Meeting the Family
Even in the church family, some sisters can be snippy, some brothers can be bombastic, and they may not be very welcoming.
When a young man and young lady begin to take a serious interest in each other, sooner or later they have to meet each other's family. This can be a nerve wracking experience. The girl may worry whether her family will like the young man. Even more, she may worry that her sister, with a knack for smart remarks, will embarrass the young man, or that her father will be happy to have a new audience for his particular brand of humour. And what about her mother, ever concerned for the best for her daughter – will he pass her approval? In case of older, married siblings, there may be the added fear of a brother or sister-in-law who has a way of communicating that takes a little getting used to? In anticipation of the big "meet the family" event, the young man will have his share of anxieties, wondering what the family will think of him, whether they will like him.
Of course this also plays out the other way, as the young man introduces the young lady that has captivated his heart to his family. Will they be as enamoured with her as he is? Will his mother think she is good enough for him? Will his father welcome her? Will his sisters be on their best behaviour, making every effort not to make her feel awkward? Will his brothers keep their smart remarks to themselves?
It will not only be the young man and young lady who will be prone to nervousness. The family may be just as nervous. In a way, the smart remarks and efforts at humour may be a cover up for nervousness. At least the family has strength in numbers.
In the end, it usually works out, even if the first encounter is a bit awkward. You have to figure each other out. That process includes getting to know the strengths of each other's family as well as their peculiarities. In due time, one learns to know the family, warts and all. Usually, the sooner this process starts the better because it gives everyone a chance to really get to know each other and be comfortable with each other.
Applying it to the Church
We have a similar situation in the life of the church. As we live our lives as Christians, there will come various situations where we have opportunity to speak about our faith. Perhaps it is through interaction with neighbours, or with one's fellow workers. At times, when it involves single people, such conversations have a romantic potential. There may be many discussions about faith and the person or persons we are talking to may seem to be genuinely interested, eager to hear more.
Just like in the relationship between a boy and girl, there is the matter of meeting the family. In this case, of course, it is the family of God. In Paul's first letter to Timothy, he called the church the "household of God" (1 Timothy 3:15). In this family, we have brothers and sisters. While we don't have a "father and mother," the church family does have office-bearers, called to lead the family. The question is, "At what point should we introduce someone to the church family? Should it be sooner or later?"
If we listen to some popular evangelistic methods, you might conclude that "sooner or later" is really a false dilemma. This is so because some approaches suggest that belonging to a church family is not really that important. All you have to do is tell people about Jesus. As long as people love Jesus, well, then they belong to the invisible church, and that's what counts, right? Talk of church only muddies the waters and might turn people off.
Of course this viewpoint ignores the fact that while Christ gathers his church from the beginning to the end of the world, from all peoples and nations, he always does that concretely in time. When Paul and Peter wrote their letters, they always wrote to very concrete churches, made up of visible members, with visible office bearers. When governments wanted to persecute the church, they had no trouble finding the believers either. Indeed, the church is a very visible entity in this world.
Based on the very concrete way of speaking about the church in Scripture, we know then that the "don't worry about meeting the family approach" is not an option. That still leaves the question of "sooner or later?"
Like in a dating relationship, it is easy to come up with arguments for "later." There may be hesitation because, like in a family, there are your brothers and sisters. And yes, even in the church family, some sisters can be snippy, some brothers can be bombastic, and they may not be very welcoming. And then there may be the worry about the sermons. Yes, they are scriptural, they give sound explanation and good application, but how can someone who is not familiar with the Bible understand all that? And then there is the matter of the songs. Yes, the congregation sings wholeheartedly, but how can a newcomer sing those tunes and understand those words? The thought might arise, "What will my neighbour or my fellow worker think if I take them to meet the family?" In cases where there is a romantic angle, the thought might arise, "What will it do for that relationship if I take the person to church? Will it end the conversation and the relationship?" It is not difficult to justify the "later" approach. Should you not ease a person into the family?
There is a big problem, however, with the "later" approach. To compare it again to a dating relationship, the later you do it, the harder it actually becomes. It is a case of "the sooner, the better." This is so for a number of reasons.
In the first place, faith is personal, in that we personally believe, but it is not a private faith. The Christian faith is the faith of the church, the Christian household. Personally, we have learned to know that faith as a member of that household. Our worship as household of God is an integral part of the expression of our faith and the growth of our faith. If we have talked openly about our faith, our activity as church family should have been a natural part of what we talked about. It may even have started as simple as a person asking, "How was your weekend?" They would soon learn that going to worship the Lord is at the heart of our "weekend." Just like a young man and young lady getting to know each other would learn something about their respective families, so in our faith conversation people should learn some about our church family. God is not ashamed of our family. He gave his Son to die for it. Why should we be ashamed of it? Again, like with a young couple developing a relationship, talking positively about each other's family should make each person interested in meeting the family, so our talk about our faith should stir up interest in our church family.
Second, we might have our hesitation because everything will be so strange to the other person. Again, think of a young lady bringing home a young man. There will be excitement mixed with trepidation. But think through how such a visit goes. The young lady does not just walk the young man in the door, tell him to sit on the couch and talk to the family, while she goes off to talk with her sisters in the kitchen. Especially at first, she sits down beside him to get that first awkward conversation out of the way. It may take quite some time before everyone is comfortable enough to the point that the couple does not always have to sit side by side. In the same way, if we invite someone to church, we shouldn't just take them in the door and then let them find their own way. No, you have them sit with you. And afterwards, you stay at their side while they get to meet the other members of the family. Yes, it will be awkward. Yes, there will be brothers and sisters that might make it very uncomfortable. But, if the attraction was to the God of the family, who sent his Son as Saviour, one will get past that. This is just like in a dating relationship. Love for the other person makes one look past the peculiarities of the family.
We Should have Some Confidence in the Holy Spirit
Third, and this is really the most important, we should have some confidence in the Holy Spirit. We confess he works faith through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17). That preaching takes place when we are together as spiritual family. You can't go wrong by taking someone to meet your church family, the place where the Spirit is working. And yes, there will be many strange things. But, it will not all be strange. After all, the person was willing to come based on your conversations. Something piqued his or her interest. The experience of worship will only give more food for thought and conversation.
The Sooner the Better
What it comes down to then is that when conversations develop with others about our faith, we do well to take them to meet our church family. It is the household of God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. If God loved this family to the point of giving his Son for it, if the Son does not hesitate to dwell in its midst through the Holy Spirit, we do well to make meeting this family a matter of sooner rather than later. Indeed, the sooner the better!