Family in Heaven and on Earth
The other day I met a friend of mine for lunch. He is a preacher who had moved to Fort Worth just a couple of years ago. We had met about eight years ago at a small meeting in Mattoon, Illinois, and it was by a happy coincidence that my wife and I found him and his wife living in my hometown so many years later.
I always look forward to lunches with him because the Lord always seems to pull up a seat and add to the conversation.
Whenever two or more are gathered together there I am in the midst of them.
This particular day we talked about all kinds of things, everything from our wives' (what planet are you from?) thinking to his love for frisbee golf to iMacs and Photoshop. Somewhere in the middle of this, the conversation shifted, and it was as though I was there to hear myself talk. I had started in about our current ministry culture.
"See, it's gone corporate. Pastors act like little CEOs, drawing up mission statements ("We deliver hope and healing to the world"), launching building programs ("Become a partner in our victory campaign!"), and preaching leadership secrets ("God grows leaders from within"). Discipleship has been turned into a top-down management structure where our so-called leaders are twenty-somethings who haven't a shred of experience or knowledge of the Word, but who are quick to check off who's attending class, who's truant, who's contributed to the campaign, and who's a candidate they can replicate."
I kept going.
"Ministry doesn't involve anything organic anymore. It's all artificial. Facebook likes, tweets. What's that!?! It's nothing like family. Yeah, nothing at all. You tell me. When is the last time you heard about Jesus calling his disciples "friends"? When is the last time you heard a sermon about sacrificing for those who are weaker than you? Do you know, actually know, of any churches that act like a group of close friends or a family?"
My buddy was kind of stunned.
So, what's so big about family?
First thing is, you're related to these people for the rest of your life, whether you like it or not. No, you don't get to withdraw. You don't get to cash in your membership. You don't get to buy shares in another family. You don't get to unfriend "son" or "daughter." You're in it. It is who you are. It is a fact of your life that you will not or cannot ever change.
Another thing about this thing called family is that every member is the same but at the same time altogether different. If you had the chance to sit in one of our family get togethers, you'd literally see my eyes rolling to the back of my head as one sister dredges up yet another cockamamy story about our childhood. And when my other sister starts in with her inquisition to catch up on the latest news, "Where did you go? Who did you take? Did you drive? What'd you drive? Did you stop anywhere? Where? What'd you do there?" I'm not just ready to leave the room, but the planet, too. But here's the thing. Mention any of this to my neighbor up the street, and she'll tell you, "Oh yeah, those Smythes are like that." I have no answer to that. Why? Yeah, because it's family.
And you have to take them as they come. You don't get to say, "Okay, I'll take you and you, but not you," like you would a fifth-grade football game. You bet that Mom could take a little more time off the soapbox, and Dad could actually listen to how he toasted his computer, and my sister could have made a better choice of husbands ("Him? Are you kidding me?"), but that's family, personality quirks and all. Maddening, engrossing, infuriating, joyous, demoralizing, stupefying all at the same time, but also the most blessed thing of your life here on earth. It is no wonder that God set out to create a family. It is the most fabulous idea in all the world, even if you want to beat your head against the table on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thank God, He didn't seek to form some impersonal, corporate organization.
Ministry in the church should be all about family—God's family. And nothing more.