Take a minute and think about this: do you consider your current church as a group of friends, or as a family? Maybe it’s a question that hasn’t crossed your mind before, but it’s important to define the relationship you have with your church. Church is basically a bunch of multi-generational others with various opinions and backgrounds that are very different from each other. Yet, all take part in one mission – to grow in relationship with Christ and follow after him to the best of one’s ability. Many of us wander into church looking to connect with people we expect to care for us on a deep, individual and unconditional level; often the same expectations we have of our own family members.
We all came into this world both physically and emotionally vulnerable. We enjoy it when other people love us, but we need our caregivers to love us. Biological parents, – adopted or fostered – or whoever it was that picked us up and made sure we survived, they matter to us for a lifetime. Whether we like it or not, our families create the context in which we view the world; we often shape our regard for others – even as adults – on what we experienced as kids. Arguably, it’s our first relationships that also determine how we relate to even God himself.
But Jesus says something very controversial about family to his followers:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14.26-30)
Hate my siblings? Ok. Hate my parents? Not easy. Hate my husband too? Yikes.
Keep in mind though, Jesus is not demanding that you literally hate your family. He is using hyperbole to demonstrate the steep cost of following him. You lose everything you have, but gain everything Christ has, including one of our most basic needs: love. In following Jesus, we’re yanked out of our current family system and into a new one. We experience his love and new ways of being through the people he gathers into this new family.
The Church (not just locally, but globally) is Christ’s body, so how we take care of it reflects the strength of our commitment to him. Let me say that again:
your commitment to the Church reflects your commitment to Christ himself.
He adopted us into his family and is clear about what it may cost us in advance. To follow Jesus, we embrace what we need while also – and more importantly – embrace what others need.
If we truly want to count ourselves as a disciple of Christ, we work through the frustrations, the awkwardness, the miscommunication, and even the dislike in order to care for his sheep (see John 21 if you’re still not convinced). We treat our church like family. And the same way family shaped us, so will the church.