My first ten years of life were spent on an unusually quiet street in my city that had a dead end and in fact at that ‘end’ was a little roundabout. There was nothing I liked doing better than riding my bike up and down that street, and when I’d get to the roundabout, I’d peddle as fast as I could around it and try to get back up the ‘busy’ end as quickly as I could. My perception of cars as dangerous was non-existent such was the rare occurrence of any vehicle travelling fast enough on the road.
The bottom of that street, just after the roundabout and behind the houses, backed onto a wide vista of fields, growing all sorts of stuff, such as rhubarb and providing spaces for horses.
A long dirt path next to the fields went either one way to the John ‘O Gaunt area of Rothwell or, more importantly to me; the other way led to my cousin’s house. And being the youngest boy with two older sisters at that point, there was nothing better than messing about with my two male cousins. From making dens, pushing each other into nettle bushes, or climbing dangerously down a small, but deep, quarry that the field path eventually led. I didn’t spend a lot of time indoors during the afternoon after school.
But, here ‘s the rub – I can’t really remember what my home life was like.
I can remember the ‘big moments’ a little better, like at Christmas, going round to my Grandma and Grandad’s on Christmas Day and going round to my Nana’s on Boxing Day surrounded by relatives I only saw once a year.
But the detail of my early years is missing. To this day my childhood memory of family life is spotty, incomplete – the most I remember is when I was doing stuff on my own, entertaining myself.
What I do remember most vividly is that around sometime in my 10th year, my family and home life crumbled.
I remember shouting, maybe even violence to a degree. I remember tears and confusion. I remember my mother saying to my dad, “your son needs a hug”, and I remember a short hug almost reluctantly given. I remember the sad and resigned look on my mother’s face as she left the house and the front door closed behind her.
My once seemingly connected family was now broken, shattered, in pieces. And so my heart too. Family time soon meant visits to courtrooms, full of questions like “who you’d like to live with?” How can you ask a child that and expect a considered answer? I wanted to remain where I grew up, on that street, riding on that bike, playing in that den. So I initially, and surprisingly I stayed with my dad for a while. This familiarity gave me a sense of safety while everything else was falling apart.
I realised quickly, however, that my dad was not all that I’d never expected him to be. And I say ‘never’ on purpose, because it became apparent, as I grew matured quickly and became even more self-reliant, that I never really knew him at all. Memories come to me of him always walking ahead of the family whenever we went anywhere. My mother left to deal with three kids and their wants and needs, moans and whinges.
As I lived with my dad, I soon saw how he struggled with the everyday stuff. Work was hard for him, managing a household was hard for him, parenting children, on his own, was hard for him. As time went on, I eventually went to live with my mother and John who became my stepdad.
Family life changed again – first it had changed with the separation, then it altered once more as I left my dad’s care.
Soon family meant not spending too time on my own; family wasn’t trying to get by on one wage in a council house. Family, with my new ‘dad’, became a large house, holidays abroad, good memories with new friends experiencing new places. My mother and stepdad worked hard with multiple successful businesses, but they enjoyed life too.
There were moments where my stepdad probably struggled to cope with three children suddenly thrust into his life, but on the whole, things were looking up. Even as my relationship with my dad became distant to eventually non-existent.
The ‘good times’ though, didn’t last. The new family unit stayed together, but money issues and bankruptcy reared their ugly heads. Holidays stopped, stress grew, and we swapped houses once again, from private to council house provision.
No natural dad, money tight, living in a place I certainly would not have chosen, hanging out with some people I would rather have not, making decisions that were not the best, and I consider myself fortunate not to have gone down a path of self-destruction.
However, despite all that life might have been tough, it wasn’t all bad from then on in. Like any family, we had moments of joy and times of sadness in different measurements. This is how my life stayed until I became an adult, this is what became normal for family to me throughout the remainder of my childhood.
My childhood wasn’t the best, but neither was it in any way the worst.
The big problem – particularly in my generation – broken homes gradually became the norm, even possibly expected. My generation witnessing, I think, the first wholesale change from how we regard marriage and its value to society.
A generation possibly with a painful view about what family is and maybe why we see so many of my generation choosing not to marry, not wanting to tie themselves up in such a deep, binding and emotional connection. And thus setting an example for the generations that have come after us about how we ‘do family’ in 21st Century Britain.
But this blog post isn’t about marriage; it’s about what we see as the value, the necessity and the absolute importance of Church and how we should view family within this context. What exists in Heaven is a family, and the Church should reflect this Heavenly culture.
A family, that despite its flaws and faults – it’s a family of imperfect people after all – wants the absolute best for one another.
A family that isn’t afraid to tackle any issues that arise amongst us, so that we can help each other become the best version of ourselves.
A family that celebrates difference rather than expecting everyone to be the same.
The bottom line is that Church is a family that loves God and isn’t afraid to love one another with the same passion and desire and commitment to one another as He does us – His Children.
I believe that the Church is God’s preferred vehicle to advance His Kingdom. And, probably, at times in the past, the Universal Church hasn’t been very good at working out this out in the best way – it hasn’t looked very much like a family.
For example during the crusades of around the 12th century, the Kingdom of God was viewed as political power, so the Church tried to force that to happen in kind on Earth. In the process killing lots of people and taking over land – they thought this was how the Kingdom would come.
In recent times the Church might be viewing the Kingdom of God as something that is a supernatural reality. Our aim to bring Heaven to Earth, so we see miracles, healing, salvation and so on. And this view of the Kingdom I can agree with, but we must never forget that the Kingdom of God is also family.
In Scripture, we read that we are part of a family called the household of faith (see Galatians 6:10). In 1 Timothy 5:1-2 that Paul says something interesting to his spiritual son, Timothy:
Do not sharply reprimand an older man, but appeal to him as [you would to] a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as sisters, in all purity [being careful to maintain appropriate relationships]. (1 Timothy 5:1-2 AMP)
Here’s why I find this interesting, and it’s not so much the words being used – as important as they are – but it’s the context the Paul is using. He is using the language of family, very carefully and deliberately. Every person within the Church is to be viewed as someone who is part of a family.
The way we view the Kingdom of God will determine how we operate within it. – DR. JONATHAN WELTON, NEW COVENANT LEADERS (BOOK)
In other words, if we view the Kingdom of God as something only as organisational, then as the Church we will act very differently than if we saw (and experienced) it as a family.
The Church isn’t an organisation, but it is a family that needs organising. – KATHI KELLY
If the Church is a family, then that means we need mothers and fathers to help lead it and organise it. We also need brothers willing to be an example to brothers and show the right way in thinking and action. Sisters, the same, ready to show what it means to be a powerful woman, but one that can still show love and care. Aunties and uncles prepared to step in for tired mum and dads, both naturally and in the Spirit, as we care for the family, both natural and spiritually adopted. Every generation working together for the good of the whole to see God’s Kingdom come and for the Church to do its part in bringing nearer the return of King Jesus.
“Be devoted to one another with [authentic] brotherly affection [as members of one family], give preference to one another in honor; never lagging behind in diligence; aglow in the Spirit, enthusiastically serving the Lord; constantly rejoicing in hope [because of our confidence in Christ], steadfast and patient in distress, devoted to prayer [continually seeking wisdom, guidance, and strength], contributing to the needs of God’s people, pursuing [the practice of] hospitality.” (Romans 12:10-13)
Are we as believers, especially within a local church family context, willing to serve one another? Are we ready to walk out the example that Jesus set at the last supper – washing one another’s feet, both metaphorically and even literally?
In other words, are we choosing to love with an open and affectionate heart, that is willing to be vulnerable, transparent?
Creating and maintaining a Heavenly, familial culture within the Church is so important in helping us learn how to love in a way that creates a space for mistakes without condemnation and a space that encourages and rewards success. When the local church comes together, we should have an atmosphere that is more like a family reunion than a corporate meeting.
