This weekend I had the pleasure of traveling back to my hometown to spend the day with my extended family. It was so refreshing to be in one room with so many loved ones. I love knowing them and being known by them. We share more than a bloodline: we share memories, inside jokes, and a deep love from Grandma’s home cooked meals.
For the past seven years, I’ve lived over 100 miles from my family. I am able to see them about once a month, but that is a radical change from living life with them daily. However, God has not left me deserted on a relational island. He has called me to a new kind of family: my church family.
Church as family is a relatively new concept for me. Growing up, church was a building. It was a service I went to on Sunday. I’m not exactly sure where that connotation of the word came from, but I can tell you it was not from the Bible. Can you imagine what would have been going through Peter’s mind when Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18)? He may have taken issue with the idea of a building being constructed over top of him. I also think everyone would have thought Paul was crazy if he said hello to a building, not people, when he greeted the church in Jerusalem (Acts 18:22).
When I say that I am part of Soma Church, I am not pledging my allegiance to a building (which is fortunate, since Soma Downtown doesn’t own one). Rather, I am saying that I am committed to my Christian brothers and sisters in this community. When we placed our faith in Christ, we became children of God. Like it or not, we are bonded together as adopted brothers and sisters.
A bond that doesn’t break
Like all families, the church is both beautiful and messy. We experience seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow. But no matter what, we experience it together. Our commitment to one another is grounded on our covenant with Christ. The covenant is God’s promise that when we place our faith in him, we are adopted and become his children forever. He gives us eternal life because of our relationship with Christ. No matter how much we sin, no matter how much we run, no matter how much we hurt one another, our bond cannot be broken. Just like I cannot change the fact that I have a biological sister, I cannot change my brothers and sisters in Christ. Like it or not, we’re stuck with one another.
Responsible to our family
Because there is nothing we can do to break our familial ties, we are responsible to our church family. One way in which we're responsible is reconciliation. We must pursue repentance when our sin hurts them, and we must forgive when they hurt us. The story of the prodigal son is a beautiful example of this. After squandering all of his father’s inheritance, the son humbled himself, went back to his father and said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). The son acknowledges his sin and its consequences, and his father is quick to forgive and welcome him home. As children of God, we are called to both seek and extend forgiveness to one another.
Another way we are responsible to our family is caring for them. Paul urges the church to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) and to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). That is why we provide childcare, dinner, and even finances for our brothers and sisters walking through hardships. That is why we wake up early on Sunday mornings to hold babies in Soma Kids. That is why we make meals for families that are welcoming a new baby into the family. We are a family; when one hurts, we all hurt. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. We give and sacrifice our own comforts for the good of the group.
Experience the love of family
One of the most beautiful blessings we experience as a church family is love. No one puts this affection into words better than Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-8)
Paul loved his brothers and sisters. He longed for them.
I tangibly felt the love and care of the church this past fall when I was in a car accident on I-65. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but my car was totaled. I couldn’t call my biological family to come help me: they were a two-hour drive away. But my church family surrounded me with care. Gina picked me up off the side of the interstate. Mary brought me flowers, cookies, and tension-tamer tea. Brianne gave me a ride to get my rental car. It was vulnerable to ask for help, but in a way I am thankful that I wasn’t able to ask my biological family. It gave God the opportunity to display his love in and through my church family.
Nothing will ever replace the families we are born into. Whether your family is very close with one another, or very broken, God placed you there for a reason. But he placed us in a church family as well. In this family, we all have a place; we all have a role. Nothing can break the love and bond we share through Christ.
Image: "Surrounded by Ordinary Saints," by Emmanuel Garibay