Family Matters Part 1: The Church Family
On Sunday 28th January at our morning service, we started our series 'Family Matters' with the topic The Church Family. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
To listen to this, click here.
This is a five part series, and much of it is drawn from a document called Discovering Membership that we produced last year and which is all about our EBC church family, and what being part of the family means. So here’s what’s coming up over these five weeks – a chance to find out more about EBC!
1. The Church Family
2. Part of the Family
3. Family Assets
4. A Family Likeness
5. Family Commitments
Family Matters part 1 – The Church Family
Today we’re looking at what we mean by church family and what that looks like for us here at EBC collectively and as individuals. We’re going to explore what we think we’re here to do, and I guess that means looking at our identity as a church and as individuals in and around EBC and our mission as a family.
Two of the people who inspire, challenge and mentor me are just about as different as can be – one I’ve never met, but I’ve sought out his writings, interviews, videos etc, and the other one I meet probably a couple of times a month or so. In both cases, by the way, I decided to find out what I could learn from them. Who will you seek out?
Now here’s something funny – despite these two guys being totally different they both asked a very similar question which has to do with identity. I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself these questions:
Who are you?
Who do you want to be?
What defines you? Who are you? Who do you want to be? Not “what” do you want to be… but WHO do you want to be. How do you want to be identified? Is it your job, your wealth, your hobby, your being a fan of someone?
Might there be something better that defines us? Something better that doesn’t just reflect what we have, what we like, or what we do? Something not built on the shifting sands of a career, a bank balance, someone else’s success or failure, or on a mere pastime (worthy or otherwise)?
I want to get you thinking about what defines and identifies you – who you are and who you want to be – but let me give you some help – and some time - by talking a bit about corporate identity.
Our elders past and present have done a lot of thinking about our identity as a church – who we are and who we want to be.
We are a gathering of people (a church) who exist to love God, love people and grow together to become more like Jesus. That’s our mission statement and our raison d’etre – our reason for being. It’s a church identity absolutely rooted in Jesus. Here’s why: When asked which was the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus said -
‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matthew, chapter 22)
Jesus consistently modelled these commandments and when we read the accounts of his life, which we call the gospels – the good news – about Jesus, we find he clearly loves God the Father, and he clearly loves people – all kinds of people - so much so that he was obedient to the Father’s will even to the point of dying for us. He loves God that much, and he loves people that much.
And as his followers, we’re to do as Jesus said to do, and as he did. We’re to love God with everything we’ve got – and love people as ourselves.
Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost. He said that there is great rejoicing in heaven whenever a sinful person turns back to God. And because love for God and love for people are so paramount to Jesus he explicitly instructed his disciples to go out into all the world and make them his followers too.
Why? Because he loves people – and the only way to save them is to have them follow him… all the way home, to be with him and with his heavenly Father. Even though it cost him his life.
Here’s what he said – it’s come to be known as the great commission and it’s where Jesus sets out the mission for his disciples -
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew, chapter 28)
This great commission, directly from Jesus, directly informs our mission statement at EBC. You know I’ve developed a kind of shorthand version of our mission statement that is maybe a bit easier to remember but needs more thinking about. It goes like this:
Reaching people, making disciples.
Reach = go (not stand still). Disciples = followers of Jesus who do what he said to do – and what does he say to do? Love God and love people.
And if we do those things guess what will be happening? We’ll be becoming more like Jesus. We’ll be growing (spiritually) to become more like Jesus.
Love God, love people and grow together to become more like Jesus. And if you can’t remember that, well, just remember we’re about reaching people and making disciples…. Brackets… because we love God and we love people and we want to grow to be more like Jesus…. Close brackets…….
And if we do that, then by the way, incidentally… we’ll grow numerically too and we’ll grow financially and we’ll need a bigger building and our ministries will grow and all the rest. But the point is not to do those things! The point is to love God and love people….it all hangs on our loving God and loving people and thus through the Holy Spirit growing together to become more like Jesus. It all hangs on our BEING DISCIPLES and as disciples, reaching other people – filled with love of God and love for people – reaching out to them and making them disciples too.
And no doubt God’ll then have us so amazing things like Night Shelter and Storehouse and Messy Church and the rest.
As I said earlier, Jesus wants us to be disciples and make disciples because he loves people, he loves us – and the only way to save us is to have us follow him… all the way home to heaven, to be with him and with his heavenly Father as part of the family of God forever!
We have his words, his example and furthermore he sent his Spirit to guide us to the family home. And it’s here where we can find our true identity!
The apostle Paul talks about those who are led by the Holy Spirit being no less than the children of God! You can this here: (Romans chapter 8, verses 14 to 17)
The identity of those being led by the Spirit – that is, disciples of Jesus is this: children of God. That’s who we are! And who we want to be!
Jesus died for everyone. That’s a great way to define other people by the way – especially if you don’t for whatever reason find them easy to love. Some people are easy to love – they’re usually the ones who give and get all the hugs. Some others… not so much. But Jesus died them too. That person you can’t stand? Someone for whom Jesus died.
He died for everyone but not everyone is a disciple. Everyone has the choice to be – a choice to be not only a child of God but an heir of God, a co-heir with Jesus.
You and I have the choice to be adopted into God’s family, through the grace of Jesus. To be a part of God’s family not apart from God’s family.
We can say yes to that. We can ask the Spirit to lead us to be a people who love God, love people and grow together to become more like Jesus. To be identified as the church family, the gathered body of believers, the body of Christ, and the bride of Christ!
Now, maybe that’s too much for you right now. Let me rein in a bit. Here at EBC we want to be like Jesus – really open to everyone who comes to us and reaching out to invite others who maybe wouldn’t come if we didn’t ask.
If that’s you, I want you to know you’re really welcome – we love that you’re here, we want you to keep coming and come as you are without having to believe this, or wear that, or take part in anything weird.
I mean let’s be honest, we do some stuff that’s a bit weird. I mean, baptism’s a bit weird. Communion is a bit weird. People speaking in tongues, talking in weird languages is, well… a bit weird! Some of us just are a bit weird!
Here at EBC we have a big extended family and we want you to feel welcome and feel involved and feel at home, so we try to explain what’s going on when these weird things go on.
We’re not a club for Christians. If you wouldn’t call yourself a follower of Jesus (a Christian) well, Jesus reached out to people who weren’t his followers all the time – how else would he go from no followers to well, billions? Durr!
So you’re really, really welcome here at EBC.
As for becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus, well, that’s between you and God. Jesus said he would build his church – he also said go and make disciples but really it’s him that makes disciples it’s just that he’s magnanimous enough to use those that follow him to invite other people to hear about him and to experience him, and to encounter him.
Really that’s what I want to do – encounter God and help other people to encounter God. And I absolutely believe that’s what Steph wants, our Elders want and our Leaders want and Colin, our worship team wants… for us all to encounter God together. And for those encounters to change us and transform us so that we grow together to become more like Jesus.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. Who are you? What defines you?
2. Who do you want to be?
3. Who is mentoring you? Who would you like to mentor you?
4. Do you a part of God’s family, or apart from God’s family? Why?
5. What do you think Paul meant when he specified that
6. Take the time to read Romans, chapter 8. Why does Paul make the distinction between those led by the Spirit (whom he describes as children of God) and those who do not have the Spirit (whom he says don not belong to Christ)?
7. What are your next steps towards establishing the identity you want?