Church as a Family
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 3, 2006
Main Passage: Ephesians
Well, here we are…
Labour Day Weekend… the summer’s behind us, the new school year is upon
us, and before long Christmas will be here. Yes, I said it. Christmas.
I know that excites some of you. Others of you… not so much. But I’ve
got to tell you, I’m looking forward to Christmas this year. Let me
tell you why.
You see, while I was growing up in Fredericton, every Christmas Eve my
family would gather at my grandparents’ home for a reunion. All of my
cousins and uncles and aunts and whoever else claimed a branch in our
family tree would be there. The house was always packed and everyone
was just so happy to be together. Oh, and the food! Baked beans,
meatballs, three-layered Jell-O, freshly baked rolls, Molasses cookies,
and anything else you could think of. And the highlight would be when
we’d all gather around my great-grandmother’s chair and listen as she
read the Christmas story to us.
Looking back, those are my favourite memories of Christmas. Problem is,
my line of work makes it difficult to be there very often. I’m usually
tied up on Christmas Eve and can’t get home. Don’t get me wrong… I love
what I do, and some of our greatest times together as a Church are on
Christmas Eve. But I miss being at my family gatherings. In fact, I’ve
only been there once in the past twelve years, and that was for a grand
total of about 30 minutes. It was about five years ago, there was a
snowstorm, and we had to head back here because Shera’s parents were
showing up the next morning.
But this year… this year will be different. Christmas Eve falls on a
Sunday this year, and so we’re going to have our Christmas Eve service
in the morning. It’s for purely selfish reasons, but we’re going to
have our Christmas Eve service in the morning and then Shera and I will
hit the road and head to Fredericton. I’ve been planning on that for
almost nine months, and the day’s almost here.
Oh, things have changed a lot over the past twelve years. My
great-grandmother died… my grandparents died… the location has changed…
my mother now reads the Christmas story… other people have moved away
as well. But there are also new family members and new traditions to
begin. I’m not sure if anyone brings baked beans anymore… I know the
experience is different now. But it’s still family, and I’m looking
forward to being with them.
Because that’s what it’s like with family. Families want to be
together. Families value each other. Families have a bond which ties
Well, I have news for you this morning: Church is a family. In fact, in
your notes you see a statement…
Church is not a
place you go to; it’s a family you belong to.
And that’s not a new
concept… that’s the way Jesus designed the Church to be. Going all the
way back to the first days of the Church…
Acts 2:42a (CEV)
...they were like family to each other.
Wow, what a powerful statement. A couple other verses…
Romans 12:10 (GW)
Be devoted to each other like a loving
1 Peter 2:17b (Msg)
Love your spiritual family!
Now, the word used in the Bible to describe this relationship between
believers is the Greek word “koinonia.” And it means community or
fellowship. It means being as committed to each other as we are to
Jesus Christ. Even being willing to sacrifice for each other. You’re
probably familiar with what it says in the New Testament Gospel of
John, 3:16. But do you know there are also three letters of John in the
New Testament? And in his first letter, 3:16 it says… read it with me…
1 John 3:16 (NLT)
We know what real love is because Christ
gave up His life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for
our Christian brothers and sisters.
That’s describing the depth of love and community and family that
should be present within the Church. John even used the terms “brothers
Now, maybe you’re not particularly close to your family… or maybe your
family has been a source of pain for you. So perhaps that distorts your
image of what “family” is. Perhaps the concept of the Church being a
family doesn’t sound all that appealing to you. But you need to
understand, when the Bible describes the Church as a family it’s not
talking about a dysfunctional family; it’s talking about a healthy
family. It’s not talking about a disconnected association, it’s talking
about a bonded relationship. It’s not talking about an arbitrary
bloodline, it’s talking about a spiritual bloodline… bonded by a shared
Christian heritage, a shared mission in the world, a shared focus of
worship, and a shared hope for the future.
Paul described the foundation for our spiritual family when he wrote…
Ephesians 4:4-6 (NLT)
We are all one body, we have the same
Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There
is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and
Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.
