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Revitalized Churches Rediscover Family

The church began in 1885. The early years were poorly documented but assumed to have been fruitful. After all, they began with 37 people meeting in a borrowed space before building their first sanctuary in 1901.

By 1970, the church had grown enough to need a new building, so ground was broken on some donated land, and the church moved into a brand-new facility a couple of years later. This was truly a great season, as the church was effectively reaching people and seeing disciples being made. My family began attending this church in 1980, and the next two decades would prove to be great, as ministry continued to expand and the body moved toward a vision of taking the gospel around the globe.

In the early 2000s, I moved elsewhere to serve in vocational ministry, but at my home church, vision began to drift, as it inevitably does. Many people shared many visions for the future, and as the potential plans began to multiply, so did disagreements. As these disagreements popped up, relationships grew strained, and leaders were working against each other rather than with each other. By this point the church was quickly tipping from plateau toward decline and began losing people.


“By this point the church was quickly tipping from plateau toward decline and began losing people.”


At its lowest point, the church was a mere shell of itself. Families had left. Leaders had left. Giving had left. Vision had left. And all that remained was a tenuous grasp on hope for a better future. It was this particular moment when God chose to lead my family back through the doors.

This was as pivotal a moment for me as it was for the church. My wife and I had heard God’s call to leave a previous ministry but had resisted as long as possible, knowing the next season would be full of difficulties. My son was forced to leave the only friends he had ever known, as had so many preachers’ kids before him. We were leaving a town and ministry where we had invested a decade, along with all the deep relationships that come with ten years of life. And, it’s important to point out, we were moving back to my home church.

“You can’t go back home.” These words, spoken in my voice, were ringing in my ears.

“But this is what I’ve prepared you for.” These words, spoken in God’s voice, were also ringing in my ears.


“My wife and I had heard God’s call to leave a previous ministry but had resisted as long as possible, knowing the next season would be full of difficulties.”


This crossroads of faith and family took us right into the middle of a church I had loved and left behind, right into the middle of a church on the downhill slide—and right into the middle of a situation for which I felt ill-prepared.

I was greeted by ladies who reminded me of the times they had changed my diapers. I was reminded of previously forgotten embarrassments from my teenage years. I listened to my detractors, who felt I had gotten this job only because of family ties. I surveyed conflicting visions and plans, while taking careful notes of conflicting personalities. I walked into meetings committed to listening more than I spoke. I gathered anecdotal stories of past church victories, defeats, celebrations, and tragedies. I felt the brokenness of relationships and the pain of fractured friendships. I listened for the Holy Spirit to tell me what to do. And I said the only thing that came to mind: “Let’s rediscover family the way God intended it to be!”

Looking back, this was the perfect move. But to be completely honest, it was God’s move and not mine. I’m just not that great of a strategist, but God is a master at healing and restoring all that is broken and lost.


“Let’s rediscover family the way God intended it to be!”


Over the next nine years, we have consistently been working to rediscover family the way God intended it to be, allowing our steps to be guided by these principles:

1. Recognize your culture’s hunger for family.

Have you ever felt incredibly hungry but have been frustrated because nothing seems to satisfy you? That’s the position our culture finds itself in, desperately craving family. Just take a look at the most-watched television shows at pretty much any time over the past several decades, and you’ll inevitably discover a recurring theme. People invest themselves in fictional versions of the families they long for. Nuclear families, extended families, work families, and military families all find themselves front and center in a culture that is starved for an unbroken version of family.

We are desperately hungry for family but are quickly finding that television shows, sports teams, office parties, and fancy clubs are all not much more than mirages delivering failed promises. As a church leader, recognize what your community is really hungry for. And then gain confidence in knowing that you hold the keys to the only family that can satisfy the hunger that is killing us.


“As a church leader, recognize what your community is really hungry for.”


2. Remove the entrance fee.

Too many families have an entrance fee, whether they realize it or not. In America, families are formed around the concept of “blood relationships”—father, mother, son, daughter, cousins, etc. Of course, families will open the gate for marriages—son-in-law, daughter-in-law, etc.—and even for adoptions. Beyond that, however, there’s often a tight seal on who is and who is not family.

It’s the church’s job to remove the entrance fee and swing the gates wide open. For your church to resemble the Kingdom of God, it must be easy to become a brother or sister. Yes, we absolutely must protect the integrity of God’s people, but there shouldn’t be a complicated, multi-layered process to joining that family.

Looking at Scripture, I am quickly reminded of the unlikely people who joined God’s family. Rahab the prostitute saved the lives of Israelite spies and lived among the Israelites the rest of her life. Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16b, NIV). The Ethiopian eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:36, NIV). The Philippian jailer was baptized with his entire family and “filled with joy because he had come to believe in God.”


“Looking at Scripture, I am quickly reminded of the unlikely people who joined God’s family.”


You have a choice: make it difficult to join God’s family, with lengthy classes, complicated processes, and difficult tasks. Or fling open the gates of the family, welcoming the weary and heavy-burdened.

3. Position your family at the tip of the spear.

It’s easy to preach, teach, and write about rediscovering family, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually risk your family in the real-life laboratory of broken relationships. The problem is, preaching family without opening up your family is lazy. It assumes that someone else will take the risk and do the hard work.

If you know something needs to happen, you don’t just lead with words. You lead with example. Your church doesn’t need another lesson to learn or verse to memorize. They need someone to imitate. They need someone to lead like Paul led. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV).


“If you know something needs to happen, you don’t just lead with words.”


Your community needs to rediscover family as God intended it. Your church needs to prioritize people over programs, productions, or policies. Your church needs leaders who will step out of the pulpit and step into the field—the messy, scary, broken field.

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