Household Expectations: Be All In

Household Expectations: Be All In

Church life stabilizes our families because it is built on a sure foundation. It is a place where we learn to live with integrity the faith we profess. Being a part of a larger covenant community teaches our children what it looks like to grow in holiness.  It teaches us what love, self-sacrifice, and belonging looks like, beyond the boundaries of our individual homes. 

I love young families in the church.  I love hearing babies cooing and crying, the shuffle of Sunday school papers and forced hushes and whispers.  I love the delight of children as their parents dole out goldfish crackers into little eager hands, some of which invariably get dropped and crushed into the carpet beneath their feet.  To me, left behind crumbs and crayons are a welcome sign of vibrancy in the household of God.  As a mom of four, I appreciate the obstacles they had to overcome just to get inside the church doors, so my heart is glad for their presence.

Another sound I love to hear are the testimonies of young parents who express their desire to raise their children in the church. Outwardly, I cheer these parents on with a genuine smile, and inwardly, I pray that the Church can meet the expectations that are inherent in that good, well-placed desire.  What is at the heart of my prayer for these young families?  I pray because I know something these young, sweet families may not know yet: Church can get hard.

I write that statement with much sadness because I love God’s church.  As a young child, even as an unbeliever at the time, God’s church was a special, reverent place for me; a haven of respite and safety.  Years later, when I came to a saving faith in Christ, my love for His church grew deeper because I had come to know and love the God who dwells there – the One who gave His life to establish it.  Early in our marriage, as we dreamed of what our family life would be like, my husband and I both held strong convictions that being part of a covenant community was a sacrificial act of worship according to Romans 12.  Our family was all in.

As our child-rearing years are coming to a close, my prayer for these young families is not offered with cynicism.  It is offered with hope that as young families start out, they will build their family’s goals with biblical expectations towards the church.  Biblical expectations are essential to understand the relationship between the home and the church so we learn how to live covenantally with our church family.  Often times, the lack of biblical expectations is the source of the disappointments that families experience as they grow up.  We need to look to God’s word to see what God intends for the church and family as the symbiotic, stabilizing relationship it is for family life and the covenant community.

God, in His wisdom and prerogative, gave to the family the primary responsibility of raising a child in the way he should go. But, also in His wisdom and prerogative, He gave us the Church – a free gift, given at the moment of our salvation – which God defines as His household, a blending of redeemed individuals and families whom He is building into a spiritual house, a holy dwelling place for His Spirit.  As in any household, there are expectations.

In Ephesians 2:18-22 we learn about the expectations of His household:

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

God’s household is a place where we are one people together, built on a sure foundation of Jesus Christ, where the body of Christ to grows in holiness together.  These are essential expectations God sets out for His household.

God chose the imagery of a household to help us think about what a commitment to a local church looks like.  As women, we know what it takes to run a household:  it takes all members, doing their part, to maintain a God-honoring home. It’s a lot of work! Our homes do not run themselves and are far from perfect. They are organic and we adjust our schedules, wallets, and own needs to help each member flourish according to God’s principles. In the same way, God’s household is a place where each family has a place to flourish, to learn and grow, to be valued and included.  We adjust our lives to make room for those in our covenant community. God has an expectation that we are to be a family together, living and growing, working and celebrating, supporting and adjusting so that each living stone has a place and purpose in what He is building among us. Other than our own homes, there is no sweeter place to be than in the company of believers who want to be nurtured and grow in holiness after Christ’s own character.

Sadly, when we forget the Lord’s chosen imagery of a household together, we can slip into thinking that “going to church” is about meeting our own needs rather than living as an extended family.  Please, beloved, we need to guard ourselves from this consumer-minded thinking!  Unfortunately, I’ve seen families become disappointed in church because particular social needs aren’t met, feelings get hurt, theological pet peeves get bristly, good intentions are misunderstood or any other myriad of reasons. To be sure, some disappointments run deeper. As families struggle within their private walls, when they look to the church for help, for whatever reason, they may become disappointed with the help offered or received.  It is a true grief when a hurting family walks away.

Church disappointments are hard to talk about because we don’t expect them.  We mistake church to be that longed for place where the streets are paved with gold and lined with jewels, instead of a waystation – a home – for needy people who are only there because we admit we’re imperfect and are looking ahead for better country (Hebrews 11:16).  Raising a family in the church is to raise it among other sinners saved by grace, who humbly endeavor to reflect Christ in their imperfections.  We live together to love our God and out of that love, we love our neighbor.  That is our economy as believers, not a product-consumer economy.

It’s easy to slip into this kind of thinking, particularly as parents.  We want the best for our family, which includes a “good experience” within the church.  When that expectation isn’t met, many of us just want to pull anchor and set sail to other seas, thinking we’ll find that elusive safe harbor for our family.  The commitment to “raise the family in the church” isn’t so easy anymore and as our families grow, it can get even tougher and we’re wondering if it all is worth it. Let me say, as a member of a church for 30 years, who has raised her children there, who has been through trials, church splits, and personal hurts for myself and children:  It. Is. Worth. It.

Church life stabilizes our families because it is built on a sure foundation. It is a place where we learn to live with integrity the faith we profess. Being a part of a larger covenant community teaches our children what it looks like to grow in holiness.  It teaches us what love, self-sacrifice, and belonging looks like, beyond the boundaries of our individual homes.  And, gently put, our homes cannot teach everything a child needs to learn about life, no matter how intentional or incredible we are as parents. We need to see other families living by faith, walking the road the Lord has marked for them so that our own hearts are encouraged and strengthened.

So, dear young families, when church gets hard, when it’s not what you expected, when you’re disappointed – we still need you and you need us. Teach your children the reason we gather as God’s people is because it’s all for Him, for His glory.  Teach them the reason we come is not because it’s easy, exuberantly exciting or that everyone’s needs are met all the time. We come because God is there and we need one another as we journey on. Your family’s presence may be just what another family – young or old – needs to live out their own commitments. There is no other place like it on earth.  And somehow, ineffably, when we come together, He dwells with us, shares His splendor much like the sun spreads its sunbeams. In the warmth of His presence, I say: Put down roots. Love your extended family.  Weather each storm.  Grow into holiness. My prayer for you, as you take your vow to raise your family in the church: Be all in.

Sharon Smith Leaman  is a member of New Life in Christ Church (PCA) in Fredericksburg, Va.

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