Family is such a fitting way to describe what our Sunday meetings portray the larger phenomenon of: a world-wide body of believers. I have been so encouraged whenever bringing non-believers to church by their comments on how we look like one big weekly family reunion, and that's how it should feel. It almost seems cliché to describe the church in this way, but it is deeply biblical.
Regardless of how we feel when church and Sunday meetings are described as 'family' we cannot escape the reality of its truthfulness. Paul in his letters to the churches constantly referred to believers as brothers and sisters, as one body, an intimate reference that reflects how we now share one Father. Being a family, therefore, makes certain things a given: we are selfless toward one another, committed toward one another, and encourage one another.
The beauty of how our Sunday meeting reflects the wider family of believers is in how no one new should feel like they aren't immediately part of it – but as if they always have been. Church family is at once both intimate and open, familiar yet ever expanding.
If you're heading up a new church plant, first and foremost, cultivate a foundation of brothers and sisters. People will not feel reluctant or dragged by leadership in following church vision if they know they are part of something deeper.
When the body of believers are marked by sincere love and commitment to one another, we will see the church firmly rooted. Come trial, persecution or cultural adversity - it's not going anywhere. There is nothing more drawing to non-believers than a group of people who love like Jesus loves, and who welcome them like Jesus welcomes. It's the family they knew they were created for. What I want to talk about in this article is how the Sunday meeting is an opportunity where we can cultivate a body of believers who see church as family.
A Selfless Family
The Sunday meeting is an opportunity to cultivate a family community because it offers the space to serve selflessly. A selfless family looks like Philippians 2:1-4. Grab your bible now and read it – it's pretty stunning. When Paul says, 'in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself' he is not telling us to have a low opinion of ourselves, but rather to have a higher opinion of others. This is not the inferiority complex which stems from pride but a joyous rejoicing in and caring for others. During a Sunday meeting everything is geared around serving someone else.
The worship team and worship leader have devoted time and energy in preparation to serve the congregation in leading them into a beautiful place of worship. The children's workers have spent hours meditating on how to take an extravagant truth and help young minds understand and take it in. The welcome team have got to church early to make sure that when the rest of us arrive we have drinks and food to share with one another. Can you see how our meetings are geared toward this selflessness?
However, sometimes these roles can seem like the last thing we want to do, sometimes they get the dregs of our attention and energy, and sometimes they are used in ways to lift ourselves above others. But this completely opposes all Paul says in this verse.
At a church's Sunday meeting, a selfless family looks like finding ways to help even when you're not on the rota that week. We look for ways to serve in profound yet unseen ways, like caring for the person sat alone, asking God for a word for someone. We ask ourselves: 'how can I put myself aside to raise someone up?' This is one of the most important ways newcomers will know they are immediately part of a family, as if they had always been there.
Jesus demonstrated this selflessness within the Trinity by taking it upon Himself to go to the cross. Within the Trinity, all Persons are totally and utterly equal, but Jesus did not see it shameful to humble Himself and be obedient to death on a cross. I love seeing this in our churches around the world. When we see brothers and sisters eagerly seeking the best for the other rather than themselves, in that moment we are seeing Jesus.
A Committed Family
The Sunday meeting is an opportunity to cultivate community because we demonstrate our commitment to one another and the area we're in. To be committed means regardless of circumstance or feelings, I invest in you and the church. This is such a crucial element of cultivating a church family, it means we face up to the fact that, like Warren Wiersbe once said, we won't like everyone, but we're called to love everyone. Character clashes are inevitable, but commitment within the church means we choose to love regardless, and that's powerful.
But practically at our Sunday meetings what does this look like? It means whatever happened during the week, maybe a tricky situation or misunderstanding, we turn up anyway and show that our love is bigger than our pride. We also understand that there are needs within the church that have to be met every week like setting up and down. A committed family understands the various responsibilities they have, and knows the wider body can trust them to be committed to it.
Someone once described the church as like a hospital, you don't go to find healthy and shining people, but rather a raw kind of brokenness and a whole lot of messiness. The thing is, church is where we have admitted this – the world says you need to hide your insecurities and problems, we in the church know who and what we are, before and after Christ. Therefore, we have grace.
A committed family embraces this messiness, it declares to every member, both those who have been attending for 50 years and the person who has walked in for the first time, I am committed to you, I'm going to pursue our friendship until I see you in heaven and can say 'I knew this is who you were always meant to be'. We demonstrate this by being faithful to one another and the body in our responsibilities, care and time through the bad times and the good.
An Encouraging Family
This is an aspect of the Sunday meeting I think we're pretty good at. I visited a church recently that I was completely new to, no one at all knew me there, but I was staggered by the amount of encouragement they gave me and gave one another. I had gone up for prayer about something I was struggling with and I knew that the lady praying for me actually wanted to rather than simply being told by an elder to. There wasn't a falseness to it or façade, she spoke into my life and built me up as if she'd always known me.
It's funny how that experience has left an imprint on me. It's telling of how encouragement is so from the heart of God, it builds and strengthens. It is far from mere flattery that the world offers, but spiritual encouragement has substance to it, you take it and use it for upward glory rather than inward satisfaction. An 'encouraging' family may not be something you think of when you bring to mind your earthly family – but we must spark this evermore within our spiritual families.
In fact, encouragement is a command from Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 'therefore encourage one another and build each other up', another translation is 'edify one another'. Practically, at a Sunday meeting this looks like using our giftings for the purpose of seeing the others built up. It isn't being fearful or anxious of how we may look in doing so, but encouragement focuses entirely on the receiver.
The word in Thessalonians, 'edification', comes from the Latin noun 'aedes' which means house, structure or temple, to edify something then means to improve that structure. Therefore, every encouraging word we speak to one another is like securing that odd brick which was falling out of place. Ultimately, this is the Holy Spirit's work through us, and so let's allow the Spirit to use our words to build up the church family.
Ultimately, in our Sunday meetings we want to see God's glory displayed, and so what He declares to us we must echo to one another, we must create the atmosphere of: 'this church notices and loves you'. That is family.