This past weekend I preached from Acts 2:41-47. This is a passage that really has shaped our community significantly early on and it was exciting to look at it again a number of years later. One of the blessings of preaching from this text was that I didn’t feel like I needed to chastise or rebuke our community as I feel we’ve done a good job a cultivating a family at The Well. Of course, we have much room to grow but these people are truly my family.

I started out sharing a bit of how the metaphor of family relates to the church. Here is what I came up with:

You don’t “go to family.” Rather, you are part of a family.
In the same way, we don’t “go to church” we are “part of a church.” Family is not an event. Church is not an event. Of course, as a family we have events like dinner and vacation. But that does not define our reality as a family. In the same way, a church does have events like worship services and community dinners and bible studies. But, these events cannot and should not define our reality of what it means to be a church.

In a family, belonging comes from who you are, not what you do.
In my family, my belonging came from the fact that I was son and brother. Not from what I did. My belonging as a Hiestand come from that fact that I just “am.” I think this is one major thing we need to have in our understanding of church. When people are new to our community they want to know how they can “get involved.” Usually they mean, “what can I do.” While we certainly have things and ministries in our community that need attention, I first want someone to understand that one of the best things they can do is simply get to know people and “be.” I want them first to understand their belonging based on the fact that they are simply part of the community and then take a look at how they can contribute to our mission. If we look at it the other way around we get this idea that we earn our belonging. I think that’s a bad approach to community.

There are traditions and practices that have meaning to your life together.
Every family can share a few traditions that they have developed together. Sometimes these traditions are weird. My family loves Garrett’s Popcorn. We get it whenever we have the chance. My family heads to Christmas Mountain, WI for Thanksgiving each year (Cole was confused at this this year). My family always took vacations out West to Colorado and Montana. My family always read the Christmas story in Luke before we open presents which was torture for me as a kid. In church we have developed a set of traditions that are meaningful to our life together. At The Well we share worship together on Sunday mornings. In that worship gathering we share communion each week to celebrate the life and work of Jesus Christ. We have regular community dinners. These traditions are significant to our life together. WIthout them our family would be less.

Healthy family members freely give of themselves to one another.
In a healthy family members are not consumers. They freely and willingly give of themselves to the others in the family. In an unhealthy family, members only take and don’t give. In a church, the same is true. Consumer mentality kills family and kills church. Sure, there are seasons in life when one receives more than one gives but they are seasons, not permanent ways of life.

Healthy families are open and inviting to others.
Most of us have those families growing up that we felt like one of their additional children. I have a way of judging my belonging in a family. If I can walk into the house and open the refrigerator door without asking I know I belong. Churches better be open and inviting to others or they are exceptionally unhealthy and, worse, they have misunderstood the gospel.

In healthy families, its hard, but we send our kids off to college and they are still part of the family.
At The Well we have had a number of people who have moved away. In our minds, they are still part of our family. We are proud of those who we have sent off to other parts of the world to represent our community. Churches need to do a better job of celebrating and praying for people in this situation.

There is room for extended family.
Just because someone doesn’t live in our house does necessarily mean they aren’t family. I have uncles who visit once and a while. They are still my uncle. In churches, we need to do a better job of welcoming and acknowledging extended family. The body of Christ is a lot bigger than our small communities. We need to gain a larger perspective with those not directly or even loosely connected to our local bodies.

When you “leave” a family its usually a violent break. This is a very important thing to keep in mind as it relates to churches. We’ve likely all known of families that either disown a child or the parents divorce. It’s painful and ugly. When we view church as family, leaving is same. Its painful and its ugly. Its better off that it doesn’t happen.

In a family, you are forced to deal with problems When two people in a family fight it eventually has to be dealt with since you live in the same house. In a healthy family, the two parties will finally sit down and duke it out and forgive when necessary and work things out. In an unhealthy family they end up, well, unhealthy. In churches, we need to get better at sitting down and working out our differences. This isn’t easy. But, its better than the alternative (see last paragraph for the alternative).