Posted by: watchman | January 26, 2009


family problems?

family problems?

The churches I grew up in had a way of referring to eachother that, as a kid, I thought was weird. People would come up to my dad and call him “Brother.” This was confusing to me. I knew all of my dad’s brothers and they all happened to be my uncles. HOwever, these people calling my dad “Brother” were not related in any way. Very weird.

I have two brothers. Never once in my life have I ever gone up to one of my brothers and referred to them by their familial title. So, why do we do this in the church? It is as if we need a reminder that we are family.

There is good scriptural reason for thinking of fellow church members as family. The Apostle Paul wrote a beautiful admonition in his letter to the Galatians.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer slaves, but God’s children; and since you are his children, he has made you also heirs. (Gal 4:4-7, TNIV) 

So, it looks like we all have the same Father. Maybe those people in my Dad’s church weren’t all that crazy.

The American family as an institution is in trouble. The family is plagued by dysfunction, abuse, and divorce. Some families spend their time fighting and hurting one another until they cannot take it anymore and some sort of split occurs.

Too often church families are like this also.

When my friend Toby was ready to leave someplace he used to quip, “let’s make like a church and split.” There is way too much truth in his one-liner. Like the American family, the local church is too often dysfunctional and abusive. The person who most often takes the hardest hit in the midst of all that drama and trauma is the leader. Perhaps the quip could be changed to “make like a church and fire the pastor.” Wait, that isn’t very funny.

Where are hurting families in our world supposed to go for hope and help? The Church? It seems like the Church is just as bad at relating to one another as families. Shouldn’t an institution  that follows the Way of Christ be better and working out differences and resolving problems? Shouldn’t a faith community mandated to iluminate a world of darkness offer a better alternative to families on the brink?

Unfortunately, far too many local churches have decided to do the same thing that American families do – divorce. Messy, nasty, ugly seperations define many churches and ministers. The ministry landscape is pockmarked we the scars left from a family that just can’t seem to get along.

image source: google image search


  1. In “Telling Secrets”, Frederick Buechner writes…

    “The church often bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the dysfunctional family. There is the authoritarian presence of the minister- the professional who knows all the answers and calls most of the shots- whom few ever challenge either because they don’t dare to or because they feel it would do no good if they did. There is the outward comraderie and inward loneliness of the congregation. There are the unspoken rules and hidden agendas, the doubts and disagreements that for propriety’s sake are kept more or less under cover. There are people with all sorts of enthusiasms and creativities which are not often enough made use of or even recognized because the tendency is not to rock the boat but to keep on doing things the way they have always been done.”

  2. Wow, Jamie. That is a killer quote. We’re a mess and the longer we pretend everything is okay, the worse it gets.

    Just like a family.

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