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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Which Should Come First, Family or Church?

A service in a Meserete Christos (Ethiopian) congregation
"Whenever someone asks me why we’re not going to church, my default answer is that it’s too far (45 minutes) and that Austin has to study (he does). I say this knowing it’s only half true, because even when we lived five minutes away and Austin didn’t have to study, we... slept in and made blueberry pancakes and watched Hulu because that’s what our generation does."
                                                                                                                                           - Motley Mom blog

For most of our child rearing years I was a busy pastor and part time teacher, and our family lived in a parsonage right across from our church. Needless to say, we experienced our share of tension between the demands of church work and our time together as a family.

We all struggle with that tension, and increasingly I hear it resolved by people saying, “We’re putting our family first,” referring, of course, to their nuclear family. This may mean their taking on fewer church responsibilities, taking more family vacations on weekends, and rarely meeting with other believers other than for Sunday worship services.

I understand the need to set priorities. Looking back, we may have needed a better balance ourselves. But I’m also concerned whenever church life tends to get put further and further down the list, after school, athletics, extracurriculars, and a multitude of other competing organizations and meetings. Or has an even lower priority than vegetating around the home entertainment center.

I agree with author Tom Sine that part of the problem is that “church has become confused with buildings, budgets, and programs,” rather than seen as a family of siblings faithfully connecting with each other as followers of Jesus. Having been a part of a close-knit Amish church in the first formative decades of my life, a pastor and member of a truly caring conventional congregation for 20 years, then a member of a living-room-size house church congregation for the past 25 years, I find it regrettable when people pit family and church family against each other. Looking back at 73, I believe being an engaged part of a people who are our spiritual brothers and sisters--and who are spiritual cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents to our children and grandchildren--is more important today than ever.

Why? Because it is not just healthy families that make strong churches, but healthy faith communities nurture strong families, especially in the absence of clan, village, and/or extended family ties that have been in place for most people in past generations. Perhaps it should come as no surprise us that an increase of breakups in marriage in our society has followed an increased breakdown of community and extended family support.

Nuclear families, and the increasing numbers of single people living alone, urgently need those connections, especially in times of crisis, but also just to help keep themselves spiritually and emotionally healthy. So its a little like asking whether ones personal wellbeing or that of ones marriage and family is more important. The answer is always both.
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