Sunday, April 6, 2008

Marrying into the Church Family

How many times have you heard of a congregation referring to itself as a family? I have been thinking of the dynamics of this lately as I have worked with a number of churches that are in conflict or struggling to do ministry. Just because someone becomes a member of the family does not mean that they are made a part of the family life.

I had one man tell me he had married into the church family more than 20 years ago but had never really felt like he was accepted. He had obvious leadership skills but held no official office or leadership positions. This was in a church that the leadership told me how tired they were since they had to do all the work and there was no one else to do it. It was interesting that when this man and others were asked, they were thrilled to take a leadership role.

We all know someone that has married into a family but was never really treated like family. They are invited to family functions but are not asked to be part of the decision making in the extended family. They are expected to help when something needs done and be present at all events but it is made clear that their opinions are not that important. This can go on for years without change.

In the church we have people marry into the family and we also adopt people and call them part of the family. But what are the limitations that are placed on people before they are allowed to assume leadership in the church family. Is there a need to have been there for years? Does someone have to die? Is there some ritual or level of financial commitment that need to be met before you are allowed to enter the leadership ranks? Are we open to new ideas or new ways of doing things.

We need to be continually looking for those that have joined in with the family but have never been made feel like a part of the family. Until we do we are missing tremendous resources that God has placed right in our midst. There are many that are in our church that may not be able or want to be a part of the leadership, but would make excellent resources to do ministry. Sometimes we even ought to look at the black sheep of the family and see how they can be used by God to reach people. If we believe that each person is a child of God then we need to look for new ways for them to be a part of a healthy family life.

Usually when I tell the church leadership that I am finding that their church includes people that have been there for years but still do not feel like a part of the family, they look at me like I am nuts. They want to know how anyone could not feel a part of their family. After all, they have been welcomed and we are friendly to them. They never volunteer to do anything and become a part of the life of the church. We don’t think that we may have to ask them the first, if we truly want them to feel like they are a part of the family. We think the responsibility is theirs.

When I do my “Welcome to My Church” seminar I am always amazed how many people think the fact that they feel friendly they are welcoming to outsiders. Someone asked me the first day of one session how we were going to talk about being friendly for nine hours. When I ask her if being friendly and welcoming was the same thing she thought for a few seconds. “Why do I think that you are going to tell me that it is not?” That was the beginning of a learning experience. We need to look at the assumptions we are making and then see if we can’t find ways to truly bring people into the family of God. What kind of family would your church be if Jesus came to visit?

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