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Jul 26, 2006


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Ted Gossard

Thanks. I think I track with you here.

I can see families as the elemental human institution created by God. But I can't see families as the elemental human institution for God's work of the kingdom in Christ. Surely it is the church that is in that role. Families having an important place in that. But those families and people united together as being Christ's building and temple in this world.

Dana Ames

Paul calls fellow believers "brothers" (implying, of course, sisters). This speaks to the centrality of familial relationships. I believe everything possible should be done to help families be stable in every way; because I'm adopted, I also think more is involved than blood ties alone. What if the "creation institution" God set in place was meant to point to something "bigger"? What if the creation thing was pointing to, defining, the New Creation thing? You allude to this to some extent in your parallel between the trinity and marriage in terms of intimacy. I guess I'm not so much disagreeing as appealing for more nuance.

I get subsidiarity; I'm with you on totalitarians destroying the family, and on your point about gay "marriage".


Michael Kruse

Ted, we may be dealing with semantics here but maybe not. I will elaborate more.

I recently heard what was purported to be a true story about a small town pastor who had an elderly woman in his congregation. Her son lived in another town a not too far away. He would periodically come and visit his mother. On one visit he found out his mother had some problems with a leaky roof. She was on a fixed income and uncertain of how to proceed to take care of her problem.

After leaving his mother’s place, the son went to see her pastor and expressed is indignation at what a terrible job the Church was doing. He felt they should have been checking up on her helping her with her needs. In the course of the conversation the pastor asked the son what he did for a living. He told the pastor he was a roofer! The son failed to see any disconnect.

In the son’s mind, the church is an institution that helps people and the pastor is its prime representative. (Isn’t that what we “pay him for?”) The idea that the son himself WAS the church and should respond was totally foreign to him.

Also, pastors frequently have congregants come to them and say “I think the church ought to be doing so-and-so.” In my Presbyterian circles, that idea goes to the session (board.) They hash over whether or not it is a good idea. If approved, they then recruit an individual or a committee implement their plan for doing so-and-so. It then becomes yet another agenda item that has to be reviewed and reported on at each session meeting.

I have friend that has trained his leadership to respond differently. When someone comes up to him or the leadership and says “I think the church ought to do so-and-so,” their response is “That is great! How can we help you do that?” Our assumption is that it isn’t “ministry” unless it has been processed through an ecclesiastical sausage grinder and rendered as an official program of the institution.

One imperfect analogy would be a big city police department. The department (denomination) is divided into divisions (congregations). The division force “gathers” at the beginning of each shift to discuss common concerns and mission. Throughout the year, individual officers are equipped by their division and departments to improve each officers personal well-being and effectiveness. They also exercise discipline. However, departments and divisions do not provide police protection. Officers in squads of twos or ones (families/individuals) disperse throughout the community being the police protection (Kingdom of God) in the particular circumstances they find themselves.

Depending on the nature of a particular event, squads may request assistance and team up on an ad hoc basis to address a problem. In the other cases, like a long funeral procession, the may team up in advance to address the problem. They may even have a detail that comes to specialize in such multiple squad activities. However, the elemental “institution” of the department is the squad (family/individual) not the division (congregation). That is where the overwhelming amount of police work is done.

Does this frame things any differently?

Michael Kruse

Excellent points Dana! Adoption is a major metaphor for our new life in Christ. One thing we should not forget is that in this sense both our parents and our children are our adopted brothers and sisters in Christ.

What I am working toward is that while we are all brothers and sisters, some of us are infants and others are quite mature. All of us are fallen. So what are the institutions God gives us, and what are the institutions we need to form, in order to bring people to maturity and restrain wayward siblings?

God intends for us to be stewards of the material world through private property that is held in trust for him. We have a sense of communal responsibility but we also have private ownership of property because when each of is focusing on stewardship of a small portion of resources we are more effective stewards than when all of us try to be stewards of all the property.

In a similar way, I think marriage and family makes us stewards of those God has entrusted to us as spouses, parents, siblings, and children. There is a level of intimacy and commitment that we have as stewards of family that we do not have for others. The body of believers has a responsibility to care for and nurture of my children. But as a parent, I have a more focused responsibility. I am the frontlines, reinforced and aided by others in the community. The best way the Church helps in the spiritual formation of my children is to help me be a spiritual guide and example as a father or mother not by trying to transfer my nurturing to a communal setting. Again, this is not to say that there are not critical communal responsibilities and roles, but the elemental locus of our spiritual formation is in families through daily life.

Regrettably, we often “outsource” to ecclesial institutions spiritual formation (including our own) that should be happening in the family. Too many of our institutions are all to happy to oblige and even make it their mission.

Ted Gossard

Yes. I agree that as far as what the church is all about is to prepare God's people to do the work of service in the world. And the heart of the Church is family (brothers and sisters in Jesus, as Dana says). Jesus our Brother. God our Father.

And your point is well taken, that the majority of kingdom work will be done at home. In our families, and out from our families into this world.

I guess I would see the Church as having a unique place from God in all of this. But the families that are part of the Church also have their unique part. And that is with reference to the outworking of the Church in the world, as a missional community. And that as sisters and brothers in Jesus, we are all together, as well, as "family", and really family (adopted and by nature in regeneration) in this. So that nuts and bolts get done in our work together.

Do I track with you better, now?

Michael Kruse

Thanks Ted. This helps a lot!

"I guess I would see the Church as having a unique place from God in all of this."

I find I am still struggling to find the right language and metaphors to articulate what I am getting at. The sentence I quoted above, if I am reading it right, distinguishes “the Church” from what people and families do in day to day living. Here is my concern. I fear that we conceive of the Church as an institution or large body and that what people do in daily living is something other than being the Church and is an adjunct.

I am making the case that being the church dispersed throughout the community is the essential focus of ministry while the church gathered is the primarily a time of corporate worship, equipping, and uniting in mission that is beyond the resources of one or a few people. It is not my intention to pit one against the other. I have asked the question before, “Which is more important to breathing? Inhaling or exhaling?” The body of Christ is inhaled into corporate worship, equipping and broad ministry but it must be exhaled into creation stewardship, Kingdom service and employment of gifts in the world as priest, prophet and king to the world. It is an endless cycle of gathering and dispersal. If either is neglected the body dies. I am going out my way to emphasize the church dispersed because I think that is the half of the breathing dynamic that has all but atrophied.

Some day I am going to figure out how to say this right. I remember trying to express something at McKnight’s blog and it took me four paragraphs to say it. He said back to me what I had written in two sentences! Arrrgh! Oh to be able to develop the skills people like him have at articulating this stuff. *grin*

Dana Ames

Thanks Michael, and Ted- clearer now. Wholeness, integration, big-picture stuff is what speaks to me.

Well, reading Scot's explanation of how he acquired his writing skills is reassuring, to me anyway- they didn't "spring fully formed from his head"!


Ted Gossard

I'm getting behind on your blog but will catch up! (I'm on a major indoor painting project right now). Very helpful comment. I see clearly your point now. Excellent point. And I couldn't agree more fully. (Sorry I didn't pick that up to begin with!)

Michael Kruse

What??? You have a life apart from reading my blog. Unthinkable! *grin*

Seriously, I appreciate your input. Whatever (and whenever) you chose to share will be welcomed.

And good look on the painting. We have been looking at paint colors but with temps above 100 it is hard to get motivated to work outdoor or indoor.

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