This is an excerpt of Chapter One from Ben Connelly’s newest book A Field Guide for Genuine Community, © Moody Publishers, 2021. Get your copy here or wherever you buy books.
Throughout over twenty years of helping lead local churches, I have talked with new believers who read the Bible and see God offer a spiritual family to replace the nuclear family that rejected them for their newfound faith . . . but who are let down by the surface-level relationships they actually experience when they find a church. I have also talked to people who do not follow Jesus and who are pushed further from the faith by seeing how Christians interact with each other—both publicly and online, and privately and in apartment complexes. And I have talked to many Christians who read the Bible, see how God’s people interact in its pages, and yearn for that type of committed connection. Then they walk into church gatherings, face a stage, sing some songs and maybe respond together to a liturgical reading, and then hear a sermon before going home. Some walk into a class or group, where a leader asks prescribed questions about the sermon they all heard. They pray together and share some small talk before class is dismissed, or one couple needs to get their kids to bed and the communal exodus begins.
Time and time again, I’ve heard Christians ask, “Isn’t there more?” Many people’s experience of God’s Church does not match its description in the Bible. They long to be deeply known; they yearn to share their gifts and passions to serve others. They want to “speak the truth in love” to help others “grow up in every way into [Christ] who is the head” (Eph. 4:15)—and to have others speak truth in love to them, to help themselves grow. They wonder if that kind of life together is even possible.
This book gives a resounding “YES!” to those questions. Over the course of five weeks, we will see what the Bible says about God’s people together. I will share examples from my own church and experiences from across the globe, of believers trying to live as a true, spiritual family in Christ. Through daily readings, a little practice, and weekly group discussion, everyday Christians can recover the vital (and accessible) depth of relationship in which God designed His people to live out their lives of dependence and obedience. Truly a “field guide,” my hope is to walk with you on a journey that involves risk, vulnerability, and honesty. Over the coming days, together we will deconstruct our individualistic and experiential views and leave the façade of community. As we do, God willing, we will end our trek in a new destination, experiencing the glorious mountain sunrise of something more real and biblical: life together as the spiritual family of God.
We Are A Spiritual Family
Just like we can interpret the term “community” through our experiential lenses, I want to recognize from the offset that we can do the same with the word “family,” which is a loaded and broken term for many readers. I want to be deeply sensitive in this. I believe that the all-too-common brokenness in families today is a result of spiritual warfare, as Satan consistently destroys the closest relationships people are called to, and thus downplays the spiritual imagery of God and His people that could otherwise be reflected in those actual relationships.
“Family” is hard. But if we look at the images God uses for His people in the New Testament, we see that He refers to the Church as His body, as a temple or spiritual structure in which God the Spirit dwells, and as a field. But by far the overarching metaphor for the Church is one of family.
Over and over, God uses different terms to describe His people in familial images:
The Church (together) is the Bride of Christ: Jesus died for a people, forgave the sins of a people, and is King of that people. He is the husband of His Church, not the spiritual spouse of individual persons.
Women and men who follow Jesus are daughters and sons together of God: God is our Father, and each of His people have been adopted into His family, as co-heirs of all His glorious promises through Christ.
Women and men are sisters and brothers together in Christ: Jesus is our shared big brother, the firstborn of His followers; every Christian’s primary relationship to others is “spiritual siblinghood.”
The Church (together) is the household of God: As I taught the elementary kids in our church family recently, a household is different than a house. The church is not a physical building; it is rather what the “house holds”: houses most often hold a literal family, and in a spiritual sense, we are a family of God’s people.
God designed His people to be a true, spiritual family. But if your final takeaway is that you should rename your “small group” as “spiritual family,” I’ve done a terrible job. (In fact, I’ll tell you a secret: I don’t love the term that God’s people are a “close spiritual family.” But it is the best term to capture our goal, to capture a church’s life together.) Rather than outward semantics or the name of a church program, the goal of our journey is more about inward beliefs and a heart posture that overflows into our relationships with other followers of Jesus.
This is an excerpt of Chapter 1 from Ben Connelly’s newest book A Field Guide for Genuine Community, © Moody Publishers, 2021. Get your copy here or wherever you buy books.
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