I was at a Church Conference about a month ago and while meeting with the SPRC we got to talking about the things they celebrated in the congregation. They talked about energetic worship and the mission activity they were accomplishing in the community. They spoke about their love for their pastor and about the growing youth group. Then someone mentioned a phrase I hear often as a positive descriptor of a church community, “We’re just a wonderful family.”
Now if you’ve read Castings much over the last few years you are bound to have hit upon my distaste for this label for the church. While I understand completely and very much value close relationships and the love we share in the body of Christ, “family” is far too exclusive a word to me for the Church. We need to constantly be looking for ways to welcome people in, we need to constantly be going out to offer Christ in the marketplace, neither of these are a function of a family. So in response to my SPRC friends’ “family” descriptor I gently shared my feelings about this picture of the church. Then another member of the team caught me off guard when she said, “So then what is a good image for the Church?” I thought instinctively of some of the Biblical images which are certainly appropriate. But I was sure she knew those and as fitting as they are, they sometimes become a bit worn. Our meeting was nearly over and we had to move into the Church Conference so I promised her I would think about it and give her an answer before I left. But as I got into the Conference I forgot and didn’t think of it again until I was on the way home.
And now I have been thinking about it ever since! At some point in just about every day I have thought to myself, “I need to get Pat an answer.” But what I have discovered is it’s much more difficult than I imagined. The best image I have come up with to illustrate my understanding of the Church as a welcoming, intentionally outwardly focused community is that of a fine restaurant. Here’s why.
A fine restaurant has a staff, (a congregation), that seeks to offer a great product for those who come. The staff (congregation) constantly focuses on how they can better serve those who come and reach those who haven’t yet discovered the savory dishes they offer. While one hopes they enjoy working together and have friendships and a team spirit as they strive to create the most wonderful dishes they possibly can, the purpose and focus is always to offer that food to the “guest.” The staff are excited about what they are offering and they are constantly looking for ways to invite the next person in. How strange it would be for that restaurant to have the chef create all these wonderful meals and have the staff just eat the food themselves. That’s not why they exist. And likewise they constantly pay attention to the food that is meeting the needs of the guests. How foolish it would be to keep a menu that nobody liked except the chef and the staff. Without guests the restaurant would close pretty fast.
Now this certainly isn’t the only image for the church or even the best one. It lacks a number of important pieces, but in relationship to that “family” image I like it. And I offer it because this component of the church is so vital and too often missing in a number of places. I hope that helps a little bit Pat!