If you take the time to ask a parent to list out all the different roles they fill in their house, you’d better be sure that you have some time to spare. A list like this would include everything from caregiver to garbage collector, from chef to taxi driver, from counselor to coach and all sorts of roles in-between. If a person were to attempt to receive higher education to be employed in all of the different jobs that parents fill, it would take at least a couple lifetimes to get the necessary education and then a few more lifetimes to pay off the student loans. Parenting is as multi-faceted of a responsibility as it gets, yet we really receive very little training on it other than the modeling of how we were raised ourselves. This leads to parents who are constantly running around between these different roles, while at the same time wondering if anything they are doing is good or if it will last with their kids.
How does the church fit into this picture? Behind this question lies another that really gets to the heart of the matter: Can church even fit into this picture? Is there any room left that we can squeeze ourselves in to fit into the lives of our families? Even though we may not want to put it this plainly, this is the question that too often pervades our thinking as church workers. It’s a question that comes out of despair, frustration, and a lost identity of what the church has to offer.
Let’s first look at what families don’t have room or time for. They don’t have time for yet another purely social outing or gathering. They don’t have room for another concert or show. They don’t have room to be a crowd-control chaperone on yet another trip or event. The vast majority of today’s families already have a schedule filled with all those types of things, and they aren’t chomping at the bit to add more of the same.
Is the solution found in the church simply outperforming those other activities? Here’s what happens when we try this. We see churches that advertise their relationships as “authentic” and “accepting”, even though there are many times when, in order to be authentic, you can’t accept what someone is doing. We sell worship as an emotional and entertaining experience all about us, when really people want a chance to get outside of themselves and sing about something greater than their story. We put the focus on the individual’s relationship with Christ to appeal to the cultural sense of individualism, and then are befuddled when they don’t give money to support a corporate church system and don’t want to use their spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ. The really sad thing is that a scan of churches across the country will reveal that this is where so much of our effort and ingenuity is going. We’re trying to outperform the culture at being culture in an effort to have church outrank the other activities and roles that today’s families have.
The focus should not be on the church trying to compete with the rest of the family schedule in order to win a few time slots a week, month or year. Instead, we need to focus on what the church has to offer that no one else can: Christ. We can and should seek excellence in all that we do, but that’s ultimately not how we reach out to people as the church. The greatest thing we have to offer today’s families is the same thing that God’s church has offered from Genesis on. What separates us is not a style of worship, but a God from whose love nothing can separate us (Romans 8:38-39). What sets us apart is not an active small group program, but a God who sets us apart in Baptism and adopts us as members of His family (Isaiah 43:1, Ephesians 1:5) . What “sells” the church is not a certain atmosphere on Sunday mornings, but that the very Son of God bought us at the price of His own life (1 Peter 1:18-19).
So to answer the big question, do today’s families have room for church? Absolutely, if they know what the church is actually about. Families don’t need another event to add to the calendar, they need an overarching purpose for all of those things on their calendar (Matthew 28:19-20). Parents are constantly worried and anxious about their kids and their lives. They need a God who gives peace through prayer and promises to always be with us (Philippians 4:6-7, Hebrews 13:5). Every household, whether it’s “broken” by divorce or not, is broken by sin and is in desperate need of forgiveness (Romans 3:23-24). The list can go on and on, but it is really summarized in this: our families need Jesus. Plain and simple. And that’s something that no other organization, activity, entertainment or system can offer. Can families “fit” church in? I don’t think they can afford not to. It’s not something you work on simply fitting in, but it’s something you build your life, house and family around. In whatever area of ministry that you are involved in, let God’s gifts be the focus and the highlight, because there is truly nothing else around that can compare. That’s what our families need, so use your gifts to share that with them.