Culture At Large

(Church) Family First

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

I’ve written here before about why I believe family focused talk in churches is alienating and excluding Christian singles and childless couples. I was thinking more on the topic recently, and thinking about how family focus also devalues other kinds of important relationships.

For example, I’ve lived with the same roommate for the last 2 years. We are not just roommates, but also colleagues. We have a relationship that is based in trust and mutual support. We celebrate each others successes and commiserate when things don’t go the way we’d hoped. We share bills, but also meals, trips, ideas and resources.  Even though we do not plan for our relationship to stay the way it is for our whole lives (so in this sense it is unlike a marriage) we do plan to always have a relationship, and my relationship with her is an important part of my life. This kind of close friendship, though, is not something that is valued in public the way family relationships are, even though my roommate is like family to me.

Is there a way the church can support and encourage the kind of love that exists in non-sexual, non-permanent partnerships and relationships?  What about actively working to build family-like relationships among church members?

I was thinking about where the term “church family” comes from, and I realized that in the New Testament, the church is described as brothers and sisters and children of God, and even more intimately, as a body.  Being in the same body, to me, implies an even closer connection than shared DNA. Jesus said in the book of Luke, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” This also suggest that our relationship to our spiritual family is more important than our biological one.

Yet, in spite of all of these things, we regularly bemoan the collapse of the nuclear family, and spend so much of our church time elevating family-ness.  Maybe what we should be doing instead is working toward a church family, a church BODY that supersedes biological ties.

One reason I’m thinking about this is because my parents recently published a book about faith milestones and how we can celebrate together as a church family. Celebration is definitely a part of what I’m getting at here. ( There is a little irony that I'm getting these ideas from conversations among my biological family).

I also think we need to worry about taking responsibility for each other and spending time together in the times when things aren’t dramtically good or bad. I can think of lots of examples of what I’m talking about from my life and the lives of others, but I wish it was more common and more expected. For example, you would expect your biological family to be there when you have to move, or when you are stressed out, or when you are looking for a new job.

I think being in a big church makes this harder, because there are so many people with needs that it’s not possible for one person know and care about all of them. Sometimes a thriving small group program solves this problem, but it definitely requires a commitment from a person for them to get cared for.  How might we promote and support this attitude within our churches, and toward others outside the church?  How do we work toward a world where CHURCH family comes first?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church, Home & Family, Family, Dating & Singleness