I have been part of many groups in my life. I’ve been part of sports teams (surprising I know), school clubs, organizations, youth groups, traveling groups, community groups. Many of these communities have made me feel like I belong and am part of something. However, only a small selection of these groups actually made me feel like I was part of a family. For example, in college I led a traveling drama team of 4 people all across Canada and the United States. Our mission was to provide dramas when needed and more importantly to serve as counsellors at each camp we visited. It lasted for 3 months but in 3 months we became more than just a group, but a family.
During my time serving in youth ministry, I would gather a small group of students who would commit to learning and serving for a year and then take part in a week long mission trip. Over the course of the year and especially through the course of the mission trip we weren’t just a group or a community, we were family. I may be getting nit picky here but I think there is a difference between what creates simply a community of people and what creates a “family”. We often use the word community in our church circles, and I think for the most part we all know what we mean (coming from the guy who has a church with a website rooftopcommunity.com). But I often wonder if we are doing the church and Jesus a disservice when we use language like “group” or “community” instead of “family” when referring to the people we are serving with, learning with, eating with, playing with, doing life with. I mean, think about your own ministry. Maybe its a youth group that you lead. Now I’m not about to throw down with the forefathers of youth ministry and say we should get rid of the term “youth group” but isn’t your desire for the kids you work with to not just be part of a group, but be part of a family? Not just a community of believers, but a family of believers? When you think about the fatherless in your neighbourhood shouldn’t our invitation be to a family united by a perfect and loving Father and not to a club that just meets once a week? When looking through the NT we see endless examples and analogies of how we as the church are not just a community group but a family that is on mission together. I don’t think the authors were just trying to be cute when they use family language but rather its a calling to something deeper relationally with each other and with God the Father. When you think about your own ministry a question to consider is; Am I fostering a family on mission or am I facilitating a group? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself, your leadership team, and those that you are servingto begin the discussion around fostering a family on mission.
1. What is it about the gospel that makes us family?
Take time during this discussion to identity specifically where our identity as a family comes from. Its important to point out that the only way that we have the right to be family is because of what Christ first did for us. The reason why we invite others to be part of the family is because Christ first invited us and loved us. The discussion around the other questions cannot be had until this has been clearly articulated and hashed out.
2. What is our mission as a family?
As I mentioned above my most memorable times of seeing a family form have always been around sharing a unified mission. What is your family’s mission? What is the thing that you can all rally around and push each other toward? Nothing breeds a family dynamic more than knowing that everyone has one another backs as they pursue a common goal. Often when I think of family on mission I think of the mini-series “Band of Brothers”. A story of men fighting in World War 2 who became brothers because of the hardships and rewards they experienced while carrying out mission after mission. In the same vein (except a little bit less violent) we can’t help but picture and see the brotherhood that the disciples and Jesus formed because of the mission they were all on. To bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Identity your family’s mission and use it as a platform to begin to foster a family.
3. How do we live as a family?
Jesus tells his disciples that the world will know who He is by the way they love one another. (John 13:35) As a family formed by Christ living in a culture of consumerism, fear, selfishness, anger, and disunity the question we need to ask ourselves daily is “How then shall we live”? How will we commit to treating one another and others in a hurting world that is looking on? As you discuss this question I would encourage you to actually make a list of things that you as a ‘family’ want to hold yourself accountable to. ‘Family values’ if you will. Make it simple and clear that as a ‘family’ we do these things. Not as a checklist but as a way to keep each other accountable to being a family that has each others’ best interests in mind. One example from our church is how we want to be a “submissive people”. We want to make sure that we keep each other accountable to submitting our own wills and preferences to God’s will. This also means we submit our own preferences to the wellbeing of one another. Maybe for your group you commit to setting your phone alarms to a certain time and you all pray no matter where you for something specific. Maybe you all decide that once a month as a family you host a party for a group at school. Maybe you all commit to giving financially somehow. As you create these rhythms try to ask whether or not 1. it points back to Jesus in some way; and 2. are you doing it in a way so the world can see, not because you want to show off but because you want to show Jesus off.
After working through these questions there is one last piece needed … and that is accountability. It is crucial to building a family. “Andrew you can’t force people to be part of a family!” You are absolutely right. You can’t force anyone to do anything… trust me, I’ve tried. But I want you to think about your family that you grew up in. For me there were certain things that I was accountable for as a family member. I was accountable to show love and respect to my other family members. I was accountable to do my chores. I was accountable to be home for supper every night and spend dinner time with the rest of my family. The same goes for our spiritual family. If you are someone who claims to follow Christ and claims to be part of the family of God are you not also accountable to love and respect your brothers and sisters? Are you not also accountable to do the good works Christ has prepared for you to do? Are you not accountable to spend time with your family around the table and reflect on the ups and downs of your days? Maybe you do this through asking a specific set of questions each week. Maybe you create a one page document with the answer to the above questions that tells everyone what your family is all about and the things that as a family you are working toward.
Sisters and brothers, more than ever we need to foster the family of Christ. More than ever we need to be a people that have such a love for one another that people can’t help but see Jesus. More than ever the world needs to see that the Father has a seat at the family table ready and waiting for them.