The Scripture uses many different metaphors to describe the ekklesia, the church. One common New Testament metaphor is the church as family. This is a vital quality of the ekklesia universal and local. Without it, the ekklesia will never be what God intends it to be, but if that is all it is, the church will likewise never be what God intends it to be.
Because of our society’s personal and social fragmentation, and in reaction to the sterile institutionalism of organized religion, damaged and disillusioned people are yearning for what they may never have experienced: a genuine sense of family. The cults recognize this and take advantage of it. Think of how many advertise themselves around a family image. Church statistics indicate merely putting the word “family” somewhere in the name of the church can facilitate growth. God’s Church is surely called to provide this value, not leave it to the cults.
However vital it is, family is not the end goal. It’s a necessary facet of God’s eternal intent for His bride, but it’s a subordinate value. Sadly, the condition of the church is often so nominal, that should people (in any meeting form, traditional, cell group, house church, organic, etc.) actually begin to touch the real dimensions of genuine family, we can erroneously think that we have made significant progress, or perhaps even arrived at a level of high spirituality. This is not necessarily the case. There is a revelatory progression in biblical metaphors for the eternal purpose for the church:
Let’s briefly examine these.
God loves individuals. We are saved as individuals. The gospel appeal must be extended and responded to individually, and the gospel is transformational: in the beginning, and all the days of our lives. In the beginning we are transformed from old creation, to new creation beings, and all the days of our lives were are progressively transformed into the image of Christ, from glory to glory. It is not possible to build anything representing God’s kingdom interest, if the raw “human material,” so to speak, is untransformed, Adamic nature, humanity. That is not workable material for God’s purposes.
The ekklesia is not merely a collection of individuals any more than a pile of bricks is a building. God knits and builds individuals into a family. In a family, a sense of identity and belongingness is established. It is in the context of family that care and relationship is developed and experienced. God touched Abraham the individual, but Abraham’s call and destiny was to affect his family and, to produce from him, a family.
This family ethic is the arena in which the pastoral grace should function. It should facilitate and develop the family identity of a group of believers. However, shepherding is a mean to an end: the equipping of saints for their ministry, not eternally holding a captive audience for one’s own!
It’s also premature/futile to talk about “pastoring” any one, before there is a bona fide, relational, family reality one with another. Only families are “pastorable” in Jesus’s kingdom. You can run an organization, but you can only shepherd a family. What we typically do in our “church planting” and “pastoring,” is put a layer of administration on top of a collection of people who are not genuinely relationally bound together by the Spirit, (who are often untransformed, old creation beings), hold it together with programs and activities, and call it “church.” It is not. At least not Jesus’s kind.
A people (a singular collective) is a gathering of many families. God did not just call Abraham and his family. He was after a people. A people results from the healthy and prosperous expansion of individual families. It speaks of developing a larger corporate identity that can be recognized by certain appearance and character traits. A family can be ignored, but a people can have power and influence. Abraham’s family and descendants prospered to become a people with a particular identity that became a threat to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was forced to deal with a people.
Israel left Egypt as a people, but at Sinai, they became a nation. A nation is a people that agree to embrace a common value system of order and guide to interactive relationship. They embrace government and authority. A nation speaks of code, order, and structure.
It is at this stage that great care must be exerted to not lose the family value established earlier. Just like a dominant family ethic will never accomplish divine purpose, a nation that loses the bonds of relationship is just as surely destined to fail.
There is much talk these days (particularly when apostles and prophets are concerned) about covenant, order, government, authority, structure, infrastructure, and the true ekklesia being a governmental entity, etc. It’s premature to talk about these things without the realities of bona fide individual transformation, an ethos of family, and an understanding of being made a people. Efforts to induce “God’s kingdom governmental order” into the “structure” of the ekklesia, without the experiential reality of the other qualities, will inevitably be coercive, and fail: normally with pain for everyone involved. Noble effort, good intentions–negative, destructive fruit.
This is the biblical metaphor for possessing the authority and power to conquer and expand, and enduring the difficulties associated with expansion. That is, the extension of the nation’s value system and government beyond its original borders–the Great Commission mandate–the extension of Christ’s kingdom on earth before his literal return.
However, it is naïve to think we have any authority in the spirit-realm, when the preceding elements are absent. It takes more than claiming a Bible verse and doing prophetic declaration to make a real difference in the heavenlies.
Once a land has been conquered, it must be ruled. The church is called to eternal co-regency with Christ, expanding the rule of God, the nation of God, throughout the universe. Jesus is coming for, and expecting, a Bride, who is a fully fit, perfect match for himself to share His regency of the universe with, in, and through.
Now, let’s examine some of the risks of being satisfied with, or settling for, a preeminent family ethic in a local church.
SELF- CENTERED/ SELF- FOCUSED
A family is intimate, and there is great enjoyment in sharing intimacy. However, when enjoying an atmosphere of intimacy, passion for divine mission can be easily lost. Indifference toward the plight of the lost can creep in undiscerned. We can have a great sense of family, enjoy one another, and never experience kingdom expansion. The kingdom is expanded not through intimacy alone, but through pain, discomfort, inconvenience, cost, and labor.
If our goal in Christian experience is to participate in a local church (the form, traditional, house church, cell based, etc. is irrelevant) that maximizes my sense of personal well being, where my friends are, where my children have friends, and where we can relate intimately and enjoy one another’s company, we are on unbiblical grounds. What has this sort of value system got to do with reaching our unsaved neighbors? When our desire for relational intimacy, with God and one another, dulls our passion for divine mission, and its associated inconveniences, we have succumbed to a spirit of selfishness elegantly dressed in the robes of Christianity. We have become a self-absorbed religious fraternity rather than the Lord’s conquering and expanding Church.
RESISTANT TO CHANGE
Often times a dominant pastoral anointing will try to make spiritual progress without discomfort to people. This is not possible. Change is inherently disruptive to the family. In the natural, if a parent loses a job, or if a family moves, it is disruptive to relationship both within the family and without. Yet, progress is not possible without disruption. When a dominant family anointing is present, it will be nigh unto impossible for the people of God to move forward unto purpose. Many people are deeply frustrated and discouraged because they are trying to move a family-centered ekklesia forward with a family anointing only. That is a formula for an ulcer or nervous breakdown.
A SPIRIT OF FAMILIARITY AND DISHONOR
Often in a family, it’s common that dishonor prevails because, in close environment, we see each others’ weaknesses so clearly. The old song said, “We always hurt the ones we love.” Infighting, gossip, criticism, and judgmentalism will pop up and prevail if a family paradigm does not expand and engage in mission. Eventually a spirit of contentiousness will corrupt what was originally a wonderful “family feeling.” If we are engaged in a greater purpose beyond family, there will not be enough time or energy for internal feuding. A strategic anointing is a divine necessity to move a local ekklesia into and beyond the family stage of development on to ultimate purpose.
I know someone who works in a mental institution. His testimony is that of all the different occupations and professions represented by the clients in the institution, Christian ministers/pastors are the number one statistical category. Failure to understand how impossible it is to be a “leader” of, or in, the ekklesia, if these issues are not understood, has real and often tragic consequences in the lives of God’s people. It’s impossible to get God’s intended results when these issues are not understood. If good, legitimate, biblical concepts are attempted to be implemented without the necessary relational infrastructure to support the biblical ideals, disaster and pain will result, as surely as the sun rises in the east.
 Ex. 5:1, Ex. 3:7, 10; Zech. 8:8
 Ex. 19:6
 2 Tim. 2:3-4
 Rev. 21:2, et. al.
 Matt. 28:18-20
Copyright 2012, Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact email@example.com.