We are a family. That doesn’t mean we’re all clones of each other. But
it does mean that there’s a common bond… a family tie. There is a unity
in our diversity. And so this morning, I want to talk with you about
the Church as a family. And what I want to do is identify for you five
ways in which the Church operates as a family. And you can use your
notes to follow along and fill in the blanks as we go. The first way
that the Church is like a family is that…
A Healthy Family…
stronger through tragedy, struggles, and adversity
You know, one of the
signs of a healthy family is that when some crisis comes… maybe a
disease or a death, or financial hardship, or relational issues… when a
crisis comes, a healthy family pulls together. They walk hand-in-hand
to confront the issue.
So how do we do that as a church… as the Sunrise Family? We do that by
standing with other believers when they are going through a crisis.
When everybody else walks out, we walk in; we’re there for each other
in the tough times. We take seriously what it says in Galatians 6:2…
Galatians 6:2 (NLT)
Share each other’s troubles and problems.
Because we’re not meant to face our problems alone. When you share a
joy, it is doubled; and when you share a problem, it is cut in half.
That’s the beauty of being part of the Family. The Bible says…
Romans 12:15 (NKJV)
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep
with those who weep.
Now, how does this play out in a Church? Well, this can happen one on
one. To an extent, it can happen with the entire Church. But it happens
best and most naturally in a small group… in our LIFE Groups. In a
small group, sometimes you just die of laughter and sometimes you’re
all shedding a tear. It all depends on what is going on in your lives
and in your group on that particular week. But you’re there for each
other… you can share openly and honestly with each other about your
struggles… you can pray together… you can encourage each other…
And that doesn’t mean you have to fix everybody’s problem. God hasn’t
told you to do that. He just says share them. You don’t have to fix it.
In fact, a lot of times, trying to fix a problem doesn’t help at all.
So just lend a listening ear. Just sit there and listen and go, “Boy I
feel for you,” “I’ve been there,” “I understand,” “That’s tough.” Share
sympathy and share from your experience.
Now, you’re never going to go to this level of “family” until you
actually get into a LIFE Group. That’s why the Bible says…
Hebrews 10:25 (TEV)
Let us not give up the habit of meeting
together. Instead, let us encourage one another...
Our LIFE Groups have been on a break for the summer, but we’re getting
geared up to start them again in a couple weeks. There’s going to be a
guys’ group. There’s going to be a ladies’ group. Harvey and Sandra are
going to be hosting a mixed group. And if all our groups fill up, we’ll
start more. So get involved!
That’s where the care and the nurturing and the compassion and the
friendships happen best. So get involved. The primary purpose of a
group is to encourage each other. And you’re always going to need
encouragement. So get involved.
In fact, let me say this. I don’t want to hear anyone complaining about
how they’re not included, how they’re not loved, how nobody cares for
them… I don’t want to hear any of you complaining about how unfriendly
the people at Sunrise are… if you’ve never gotten involved in a group.
I’ve heard comments from people in the past… none of you… but I’ve
heard people say that they never felt like they fit in at church.
Actually, most people don’t say that… they write it. But they would
indicate that they never felt like they were accepted at Church. In
other words, it never became “family” for them.
And that really concerned me… until I got to thinking about it and I
realized that they never even tried to fit in. They didn’t serve in any
ministry, they didn’t come to anything outside of Sunday morning, and
they never got involved in a small group. Yet somehow they expected to
develop deep and meaningful friendships during five minutes of casual
conversation before or after the service… when they didn’t come late or
For them, the Church was a place to go to. But they were wrong. Church
is not a place you go to, it’s a family you belong to.
Let’s move on. Number 2… a healthy family…
Now, maybe you think
this whole community thing is for the birds. Well, we can learn a lot
from birds. In fact, let me read for you something I found online…
lessons we can learn from geese…
Lessons from Geese
By Milton Olson or Ryugen Fisher or Robert McNeish ..
1. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the others
behind it. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71%
greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can
get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling
on the thrust of another.
2. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag
and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into
formation to take advantage of the "lifting power" of the bird
immediately in front.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as the goose, we will stay in
formation with those who are headed where we want to go (and be willing
to accept their help as well as give ours to others.)
3. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation
and another goose flies at the point position.
Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing
leadership--with people, as with geese, we are interdependent on each
4. The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front
to keep up their speed.
Lesson: We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging,
and not something else.
5. When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out
of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with
it until it is able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their
own, with another formation, or catch up with the flock.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we too will stand by each
other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.
Geese experience life
together… the good and the bad. And that’s the way it should be with
us. Read this with me…
Proverbs 27:17 (TEV)
People learn from one another, just as iron
The early Christians experienced life together. You see that clearly in
Acts 2:42,44,46 (NLT)
They joined with the other believers and
devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in
the Lord's Supper and in prayer…
And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the
Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity…
They just love being together… in organized activities and in
spontaneous gatherings. You know, they’d come together for a service,
and then afterwards a group of them would decide to head to the Deli on
the corner for lunch. Or they’d invite people over to their homes to… I
don’t know… watch a rerun of The Sound of Music or something. How long
has that been running anyway?
The point is, they just loved being together. Doesn’t that sound like
something you want to be part of? You know, last week we talked a
little bit about the Trinity. We talked about how there is only one
God, expressed in three persons. There’s the God the Father, there’s
Jesus the Son, and there’s the Holy Spirit. All three are part of the
Godhead. Always have been, always will be.
And I think one of the most powerful things we learn from this Trinity
is that God Himself lives in community. There’s the community of Three
living as One. And since you and I were made in God’s image, we were
made to live in community. We were made to experience life together.
I already told you about
my memories of Christmas Eve. Families form those types of memories.
That’s why families take family vacations. I remember trips to the
African Lion Safari in Ontario… and to Santa’s Village and Six Gun City
in New Hampshire. I even remember getting carsick in the back seat
while trying to read during one of those trips. Sometimes those
memories aren’t that pleasant at the time, but with the passage of time
even that can become a fond memory because it’s a memory of a shared
Families create shared memories.
Paul had shared his life and created memories with the Christians in
Thessalonica. And even after he had moved away, those memories
1 Thessalonians 3:2, 6 (NLT)
…We sent Timothy to visit you. He is our
co-worker for God and our brother in proclaiming the Good News of
Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith…
Now Timothy has just returned… He reports that you remember our visit
with joy and that you want to see us just as much as we want to see you.
Circle the word “remember”. They had some shared memories. And later,
when Paul knew that he would shortly be arrested and executed, he told
the leaders of the Church in Ephesus…
Acts 20:31 (The Message)
Remember those three years I kept at it with
you, never letting up, pouring my heart out with you, one after another.
They had memories together. And so do we. We do things together. We
share life together. And we create memories… together. We’ll talk about
some of that next Sunday evening at our Dreams and Dessert Night, while
at the same time I expect I’ll be trying to forget my memory of the
conflict, but there is more that unites than divides
Even the healthiest of
families experiences conflict. Maybe that in itself is an encouragement
for some of you. I mean, besides Jesus, who do you look at in the New
Testament as being the standard for spiritual maturity? Who were the
people who had the most influence in the Early Church? Who were the
leaders? Peter and Paul.
But Peter and Paul had their differences. In fact, in Galatians chapter
2, Paul writes about how he had to publicly confront Peter. But at the
same time he was confronting Peter, he constantly referred to the unity
that they had in Jesus.
[see Galatians 2:11-16; Acts 15:36-41; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11]
And that wasn’t the only conflict Paul was involved in. He always
seemed to be in the middle of it. His travelling companion was a man
named Barnabas. And they spent years together travelling around and
starting new churches and helping new believers get grounded in their
faith. They worked really well together.
But Barnabas had it in his mind that he was going to train a young
cousin of his named John Mark. He wanted to invite John Mark to join
them and travel with them. Problem was, they had already done that once
before and John Mark had gotten homesick or something and abandoned
them. And so Paul wasn’t going to invite him again!
But Barnabas insisted, and the conflict rose to the point that they
parted ways. Barnabas went with John Mark and Paul went with Silas.
But later on, in some of his letters, Paul refers to John Mark as his
fellow worker. He talks about how John Mark is an encouragement and a
help to him. And so the conflict was apparently resolved. And John Mark
actually went on to write the Gospel of Mark.
