My wife and I had our first child the same year we planted our church. Over time, we watched as both matured together. Now our son is seventeen (which sure makes it easy to remember how old our church is), and just as God shaped our church as our child grew, God shaped me as a pastor as I grew as a father.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the theme of family accompanied our journey of starting a church so well. In fact, I believe that the primary identity of the people of God is to be a family. Yet it seems that many of us have lost our identity as a church family and traded it for a far more corporate definition. Entrepreneurial language about figures and efficiency dominates modern church planting and pastoring—and it has shaped our churches’ cultures as a result. Church leaders can also let this corporate attitude affect the way they view their role and job description. I have run several businesses in the past, but as my family grew, I realized something—I’ve learned more about being a pastor by caring for my family than by running a business.
Funnily enough, most people view the growth of a family and the growth of a church in entirely different lights. My wife and I now have five children, and we hear all kinds of banter from church leaders who marvel at how large our family is becoming. Rightfully, they see the responsibility of raising such a large family is. But many people strive to have huge churches without addressing those same concerns.
As many parents do, I understand the costs and burden of raising children into healthy men and women. It truly does take a lot of money, time, energy, prayer, and trusting in God. It feels impossible without the Spirit.
But shouldn’t this be the same burden pastors feel as we serve and lead our congregations?
Raising a church family is a big responsibility, too—one that takes a parental heart. I have felt a great joy and excitement as our church has grown, but also a deep burden for discipling, training, and sending our new members out into the world. I also know it is an impossible task without the Spirit. All in all, caring for the members of a church congregation is just like caring for our own flesh and blood—we are a family!
But how do we create a familial environment in our church? Here’s a list of questions we can ask ourselves to start:
- How does the community view our church—as a product to be consumed or as a family?
- How do we want people in our communities to see themselves?
- How can creating a family atmosphere reinforce our identity in the gospel?
- How do these answers change the way we choose or disciple leaders?
- How does this change the way we think about caring for the least, lost, and hurting?
- How does this change the way we think about reconciling relationships across lines of hostility?
- How does this change the way we think about the importance of church unity?
I can’t answer these questions and say how any one church family should look or function—each context will be different. Nor am I trying to command every church to care for their members better. I simply wish to encourage us to envision how our local church can be a community of faithful love—a family. My hope is that the spirit of Christ would dwell in the midst of each individual family as they seek to display the heart of God to their church and their city.
I have been struck by Paul in his appeal to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 4:14–17). He admonishes them with these words: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.” As their “father,” Paul has an affection for them that is beyond just instruction. He wants them to follow Christ as he follows Christ. There is a deep love that goes into not just teaching the Bible to people, but walking alongside and caring for them so they can learn and delight in their heavenly father. I would echo that for the church today… I am convinced that we have thousands of teachers but not enough Fathers.
This isn’t a call for fewer or smaller churches, but a call for more families who deeply love the Father and each other. It’s a call for us to live out our primary identity as children of God in the family of God. In this family, love binds us together. It is a family made of people from all nations, genders, and economic statuses who all display the image of their Father into the world.
About the Author
Aaron Dailey is the husband to Dana and father to five children. He planted and has been a co-lead pastor of Redemption Church Alhambra for over 17 years. Aaron is also part of the leadership team for Redemption Church Arizona and the Surge network. He also serves as the Southwest Catalyst of City to City North America.