“Despite the difficulties, learning to understand the church as family will be profoundly rewarding. In fact, I am convinced that if the small church had no other inherent value, no other particular strength, this one thing would make it a strategic tool for the future of the Christian faith.”
-Brandon O’Brien (The Strategically Small Church; p. 137)
Community is a big word in the church today. There is good reason for it being such a big deal: it is biblical. When the Bible talks about those of the faith it talks about being part of a family. Mothers. Brothers. Sisters. Fathers. The family unit was huge in the Old Testament and is amplified in the New Testament. An “orphaned” Christian, one attempting to fly their spiritual life solo, is simply unhealthy in the Bible if not straight out unbiblical.
Brandon O’Brien hits on this topic, specifically towards small churches (fewer than 300 people), in his book The Strategically Small Church. Below are some of his thoughts on the important topic of the church being family.
Because the family was responsible for training its children in the faith, the venue for education was everyday life, not a classroom. Referring to the commandments of the Law, Moses instructs parents, “Talk about them when you sit down at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8). The family dwelling itself was the classroom, as the people were instructed to write the Law “on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9) (p. 128).
Jesus expands the definition of family from one’s immediate, biological relatives to include all who are knit together in faith. Once while Jesus was teaching in someone’s home, his mother and brothers wanted to speak to him. When a messenger told him his family wanted to see him, Jesus “point[ed] to his disciples [and] said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matthew 12:49-50) (p. 129).
For Jesus and Paul, the responsibility for religious education still falls on the family, just as it did in the Old Testament. But the definition of family has been expanded. Paul’s vision of church life in his letter to Titus includes every member encouraging and instructing the others to embody the gospel in their behavior. The older women are to teach the younger women “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands” (Titus 2:4-5). Older men are to encourage the younger men to be self-controlled, do good, and show integrity and seriousness (Titus 2:6-7). When these relationship operate appropriately, the young learn to live the gospel by examples of their Christian “family,” and the Christian community embodies the faith in such a way that outsiders take notice and God is glorified.
To a generation devastated by the fracturing of the biological family, the New Testament’s concept of congregation as family brings a breath of hope (pp. 129-130).