Don’t Just Start a Church; Establish a Family

Too often, we seek to first establish infrastructure (our organization, church, etc.) before actually living on mission in our context.

Dhati Lewis is the founding and lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and serves as the director of BLVD at the North American Mission Board. He and his wife, Angie, live in Atlanta with their seven children.

Early in the life of Blueprint, I watched a YouTube documentary about gangs. The documentary revealed why most young people join a gang—they feel alone and hopeless. Gangs give these lonely individuals a sense of family. Community is supposed to begin in your family and grow from there, but these gang members did not get this fundamental need met in their families.

Formation of gangs, and all the activities this entails, is not the only response to the need for belonging. Many times, even as believers, our insecurity leads us to similarly irrational choices. Our behavior may not be as overt as that of a gang member, but the results are similar: disappointment, heartache, and pain. The lack of being firmly rooted in the family of God causes us to make choices that harm us and place hardship on others. The church is God’s response to our need for belonging.

A challenge to establish a family

Too often, we seek to first establish infrastructure (our organization, church, etc.) before actually living on mission in our context. What we end up producing is an environment with a lot of overhead and little impact. Rather than becoming students of our context, we develop our organization and try to force our neighbors to fit into it. It has been said that if you plant a church you are not guaranteed to make disciples, but if you make disciples the logical result is planting a church. Or, as I prefer to say, establishing a family.

The church is not like family; it is family.

When Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Something of supreme significance is happening in these verses. Not only is God speaking—which is always significant—He is breaking four hundred years of silence. Matthew 3 emphasizes the revelation of God as family.

My wife and I adopted our two youngest sons. They were in three separate homes before they came to live with us. At 18 months and 3 years, they had never belonged. They had been cared for and provided for, but they never belonged. In our journey to understand the nature of the Church, we need to begin with identity rather than with activity. We did this for our boys. We established identity—what does it mean to be brother and son in the Lewis family? Establishing this identity established belonging and ultimately established family.

As brothers and sisters from diverse backgrounds, we often struggle to connect with one another. We have seen this play out at Blueprint many times. Members have voiced that they have tried to reach out to others to build community to no avail. They question whether they understand what it means to connect at a heart’s level with another person. Matthew gives the answer to this question.

When we consider the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3, we usually think of it in terms of apologetic and theological categories. I understand, and wholeheartedly affirm that this passage is important for apologetic and theological purposes. But I’m afraid that by swinging for orthodoxy we miss that God is revealed as family. God is a Father, Jesus is His Son and the Spirit affirms that bond of love. Are our churches faithful in expressing the reality that God is family? Our problem is semantics. We have to understand that we are not simply planting a church; we are establishing a family.

Operate as a family, not an orphanage

In Ephesians 1, the essence of the church’s identity is that of adopted children. God the Father chooses and adopts us, God the Son redeems and unites us, and God the Spirit guarantees and seals us. Operate as a family, not an orphanage. An orphanage is home to undernourished children and overworked caregivers. The kids do not share responsibility. Instead, the caregivers are responsible for the needs of everyone. On the contrary, in a family, every member contributes. A family is driven by responsibility. Family is a community that is responsible for one another and should be characterized by love and the fruit of the Spirit.

The Church is the family of God, redeemed by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear one another’s burdens and manifest His love to the world. The gospel makes us family. If we miss this principle, we will find ourselves going to church instead of being the Church.

This blog was an adaption from Dhati Lewis’ book Among Wolves. The church is not like family; it is family. Check out the book to see how being family is not just another metaphor, but actually forms the identity of the local church.

Published March 14, 2017

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