In many ways a church is like a family. In it we share a common table. We express love and honesty, and at times we discipline. We claim a common address at least one day a week. We share a common Father whose character far exceeds any human parents, no matter what our experience has been. By God’s own choice, the Creator has reached out to us and joined us together as family of faith. Even so, we are a collection of imperfect individuals in various stages of reconciliation with the Head of our home.
Belonging to a family is an adventure in roles. We begin our lives on the receiving end. In adolescence and early adulthood we discover the joy of mutuality. As we mature, we share what we have learned with those who are younger. As our lives conclude, our energy diminishes. We end the way we began, being cared for by others. The writer of one of the Psalms illustrates one of the needs people face, as well as God’s desire to care for those needs through families: “sing to God.Father of orphans and protector of widows.God gives the desolate a home to live in…” (Psalm 68:46).
The family is a powerful image by which we understand God and our relationship to his people. The apostle Peter wrote to believers, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” (1 Peter 2:9). The apostle Paul celebrated the family when he wrote to the Ephesian church, “For this reason I bow my knee before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name” (Ephesians 3:1415). Indeed family is God’s idea.
To be in a Family is to give and receive. Belonging to the family of God requires nothing less. It is a dynamic experience of being loved and loving, learning and teaching, receiving and giving, dying to self and living to God. In a biological family, the members have mutual responsibilities; they give and receive. The family group is meant to provide various things to the individual, and the individual is meant to provide other things to the group. The same is true in a congregation.
Attendees make up a crowd; members make up a congregation. At NC3, we don’t want just a crowd, we want a congregation. I love the way that leadership “guru” John Maxwell distinguishes the difference between a “crowd” and a “congregation.” He says,
“The difference between a crowd and a congregation are many: a crowd fills the church; a congregation builds the church. A crowd consists of consumers; a congregation consists of contributors. A crowd comes and goes; a congregation is committed. A crowd is an outer core; a congregation is an inner core. In a crowd, you don’t know who you can count on; in a congregation, you know exactly who you can count on.” – John Maxwell