“Whoever does the will of my Father
in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
~Jesus (Matthew 12:50)
If you are like me, that headline brought you up short. I didn’t write it, but encountered it on the Internet along with a thoughtful essay by United Church of Christ Minister Tony Robinson. He takes issue with the analogy of thinking of a “church family.”
As someone who has routinely written about a “church family” and even a “diocesan family,” I am quite comfortable with the image. Yet, I have to admit that all analogies fail in some ways and he points to the flaws in this one. He cites the results of a national firm’s ministry audit for a church he was assisting that said the church needed to end the internal conflict and to quit thinking like a family. They went on to say, “The purpose of the church is to transform both society and individuals to be more Christ-like. This concept goes way beyond family.”
Robinson cautions that churches that think of themselves as a family are more likely to opt for comfort and satisfaction and focus on keeping people happy. He also writes, “Families sometimes keep secrets that shouldn’t be kept in order to keep from bringing shame on the family name. And families aren’t typically that easy to join.” I have to admit he has a point and to that degree he’s right, we are falling far short of the mark set by God. Our purpose is something more than making one another happy or having a club where everyone knows your name.
Robinson helpfully adds, “If we must use ‘family,’ we should be aware of the way that Jesus, while using ‘family,’ also subverts conventional understandings of family and challenges their usual boundaries with a thoroughly new vision of ‘family.’”
His full essay is online here: Quit thinking of the church as a family. How does the image of a church as family help or hinder? Does it get in the way of the work of the Gospel or help it along?
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary