Monday, 9 July 2012

Happy Families!

I've been reading an article about how families with IVF babies have had to combine traditional ideas about kinship with novel ways of developing a common bond with the new child. It may help to ask ourselves what makes the church into a real family. That’s what most of us want from a church: a sense of permanent belonging, that we’d be missed if we left for good.
1. Affirmation of Resemblance
People accept that, not only do we inherit natural characteristics from our parents, but that many of these are easily discernible. We often say, 'he has his father's nose', 'she has her Mum's smile'. In a broader sense, an accent or physical trait may even give away our national heritage. Do we discern and affirm divine family resemblance when we see it? Do we behold and affirm what we see of the living God in each other? Are the natural and spiritual gifts of some easily dismissed as peripheral, or suspect, while others are encouraged to thrive? Is it easier to relate to an inner circle?
2. Family Narrative
A family narrative involves a series of memorable common experiences that were shared and recounted throughout the family. It might be something as simple as a shared meal, a medical crisis, or a holiday.  'Remember when your Dad and I took you and your sister to Brighton?' Suddenly, all the memories of that great summer holiday come flooding back. Each relative adds a part of that story that wouldn't mean a thing to outsiders. It refreshes the common bond of kinship between them. The early church's narrative was marked by a commitment to suffer with Christ, knowing that they would reign with Him in eternity. Out of that common experience, the challenge that the early church faced was to build a kinship that would resonate with both Jews and Gentiles: the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of the gospel. The dynamic narrative that we see in the Book of Acts captured their imagination and wrote a new story of God's love on their hearts. It overcame their cultural and ethnic differences. COGS members need to participate in a commonly owned narrative about what God is doing in the church. Every member needs to have a stake in that narrative. One that reinforces a sense of common purpose and invites full participation of all members. Christ himself said: ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother‘ (Matt. 12:50)
3. Exchanging Confidences, Knowing Vulnerabilities 
Family members will share confidences that they'll not share with outsiders: Uncle Festus' nervous breakdown last year; Auntie Kitty's 'friend' who spent the vacation with her in Provence. If we are unwilling, or feel it to be unsafe to share confidences with anyone in church, it means that the extended family support will be thwarted. In contrast, Paul says, 'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ' (Gal. 6:2)
4. Effortless Acceptance and Goodwill.
Children generally don't have to make a great effort to be liked by family. They are welcomed at every get-together with words like 'my you've grown since I last saw you'.  How often do we say anything encouraging about each other's Christian maturity? Although there is a place for rebuke, family members should generally be proud and supportive of each other. They typically boast to outsiders about each other's accomplishments.
Compare this with the experience of new employees. They spend their first few months on probation. It takes a long time to establish the organisation’s trust. They cannot contribute fully until their loyalty and competence has been thoroughly vetted. Their role is always in danger of being made redundant. Is your experience of church hierarchies, one of welcoming parents, or cautious supervisors?
So, unless we discover and affirm the valued contribution that each of us can add to the church, many will feel under-appreciated. As with Jewish circumcision in the early church, if we constantly vet all new members and make them jump through too many hoops, they will lose heart.
In contrast with this, St. Paul, the former enemy of Christians and whose conversion was initially viewed with suspicion, was soon warmly accepted as authentic. The result was that the apostles extended to him the 'right hands of fellowship' (Gal. 2:9) to spearhead the mission to the Gentiles. They knew that Paul had already almost lost his life for sake of spreading the gospel.
In summary, let us agree to:
1. Affirm the godly resemblances in each other more than our superficial differences
2. Build a family narrative through the impact of full participation for all
3. Know, share and openly commit to help each other's weaknesses
4. Affirm and reassure the newer members of their gifts as much as the longstanding members.
Hope this is a blessing.

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