Being a Christian does not mean the absence of conflict. Even strong,
spiritually mature Christians have conflict. But in the midst of their
conflict, they recognize that there’s a unity. There’s a common bond.
And so any issue can be worked out honestly, with love and
understanding. It may not be easy, it may not be quick, but there is
more that unites us than divides us.
Even while we have a diversity of opinions and backgrounds and
ethnicities and languages and cultures and preferences… even though
there are many differences between Christians, there is more that
unites us than divides us.
And that’s exactly what Jesus Himself prayed for us shortly before His
crucifixion. He prayed…
John 17:20-21 (NLT)
“I am praying not only for these disciples
but also for all who will ever believe in me because of their
testimony. My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as
you and I are one, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you,
so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.”
A healthy family may have conflict, but they recognize that there’s
more that unites them than divides them. And number five… a healthy
5. Goes beyond
a loosely knitted group of associates to a community of oneness
I’m just going to play
an audio file for you, and I want you to listen to it. It’s from a
conference I was at in Moncton about a year and a half ago, and the guy
you’re going to hear talking is Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian. He’s an old
professor who once taught and inspired a young man named Bill Hybels…
some of you recognize that name. He has a fairly strong French accent,
so listen carefully…
You catch what he said?
“Christ did not die to save sinners. The right way of saying it is
that, ‘Christ died to save sinners in order to integrate them together
into the community of oneness.’”
~ Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian
You were created for oneness. You were reconciled to God for oneness.
There are no Lone Ranger Christians. Or at least, if there are, they’re
not living as God desires. He desires for each one of us to be
integrated together into His community of oneness… the Church.
Check out this passage…
Ephesians 2:13 (NLT)
Though you once were far away from God, now
you have been brought near to him because of the blood of Christ.
We were brought near to God through the blood of Jesus, but we were
also brought near to each other at the same time. That’s what the
passage goes on to tell us…
Ephesians 2:14-15 (NLT)
For Christ himself has made peace between
us… by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of
hostility that used to separate us… His purpose was to make peace
between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from
the two groups.
And then I like how The Message paraphrase of the Bible puts this next
Ephesians 2:16 (Msg)
Christ brought us together through his death
on the cross.
So you see, the Church should not be a disassociated, disconnected
group of individuals living life in isolation. Like a family, we are to
be joined together in His community of oneness. Jesus said…
John 13:34-35 (NLT)
“So now I am giving you a new commandment:
Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my
And you know, that’s what Sunrise should be known for. Not our music,
not our sermons, not our size, not our strategy, but our love. We want
people to say, “That’s the place where they love each other,” because
that’s what Christianity is all about… loving God and loving each other.
The Church… it’s not a
place you go, it’s a family you belong to. It’s a family that
encourages each other, uplifts each other, builds up each other,
believes in each other, stands by each other and loves each other
unconditionally and absolutely.
The church is a family. It is not a building; it is not an institution;
it is not an organization; it is not a club. It is a family. Church is
not a place you go to; it’s a family you belong to. And that’s a big
difference. It’s more than a building, more than a service. It is
family that we are to belong to. In the passage Chris read earlier it
told us that…
Ephesians 1:5 (NLT)
His unchanging plan has always been to adopt
us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ.
And you know what? I’m proud to be part of this family. And as we head
into September and into a whole new year here at Sunrise, I’m excited
about the memories we’re going to create together, about the bonds that
will be developed in our LIFE Groups, about how we will express our
family love by serving our city, and about how our family will continue
to grow and expand.
Lord, as we head into the Fall, and as lots of things begin to fill our
calendars, I pray that you will protect and build this community of
oneness… this family… We echo the very prayer you prayed for us… Make
us one. May we truly learn what it means to love each other, to be open
and honest with each other… even vulnerable… to be supportive and
encouraging of each other, to want the best for each other… to look at
each other with the same care and compassion that You see us with. May
our sense of family be so solid… so strong… so steadfast… that people
all around us will want to join in and become a part of it. Thank you.
We join together and pray this in Your name, Amen.