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The "Secret Sauce" Our Churches Are Missing

In a recent post, I started by saying 100 years from now, I think there will be books written that future readers will find quite funny about how much our current expression of Western church has embraced a corporate model.

Quite ironically, this phenomenon has happened before.

During the Victorian era, Anthony Trollop was one of the best-known novelists, and one of his books, Barchester Towers, gained great acclaim because of his often hilarious portrayal of 19th century Church of England. He was able to reveal how foolish the clergy were in their attempt to be accepted as members of the English aristocracy/upper classes.

I remember reading it years ago and still seeing it continue to play out in the church around me in England. There is a certain kind of hilarity (sad, though it may be) to how we’ve embraced this corporate church thing.

You see, one of the things I felt God impressed on me on my sabbatical was how so many pastors don’t understand how the church is supposed to function like a family (particularly in these mid-sized, extended family size groups). I wonder if so many pastors, either because they grew up in it or were trained for it, are used to running programs and 501c3 organizations that perhaps many haven’t developed the all important skill of shaping a family on mission. This quote really gets to this reality:

Many men can build a fortune, but few men can build a family.
 – J.S. Bryan

That word oikos, which refers to “household” or “family,” is the description for the church in the New Testament. And if we were to dig into the annals of church history, we’d find that almost every time we see a missional movement of God, we also see a missional vehicle being used about the size of an extended family. Coincidence? I’m not sure.

More from ChurchLeaders.com: 7 Secrets of Healthy Churches 

What a fully functioning oikos develops is a texture, a feel, a visceral quality that everyone senses (whether you’re “officially” in it or not), but few can really put a finger on.

For example, take away that dynamic oikos/family texture:

  • Morning prayer feels like staff devotion
  • Huddle feels like a stale small group
  • Missional Communities become forced mission projects

As I’ve observed the “art” of creating extended families over the past 35 years, I’ve noticed that it always takes a combination of two things: PLAY + PURPOSE.

Families play together and have fun, both through planned events and through things that happen organically, things you can never plan. But they also have a very clear purpose for why they exist and what God has called them to.

With 3DM (and the other teams I’ve been with), this is the type of culture I’m trying to create. It’s about the little things, yeah? The monkey we squeeze around the office when we have an important breakthrough. Seeing movies together. Parties together. Going to our kids’ plays or soccer games together. Karaoke together. Each of these is just as important as the sermon you give on Sunday, the missional training you give your leaders, or the staff/business meeting on Tuesday mornings.

You plan for Play and Purpose, but you also cultivate a culture where it’s happening organically as well. There are some events that serve as a trellis for the growing plant that is your culture, but if that’s it, you won’t get what you’re hoping for.

Here are some questions you might ask about the team you’re serving with:

  • Would I want to go on vacation with them?
  • Would I voluntarily choose to hang out with them/their family because I want to and not because it’s forced?
  • Am I doing things that let them into the life of myself and my family?

Here’s the issue: Creating this kind of extended family isn’t something you should do because you might find yourself on staff at a church. It’s not your job. You want this for the people you’re serving who have “regular” 9-5 jobs, not just for your staff. You do this because you’re human. Because you need it. Because God created you this way.

Is this the reality we are intentionally trying to create in our churches?

Image credit: Nathan Michael via CreationSwap.com

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Mike leads 3DM, the global home for an organic movement of biblical discipleship and missional church. He and his wife, Sally, have three children.