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A Tale of Three Churches: Family Church

Tale of Three Churches:
Part Four – Family

Diane and I raised seven children in the midst of planting and pastoring a thriving church in the heart of San Francisco. My understanding of family, both natural and spiritual, is shaped by the challenges and victories we experienced over the years.

Over the course of the series I have talked about three kinds of churches: Fantasy, Factory and Family. In my estimation, the highest expression will always be Family Church. Since the beginning of time, God’s primary means of fulfilling his purposes has been family: natural and spiritual. Yet in all my experience as a pastor and a mentor to other pastors, I have noticed a wide variety of definitions of what true spiritual family is all about. Why do you think that is?

Family church is a bit like story of the blind men and the elephant. The one who feels the leg believes the elephant is like a tree.  One who feels the trunk believes the elephant is like a hose.  The one who touches the tail feels a rope. Perception always informs definition.

Starting to define family church

In my role as a coach to pastors, I have found that when most people use the word “family” to describe church, they are usually talking about “a safe place to belong”. Although this is a key dimension of family church, I have found that most churches that use this definition are actually doing Fantasy Church to one degree or another. While I agree that Family must, first and foremost, be a safe place to belong, it must also be so much more.

In my years of coaching, I have also found another definition of Family Church. These leaders will call themselves “spiritual mothers and fathers” but when they use the term, Family Church, they define it as a place to raise children so they can serve the family. While I agree that an important role of families to raise children to serve God and others, many who use this language are often doing some form of Factory Church. So let me begin to give a description of true Family Church that will start here but carry on into a new series of blogs and video posts that I hope will inspire you to build the spiritual Family that God has called you to build.

Family church is individual above organization

In any family, there is always a tension between the value of the individual and the value of the group. If we put too much emphasis on the individual, it can lead to low commitment and high chaos. On the other hand an imbalance in the other direction leads to control and conformity that stifles the uniqueness of the individual and eventually harms the organization.

I believe this tension is best resolved by deciding which of the two is the “cart” and which one is the “horse.” As we look at the nature and purpose of family, I believe it is easy to demonstrate the horse is the individual, and the cart is the group or organization. Although the health of the individual and the organization are both essential to fulfill God’s purposes, I believe that thriving individuals will build a better, more effective organization than a thriving organization will build the best people.

God created family with the prime directive, “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” This directive presupposes an ever-increasing number of new families. This outcome requires the full development of every child into a mature, powerful adult. So the overarching purpose of “Family” is not to maintain itself, but to multiply, by developing every member and send them forth to create new families. In reality, true family is not about raising children; it’s actually about raising ADULTS. This requires a priority structure that favors the individual slightly above the organization.

Family church is diversity AND unity

One of the things that make Family Church so challenging is the tension between unity and diversity. Without unity we can ever accomplish the goals that God has given us as a family. At the same time without a commitment to diversity we will never have the representation of the different aspects of Jesus. And we will never be able to achieve the synergy as it is described in Scripture as diverse members of Christ’s body function together as one.

Diversity is one of the most important distinctions between a Factory Church and a Family. Factories are designed to spit out uniform products in an efficient and effect manner. True family is built on the understanding that we are all different by God’s design. We will only be truly fruitful as a unit when we discover and fulfill our unique personal destinies as individuals. A Family Church allows every member to be different from one another and yet unified in heart and purpose. It also depends on the creation of flexible structures and systems that are adaptable and customized to each person’s unique journey.

Family church is development above delegation

Most pastors are decent delegators, but not very good developers. Most of us are so busy running the program of church that we are unable be intentional with our people. The tyranny of the urgent inevitably causes us to shift from “People Development” to “People Maintenance.” In addition, many of us lack a clear strategy to develop people in our churches in a personal, yet measurable way. As a result, many pastors default to mere delegation to keep the boat afloat.

One of my sons came to me couple years ago to share an area that had offended him when he was a child. He said, “You and mom used to joke with each other in front of us, saying something like this: ‘Honey, don’t do the dishes, that’s what we had children for.’”

Although my son knew it was only a joke, it still hurt his heart.

In case there’s any confusion, I did not conceive my biological children so that I would have someone to do my chores for me. I had sons and daughters, to consummate my love with my wife and to raise up the fruit of that love to fulfill every potential and overcome every obstacle in life. I had sons and daughters so that they would fulfill God’s purposes by blessing others and raising up the next generation.

The Purpose of Sons & Daughters

Unfortunately, some pastors believe that God brought people to their church to do the chores of ministry for them. They become quite frustrated when their people refuse to volunteer or burn out too quickly. Often, leaders fail to realize that they have mistakenly put the cart before the horse by putting the organization above the individual and delegation above development.

Over the years, I have come to realize that, as a good father, I must guide my children into ever-increasing levels of maturity and responsibility. I do this, not for MY sake, or for the sake of the organization, but rather, for the sake of the individual. Delegation is important, not as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for personal development and maturation. True Family Church is not merely about creating a safe place for people to belong. It’s about creating a dynamic developmental environment in which every member is able to discover and fulfill the purpose for which God created them.

Pastor’s Coach is committed to helping aspiring “Family Churches” avoid the pitfalls of fantasy and factory.  We offer a variety of teachings and processes that will help you turn your church into a people development incubator. Connect with us at www.pastorscoach.com.

  • Doug Mueller July 12, 2015 at 12:54 am

    Dear Michael,
    I have really enjoyed all of your blogs so much! As I was reading this one in particular today, I felt like crying because it hit so close to home. Priorities are definitely a problem for many churches. This entire series is a much needed word for so much of the body of Christ! Some who feel the same will appreciate the fact that someone has put in words for them.

    I think one of the hardest things for elders to do is convey things like these, that are on their heart, in a way that does not offend their leaders. Sometimes People are so focused that it’s hard to get through but I can be done effectively with the right heart and right approach. I just love the way you put it into words.

    Hungry churches will love it!!

    Thank you!
    Doug Mueller

  • Erik July 12, 2015 at 12:56 am

    I’ve heard and taught the labels and ideals of “spiritual family” over the years, often with much misunderstanding and shallow meaning. I think you nailed it here. This is a must read. Definitely passing this on. Great article, Michael.

  • Matthew July 12, 2015 at 11:38 am

    YAY! Love it Michael. I love the redefining of the word Family. I do believe if I can get this it will change my church but also the world.

  • Andy February 16, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Michael,
    I’ve just finished reading this series for the first time. Thank you for sharing your insights. Several times throughout the articles, a line would hit me as, “that’s the truth, and it is profound”. It encourages my heart, as a home-church planter who has felt led to ‘build God’s church’ as small, intimate families, that Holy Spirit has poured out the same leading in many places. It also provided some much needed reminders, such as building the individual before the ‘organization’… even if the organization is just 10-20 individuals.. Sometimes that proves difficult, as certain individuals wish to carry on with beliefs that are not based in Christ, but in their own experiences. This, as you pointed out, can lead to chaos / entitlement, if not dealt with in love. Walking this way, with mature adults as the goal, requires a delicate balance for sure and I am encouraged to steer clear of both fantasy and factory ‘solutions’ to these issues.

    Looking forward to much more,

    Andy

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