Don’t Just Start a Church; Establish a Family - Saturate
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Don’t Just Start a Church; Establish a Family

The gospel makes us family.

By July 20, 2017 One Comment


Too often, we seek to establish infrastructure (our organization, church, etc.) first before actually living on mission in our context.

Early in the life of Blueprint I watched a YouTube documentary about gangs. The documentary revealed why most young people join a gang—they feel alone and hopeless. Gangs give these lonely individuals a sense of family. Community is supposed to begin in your family and grow from there, but these gang members did not get this fundamental need met in their families.

Formation of gangs, and all the activities this entails, is not the only response to the need for belonging. Many times, even as believers, our insecurity leads us to similarly irrational choices. Our behavior may not be as overt as that of a gang member, but the results are similar—disappointment, heartache, and pain. The lack of being firmly rooted in the family of God causes us to make choices that harm us and place hardship on others. The church is God’s response to our need for belonging.

A challenge to establish a family

Too often, we seek to first establish infrastructure (our organization, church, etc.) before actually living on mission in our context. What we end up producing is an environment with a lot of overhead and little impact. Rather than becoming students of our context, we develop our organization and try to force our neighbors to fit into it. It has been said, if you plant a church you are not guaranteed to make disciples, but if you make disciples the logical result is planting a church. Or, as I prefer to say, establishing a family.

The church is not like family; it is family.

When Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16–17).

Something of supreme significance is happening in these verses. Not only is God speaking—which is always significant—He is breaking four hundred years of silence. Matthew 3 emphasizes the revelation of God as family.

My wife and I adopted our two youngest sons. They were in three separate homes before they came to live with us. At eighteen months and three years, they had never belonged. They had been cared for and provided for, but they never belonged. In our journey to understand the nature of the Church we need to begin with identity rather than with activity. We did this for our boys. We established identity—what does it mean to be brother and son in the Lewis family? Establishing this identity, established belonging and ultimately family.

As brothers and sisters from diverse backgrounds, we often struggle to connect with one another. We have seen this play out at Blueprint many times. Members have voiced that they have tried to reach out to others to build community to no avail. They question whether they understand what it means to connect at a heart’s level with another person. Matthew gives the answer to this question.

When we consider the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3, we usually think of it in terms of apologetic and theological categories. I understand and wholeheartedly affirm that this passage is important for apologetic and theological purposes. But I’m afraid that by swinging for orthodoxy we miss that God is revealed as family. God is a Father, Jesus is His Son, and the Spirit affirms that bond of love. Are our churches faithful in expressing the reality that God is family? Our problem is semantics. We have to understand that we are not simply planting a church; we are establishing a family.

Operate as a family, not an orphanage

In Ephesians 1, the essence of the church’s identity is that of adopted children. God the Father chooses and adopts us, God the Son redeems and unites us, and God the Spirit guarantees and seals us. Operate as a family, not an orphanage. An orphanage is home to undernourished children and overworked caregivers. The kids do not share responsibility. Instead, the caregivers are responsible for the needs of everyone. On the contrary, in a family, every member contributes. A family is driven by responsibility. Family is a community that is responsible for one another and should be characterized by love and the fruit of the Spirit.

The Church is the family of God, redeemed by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear one another’s burdens and manifest His love to the world. The gospel makes us family. If we miss this principle, we will find ourselves going to church instead of being the Church.

Adapted from Dhati Lewis’ Among Wolves. The church is not like family; it is family. Check out the book to see how being family is not just another metaphor, but actually forms the identity of the local church.

Are you, your missional community, and your church operating as the family of God, not as orphans?

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Dhati Lewis

Author Dhati Lewis

Dhati Lewis is lead pastor and church planter of Blueprint Church and president of Send Network with the North American Mission Board. He is most passionate about making disciples, equipping urban leaders and loving his family. On any given day you might find Dhati coaching his kids in basketball or strategizing on a whiteboard. Dhati is married to his best friend, Angie, and they live in Atlanta, Georgia with their children and church family. He is the author of both the Bible studies and books, Among Wolves: Disciple-Making in the City and Advocates: The Narrow Path to Racial Reconciliation.

More posts by Dhati Lewis

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Avatar Jason says:

    I love this, thank you very much.

    We have a very broken people that God has called us to and we’ve been inviting folks into helping as much as they can, along the way.
    However, some folks have given push back about that being a “utilitarian” approach, although we have relationship all-throughout different areas of service.
    I’m curious how me might change our approach?


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