I remember back in seminary during a class, Gordon MacDonald, a pastor of a local mega church, saying that the family takes priority over the church. That was groundbreaking at the time. Previously there had always been the thought especially for pastors that the church, i.e. your calling, comes first and you sacrifice all for the church. Why? Because God is to come first in our lives and the pastor is to be an example of that value. MacDonald was quick to point out the fruit of that approach – brokenness. Lonely wives and unbelieving children scattered across the landscape, because Dad was so busy giving to others there was nothing left for home. He had no time; he had no energy. Following God means ministering to your family first. What is true for the pastor can also be true for the church member; is the whole family so busy with church, that they don’t have time for each other? So the message loud and clear was and I think still is: family first, church second.
With that in the background I recently watched, in the Day Seven group I help lead, a teaching video from Pure Passion, a ministry like Day Seven, dedicated to those in sexual addictions of some sort. Dr. John Townsend of the Boundaries book fame was speaking about how to heal from any kind of sexual brokenness. He put it quite differently. He said, “The first family, (our family of origin) is not as important as our second family (the church). The second family trumps the first.”
Immediately there was a disconnect for me. MacDonald and Townsend, both best-selling authors in the evangelical camp were stating opposite priorities.
But if you think more deeply they are really complimentary and are speaking from different perspectives. Townsend was saying because of the brokenness in the family, we need a place where we can be genuinely loved with all our problems and addictions honestly revealed and though they are not accepted, we as God’s beloved are. He gives the example in a support group of addicts, where one day one fellow opens up and says “I have been acting out for weeks and lying to you all about it. Will you forgive me?” The response from the rest of the group was amazing and full of grace. “I understand.” “I appreciate your honesty.” “I forgive you.” And even a “you know what? I have not been honest either. Will you forgive me?” That’s powerful!
So basically we need the church to be a place where we can heal and take that back to our families so they can be healing as well.
I remember a time that was a classic example for me. I was ministering to college students, and the rumor was that one couple was getting married because they were pregnant. I went and talked to them and they hesitantly admitted it was true. We talked it through offering advice and forgiveness and I suggested that to avoid gossip, they may want to openly admit to the whole fellowship what had happened. They thought about it for a few days and decided to do just that. So one night at the very end of the fellowship meeting, they came to the front and looking down, lips quivering, they confessed their sin to all. The response was amazing! One girl from the back came running forward saying “we love you.” Others followed suit until the whole group was at the front hugging them one after another. A few months later many of that same group were gathered at the church as they said their vows together. A grace-filled start to a new family!
What a picture of what the church should be!