Friday, January 8, 2010
The priority of hospitality in the family-integrated church
The church exists to bring glory to God and one of the ways it accomplishes that is through the mutual building up of believers. The “whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:16) Every church has as a primary goal the spiritual growth of its members. I believe the FIC model allows for this to a greater degree than the majority of contemporary churches. Let me try to explain.
When you hear the word family a great many things might come to mind, but almost certainly everyone would agree that families share themselves with one another. They share love, meals, conversations, celebrations, devotions, material objects, vacations, more meals, hopes and dreams, money, laughter, sickness, prayers, grief, and even more meals. In short, they share themselves with one another for better or worse. I think this is how the church is supposed to be. Acts 2 gives us a picture of that.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayers…. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2:42, 44-47a)
This sounds so radical to us in the context of a church, but when we think about a family it makes perfect sense. Family members really do have “all things in common”, but we don’t REALLY think of our church as an extension of our family. It’s impossible to “share all things” with people you see once a week for a couple of hours. Especially considering you’re probably only interacting with others for 20-30 minutes of that time. The description of the church in Acts 2 is one that interacted with one another “daily”.
Most contemporary churches operate less like a family and more like a corporation. The pastor functions as the CEO, the elders as the board of directors, and the members as shareholders looking for a return on their investment. Ministries are program driven and evaluated based on criteria such as demand by membership and promotion of church growth. In contrast, the FIC operates like a family with hospitality and the home as the centerpiece of community ministry. In the FIC, ministry is relational, not programmatic. I have a personal example of this that I’m sure many of you can attest to. I was a member of a small church for years and didn’t begin to really build relationships with any other women until we started meeting together in our home for Bible study. Our friendships have been built around our love for the Word of God, our commitment to pray for one another, and the fellowship we enjoy afterwards around coffee and refreshments. The family-like fellowship we see in Acts 2 doesn’t just happen, it takes a commitment of ourselves to one another just like in our real families.
We live in a culture full of dysfunctional families. We’ve forgotten what a family is supposed to look like. Family-integrated churches value the family and encourage families to practice hospitality in which they open their hearts and their homes to one another for the purpose of mutual edification and encouragement. Family-integrated churches also encourage mentoring relationships, another example of “relational” ministry. Proverbs 27:17 says that “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” This kind of sharpening, which we all need, only takes place in the context of friendship. This requires building relationships with others in our church family.
I’m not saying that you can’t build relationships with anyone in a mega church or non-FIC. In mega churches Sunday school classes function almost as churches within a church. I’m merely pointing out that the FIC recognizes that ministry is not something we do at church, with each family member plugged-in to its own program. The FIC model suggests that fellowship and ministry should be initiated in the home because it’s when we open our homes to one another that we truly share ourselves.
I did not grow up in a FIC, but my mom and dad demonstrated this point none-the-less. My dad has always taught Sunday school and my mom has often been called the “hostess with the mostest”. My parents have always opened their home and shared their lives with others. So, I know firsthand that this can be done in non-FICs. However, it seems to me that hospitality is a lost art and I love that the FIC emphasizes this forgotten ministry that is a necessity for building relationships within our church family. Our church is not a FIC according to the strictest definition I gave you in the first post in this series, but we are small (which helps in this area) and fellowship is important to us. We share a meal at church each Wednesday night and every couple of months on Sunday after church. We have home Bible studies and a prayer chain. The families in our church know and love one another. There’s always room for improvement, but I think our little church is healthier than many in this area. As long as we remember that the church is comprised of people, not programs, and that we need close, family-like relationships with one another in order to function properly, we’ll be on our way to the awe-inspiring fellowship of Acts 2. The FIC equips and encourages its members to develop these relationships through opening their homes and hearts to one another.
- I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.