My wife and I have been married for 11 years now, and have an 8 year old (Samuel), a 6 year old (Hope), a 4 year old (Jeremiah), a 2 year old (Joanna), and a baby boy due in February. This is a recipe for joyful chaos, especially when you toss into the mix hundreds of people visiting your two-bedroom home each year. We are located in a college town of 20,000 people – with an infamous party scene – all packed within one square mile. This is Isla Vista and this is our promised land.
My wife and I have been pastoring a church in this town for over a decade. It is mostly comprised of people under the age of thirty. Needless to say, we’ve learned a lot about this generation and what it’s looking for. We have seen that the younger generation is hungry for family, community, and life together. Young people will spend hours upon hours on social media platforms with the hopes of making and strengthening connections.
I am thankful Scripture makes it clear that in relationship with God and other believers we can find the connection we long for and true joy in life (1 John 1:1-3). A month after my wife and I had our first child, God moved us into a house to serve in the role of house Dad and Mom of about twenty five people who were part of our church. We had no idea what we were really signing up for. Jehovah Sneaky had kindly romanticized the idea to both of us. However, it turned out to be the school of learning to genuinely love others and consider them more important than ourselves. I can’t say I did this joyfully all the time, though I can say that God changed my value system. He changed it to see that sacrificial love – serving others, listening, and being present for people – was what made covenantal community work. He taught me about church being a family you belong to and not just a place you go to.
As I was learning that church should look like a family, I quickly realized we couldn’t talk about the importance of church being a family unless we loved others and truly treated them like family. I once had a mentor tell me if love doesn’t work at home, don’t export it. His blunt honesty revealed to me the importance of learning to love those closest to us well. The world doesn’t need or want a love that can only work from a distance. My wife and I had to learn this the joyfully hard way. Through our experiences of community living, pastoring, having children, doing a ministry like Jesus Burgers, and letting others daily see our lives, we discovered that love must be a lot more than nice words we say. Love must look like something. We needed to become the message we preached instead of just talking about why we “should love one another” (2 Corinthians 3:2). Jesus told us the world would know we followed Him by our love for one another. God wants to form more covenantal families, places where His children are committed to one another, and ultimately, to Him. I think many churches are tempted to measure success by money and church attendance. God, however, measures it by love (John 15).
For me and my wife, it took a church family to discover the truth that we need others to grow up in Christ, to learn from, and to extend the Kingdom of God with. God’s desire for family is hidden in each of us. It is through being a part of a covenantal church family that He teaches us both how to receive love and give love. We can’t just go to church once a week and have facebook relationships with a bunch of other believers. We are called to be known and really know other believers in Christ. I believe the day is coming when the world will consider the church to be a sign and a wonder because of our great love for Jesus and one another.