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Monday, 24 August 2015

Family and Gospel - an unpredictable mixture

The Good....
Families can be a tremendous asset in the work of the Gospel. Jesus chose two sets of brothers (Peter/Andrew and James/John) among his disciples. Missions around the world have been started by brothers, and even more by husband and wife teams.  John and Charles Wesley worked together in the cause of the Gospel (though Charles complained that John was bossy - he was!), and many families have worked together in the cause of the Gospel.

...the Bad
But there is a problem with families - their love is often blind love. We tend to love our flesh and blood so much that we are unable to see a situation in our family in a neutral way. We all too easily big up small gifts and graces and play down big foibles and sins. Families cannot see a church issue objectively - if it includes a member of their own family.

Here is the heart of the problem: across close loving family relationships, not only does truth and good pass, evil and error can also pass unnoticed - or at least pass unchallenged.

The Bible illustrates this in many ways....

...and the Ugly
Adam is standing with his wife, Eve, watching the temptation proceed and instead of rebuking the serpent and protecting his wife by taking charge, he allows it all to happen. Was he charmed at Eve's clever responses to the serpent?

Solomon is so besotted with all those wives from foreign lands that he gave into their "can I have a little idol from my home country on the mantelpiece please - if you love me...." pleas and became an idolater.

Eli was unable to deal with the sins in his two wicked sons. He allowed them to serve in the temple even though they were wicked men! Surely he would have been outraged had he seen these sins in anyone else's family and would have complained if such wicked men were serving at the temple!

Barnabas was blind to the weaknesses of his cousin John Mark who was unsuitable for a church planting mission (because he had abandoned a previous mission - that's no small weakness when you're planting a new church!) and fell out over Paul over him. (Those who have ben involved in church planting know that a leader backing out damages the credibility of the whole mission in the eyes of new converts and is a stumbling block too big to handle).

Anyone who has been involved in church life will know that a large family in a church can strangle the life right out of it with "block votes" and all kinds of other political machinations: no move can be made unless the patriarch (or matriarch) approves - even though they might be blindingly wrong.

How do we safeguard ourselves and our churches against the negative sides of the family, from the blindness of our families?

1) Don't believe members of your flesh and blood family blindly. They may be wrong, totally wrong. Be discerning. Just because a member of our family says something or believes something is no reason for that to be true. Adam is blamed for listening to his wife - that was his fault. He should have corrected her, not lisetend to her.

2) If you are involved in a mission with a family member, beware of your family blind spots: no one single family can ever see an issue straight, they are simply too biased.

3) Learn to discern when your decision is shaped by family or by Gospel priorities, and at least be honest about your motives.

4) Look beyond your own family.

5) Church leaders must never give in to the demands of a family in the church - no matter who they are; the commands of Jesus must always trump the demands of a family, whatever the cost.

6) While it may be necessary to start a mission with members of one family, quickly diversify and include non-family members who will be able to see objectively.

7) It is better not to start any outreach work dominated by a single family. Jesus sets the statistic - he had no more than 2 out of 12 or 1 out of 6 - or 17% - of his disciples coming from one family. In a church plant for example, that's a healthy statistic to adopt - don't have more than 17% of the core from any one family.

One day all earthly families will be dissolved and all family blindnesses and prejudices ended. In that final and eternal family it will not be family blood that binds us and sometimes blinds us together, it will be a different blood that binds us together, the blood of the Lamb on the throne.

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