life.
This too isn’t what the New Testament pictures as family life.
WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON
Tony is the leader of Hope Church Luton. He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.