I had the privilege of working with Mike Betts on producing this short book for our family of churches. You can read some of the commendations here.
Over the next few days, I thought I’d work through some of the chapters and give a personal reflection on what they mean to me. The first chapter talks about church as family.
Chapter 1: A real family
After taking a short look at the relationship between the apostle Paul and the church in Ephesus, Mike identifies two key components to their relationship: deep long-term relationship and a shared commitment to mission.
The church is not just any enterprise or business, it is the family business. We are members of a kingdom and have a mission only because we have been adopted into a family. We serve a Father and not a chief executive. Mission will only be fruitful in a biblical sense when it is connected to a healthy relational root system. (p.12)
Life and ministry can be difficult, it can be lonely, it can be challenging. It can also be enjoyable, joyful and fun. Going through life alone makes both sides harder. It simply is better with friends.
We are not called to be effective and productive but fruitful and Mike argues the words are not simply interchangeable. Productivity can treat people as assets, goods, or means to an end. Fruitfulness sees relationships as the soil in which mission grows out from – and takes time to dig deep into them in order to flourish.
Mike then argues that not only should the local church be characterised by family relationships but that this sense of family, friendship and shared mission should scale to relationships between churches and across nations.
I grow up in an independent evangelical church. I have close friends who are vicars or ministers in denominations. I work with people who are church leaders in networks. None of those come close to the experience I have in what we call, ‘a family of churches’. Terry Virgo, who founded Newfrontiers recently tweeted
Call it a “denomination”, or a “network”, or “family of churches”; if it’s not built on loving relationships it’s not biblical.
— Terry Virgo (@TerryVirgo) September 3, 2016
And I think he’s right. My father, as pastor of an independent church essentially operated in isolation. There was neither deep friendships nor shared mission (in anything other than a general sense) from the ministers’ fraternal he used to attend.
I have friends who are part of historic denominations and there is rarely shared theology let alone shared mission. Isolation in a geographical area can be intense if the churches around don’t share your biblical convictions.
Networks often have shared values and genuine friendships but rarely shared mission. I’ve rarely seen or heard them stand with each other in trials, give to each other in mission, share with each other in ministry. It’s networking as business does it not family.
I can think of countless times where people have visited us not to do ministry but to be with us, to know that we’re doing OK, to listen to us work out our problems. I can think of times where whole churches and groups of churches have committed to pray for us. I visit guys around the Baltics, not simply to preach or sometimes not even to preach but to be with. We regularly skype each other to pray and share.
These guys are my friends. I don’t know if I’ve got anything to offer, sometimes I lack the wisdom, the experience, the knowledge and the gifting. But often the lack of those things is counterbalanced by the love and the friendship on offer. We are friends and family together on a mission and I wouldn’t swap that for any amount of gifted preachers.
Brotherly love and strong personal relationships are not incidental but fundamental!