Did you know that in Biblical times, such as when Paul and Timothy were alive it was normal for them to greet each other with a holy kiss? In fact, affection for one another was shown so much more demonstrably than it is in our culture today. Maybe a holy kiss is just a bit much right now, but there does exist, I believe, a massive chasm between what we see in our British culture – and in our churches – than what we see in Scripture when it comes to showing authentic emotion, love and care. To be a church that is also family we need to side with the Biblical example, regardless of culture outside the church.
What was it about this first century Church culture that enabled them to be so open with their affections and even to greet one another with that ‘holy kiss’?
A possible answer to that is, is that the early church lived under tremendous persecution, and when people gathered together, it was entirely legitimate to think that this might be the very last time they might see one another. Because of that affection was a priority.
It hurts to bring this up, but a good friend of mine died within the past year from cancer. As she was living her last days, there was no way I was withholding affection. In the final week, my wife and I visited her a number of times, and we held her hand, talked lovingly about her to her and kissed her on our goodbyes. The genuine and present reality changed how we were towards her. Not that we were not loving and caring before, but our affection multiplied as we realised these were her final moments on Earth. We look forward to the day we see her again.
I think that for some of us, maybe even most of us, it’s only in these kinds of moments do we show how we really feel. Perhaps it’s because we get too comfortable with one another, too blazé, too used to seeing each other that we forget we still need to show how much we care for each other?
Maybe our motivation for connecting at a deeper level fades as the years move on? Has the local church become more like a club than like a family, until those moments when we realise we really need our sister, our aunt, our cousin, our brother, our uncle, and importantly, our mum and dad?
Maybe this is how you feel.
I would like to encourage us to view local church as so much more than what I’ve just listed. We don’t need any external pressures to push us together as a family that genuinely cares.
We read in John 19:25-27 how much Jesus cared about His mum, but we also see just how much He cared about His disciples, who were far more to Him than only that, they were family.
“ … standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister [ Salome], Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. So Jesus, seeing His mother, and the disciple whom He loved (esteemed) standing near, said to His mother, “[Dear] woman, look, [here is] your son!” Then He said to the disciple (John), “Look! [here is] your mother [protect and provide for her]!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (John 19:25-27)
My wife and I, as leaders and elders of a local church, we want to be, and hope we have been, to the best of our ability and experience, loving parents. Not only to our kids but the church as a whole. We are here to serve, honour, lift up, equip, and even, if it comes to it, wash feet!
I find myself, as I write this post, crying, somewhat unexpectedly I might add. These emotions are rising from somewhere that I must have hidden deep down. But I shared some of my story at the start because I want to be an example of transparency and encouragement for us all to allow our real selves to come to the surface.
Let’s learn together, those of us in local church families, how to embrace, love and value people so much that we and others yet to be a part, genuinely feel valued and loved. That we feel like sons and daughters, who belong to a family – people who know who we are in God and understand how we fit together.
There is enormous potential in this.
If you think about the obvious: God relates to us as a Father and Christ relates to Him as a son and as our brother – amongst many other things! Through His Holy Spirit, we are enabled to make this family reality a daily experience.
“While He was still talking to the crowds, it happened that His mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Look! Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside asking to speak to You.” But Jesus replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples [and all His other followers], He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven [by believing in Me, and following Me] is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)
I think family is a foundational reality that the Church needs to inhabit before we can all experience true unity. We need to identify with those who are our spiritual family across many different expressions of Church.
So many people talk about unity, but they haven’t figured out family. – DR. JONATHAN WELTON, NEW COVENANT LEADERS (BOOK)
If we haven’t figured out family in the Church context then what does this create? Unity based purely on doctrinal agreements or city-wide pastors meetings?
Maybe it’s people attending meetings to show their face and are quite begrudgingly meeting together – they might not even like the people they’re meeting!
Unity starts with living like family, loving and valuing people so much that we stop fearing difference and embrace diversity.
There’s an Old Testament prophet call Habakkuk who’s name means ‘embrace’. To borrow another line from Dr Jonathan Welton, maybe we need more prophets who lead the way in affection and aren’t afraid to hug.
Could a hug lead us into unity and revival?