My family and I came from Texas to pastor New Life Church over four years ago, not knowing anyone in the congregation except the members of the search committee. Each Sunday, I would look into the faces of thousands of strangers, wanting desperately to be known and to know them and their stories. It was the loneliest time of my pastoral journey.
But then something happened this past summer. We became a family, after four years of intentional plowing. I realize it takes a long time to become old friends. It cannot be rushed, programmed, or forced. It simply takes time. I have wondered in the past few months how does a church become a family assembly instead of a gathering of strangers? What is the ground that must be plowed in order for family roots to take hold and ultimately blossom in the local church?
1. Families know how to disagree
This does not sound warm and fuzzy, does it? But it’s true. Healthy families have learned to honorably disagree and to defend the unity that is so critical for the long-term strength of the home. I see people every week that have disagreed with me but have decided to persevere and forge a friendship despite our differences. This is why I believe church families and marriages are so similar. No one can stay married if they always need to be right. Great marriages and great church families have learned to love while they are fussing and are quick to offer forgiveness and grace.
2. Families celebrate and mourn with one another
Healthy families embrace the rhythms of each other’s lives, rejoicing when the others are rejoicing and mourning when the others are sad. This past Sunday, I learned of a dear New Lifer who had just been placed in hospice because of cancer. Later, a despondent single mom asked me to pray with her for her prodigal son. Minutes later, a sweet grandmother told me her daughter, son-in-law, and all their children had just decided to follow Jesus. She had prayed for them for 13 years. I was sad, then I rejoiced. That is family.
3. Families make room for new arrivals
When babies are born, the family celebrates the new arrival. No one is sad because more room has to be made at the dinner table. The same is true with healthy church families. They are always ready to welcome the new arrivals at the table. I refuse to apologize that New Life is a large church. I know it can be overwhelming at times to walk into a big building full of strange faces. Believe me, I know. But I have also found that if I simply give it time, people will embrace me if I make room for the embrace.
4. Families serve one another
Healthy church families are keenly aware of the needs all around them. In the early church, it was said, “there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:34) What a beautiful picture of family surrounding each other, embracing the broken, and giving generously so that everyone has an advocate and hope.
I am most grateful to belong to a family that can disagree and still love, celebrates and mourns with each other, makes room for the new arrivals, and is quick to serve and bless. We are a growing family. Amen.