All in the Family

Family is one of the many images used in the scriptures for the church. There are pros and cons to this image, since some families are healthy and some are dysfunctional. Family can be a good metaphor for navigating change in the contemporary church if we look at the model of healthy families.

For the past week, I have been involved in hosting a group of students and faculty from the Myanmar Institute of Theology who are studying at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. The students are pastors and institutional leaders working on their Doctor of Ministry degrees. They represent tribal groups in Myanmar (Burma) which are in the minority. Many of their brothers and sisters have come to the United States as refugees. There are over 100,000 people of Burmese descent in the US.

One of the things that I have learned from them is the importance of family. Even though their family members may be separated by thousands of miles between Myanmar and the US, family ties are strong. Some of the students’ family members who came to this country as refugees traveled hundreds of miles to visit with their kinfolk this past weekend.

If we are family, we are always related no matter what distances or disagreements separate us.. A healthy family recognizes that enduring relationship and attempts to nurture and celebrate it. When we see the church as family, we realize that we are always related to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ even when relationships are strained. Disciples in a church must be reminded of their relatedness to one another in Christ and maintain their familial ties even in times of difficulty.

In a healthy family when family members disagree, they learn to work things out. Rather than fracture the family, they learn to negotiate. They find ways to get along. The same should be true of churches. When problems arise, the parts of the church family care for each other enough that they talk, reflect, and work out their differences rather than running from them.

Families are always in transition. Children are born, grow, and leave home. Sons and daughters marry and bring spouses into the family. Parents age and die, leaving behind their legacy. Healthy churches recognize that they are always in transition as well. New people come into the faith community and accept their roles of work and service. Leaders serve, mature, and eventually die off. This produces a state of disequilibrium that must be recognized in order to restore balance in the family system. No family is stable for long. Roles and responsibilities are always changing.

Families care for and support each other at all times. Healthy churches facing change can do the same. These are good words to remember: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10, NIV)

Ircel Harrison
Pinnacle Coaching Coordinator