Thursday, July 24, 2008

family

What do you think of when you hear the word "family"?

What do we mean when we use the word "family" around Grace?

We received some thought-provoking feedback the other day from one of our beloved and involved singles who described feeling put off and left out by our promotion of the "Grace Family Campout." Having come to the campout in the past, he said he is not coming this year, because the event is "for families." He also went on to say something to the effect that singles are "second class citizens at Grace and at most churches".

It saddens me to hear all this...

It saddens me because this is obviously how this single feels. Its his reality. Even if every single at Grace doesn't feel this way, this one does.

It saddens me because this person misunderstands our heart and hope for the body of Christ at Grace.

When we use the term "family", we almost always, and especially when referring to the "Church Family Campout" use it in a dual sense. In one sense, the campout (and other events and programs we host) exists for the strengthening of the nuclear family. We believe "the nuclear family" is one of three God-ordained institutions along with the church and the state." As such, we believe we have a responsibility to do all we can to support, encourage and build up "families" especially in these days as we see the breakdown and redefinition of the traditional family. I want to be unapologetic in our commitment to family in this sense. I don't want to give away the term "family" because singles might feel put off in our use of it.

But there is a second sense intended when we use the term "family" and that's the idea of the "Church Family"." This second sense is definitely what we have in mind in the designation "Church Family Campout." Isn't it striking that the Bible repeatedly casts the church in "family" language? We are adopted into God's family as His sons. We are brothers and sisters of the household of God, our Father. The Bible intends that we belong to the one another like family, love one another and be committed to one another like brothers and sisters. We (singles, marrieds, families, young, old) are family! This is truly our hope and heart with the "Church Family Campout" and most of our other "family billed" events . . . that they would foster and facilitate the growth and building up of the church family.

Surely we can do better communicating these twin aims/intentions in our use of the word "family." I don't think they are mutually exclusive. We must pursue them both.

Together let's make sure we're welcoming and purposefully including all who enter or continue in the circle of Grace. No one left out. No one put off.

I welcome your thoughts and reflections . . .

Let love of the brethren continue. --Hebrews 13:1

6 comments:

missy grant said...

I haven't read the blog in quite awhile and felt led to this morning. I'm glad I did. Your post was fairly brief so I am not sure we have read all your thoughts on the issue, but let me point you towards a few things for you and the ministry/leadership staff to ponder.

Your comment, "It saddens me because this person misunderstands our heart and hope for the body of Christ at Grace", is part of the difficulty, Tim. The perception from that comment is that it is 'this person's' misunderstanding. I don't think they misunderstand. As you stated, it is their reality (and others at Grace). The assumption that it is someone else's misunderstanding belittles their experience and puts the responsibility in the wrong spot.

If Grace is a family, then this is a shared responsibility, which equates to leadership receiving the comment with a spirit of openess that there might be (and probably is) truth to what the person or persons have experienced and shared.

You are correct in your response to explain what family means at Grace and to not apologize for your commitment to it. Where I do think you and leadership need to take some admonishment is in the view of family that has been established at Grace and does it look as diverse as the people the Lord has brought to its community? The question needing to be asked is not are you misunderstood, but is what we are doing effective in reaching, teaching, and encouraging the body of Christ in its totality?

Singles are not the only ones who hold this view of Grace at the moment. This is a much bigger issue than welcoming and including. Grace has set a direction for ministry which in certain areas has been blessed. In doing so these 'family' decisions have not allowed for growth in certain areas of the body of Christ.

The real issue is, if we are a family - are there ministry opportunities to engage in from leadership to participation which involves all at Grace? Don't jump to a quick answer on that. When the response is "look at what we are doing at Grace (and laying out 'all the opportunities') then the question being asked is never addressed. The exercise is good - I think the Lord uses that to encourage and in this day and age, encouragement is needed. I do think it is a problem when it is the answer.

The answer is leadership at Grace has made a decision to minister in a particular direction. If your gifts of service, and heart of participation don't fit into that narrow funnel, you will feel left out.

The challenge to the body of Christ at Grace is to listen with an ear of expectancy and to 'do church' not build a church.

missy

Jeannett Gibson said...

Missy-

I don't disagree with your points, but I guess it would be interesting to hear a little more on your comment that "Singles are not the only ones who hold this view of Grace at the moment"...."the view of family that has been established at Grace and does it look as diverse as the people the Lord has brought to its community". What would that actually LOOK like? It's easy to say that something isn't working, but I don't know what that translates to in nuts and bolts, you know? I think that is the problem. Does that make sense?

As for the Family Campout, I'm surprised that this person felt out of the loop after having actually attended the campout...Andy and I have gone to the campout before having kids, and we always bring Ben, who is single and he's always had a lot of fun. But, like you said, that's this person's reality, and that is very sad. Did he have any specific examples of why it felt so exclusive? Or what could be done to make it work better for everyone?

Brian Wong said...

As someone who used to attend Grace, and the Grace College group, I have a few thoughts:

First, I'm not sure what age group this single falls into, but I think that makes a huge difference. Technically speaking, most people infant through college are single. But in a very real sense, they have a place in the church, whether it's their children's Sunday School, their Youth Group, or their College Group. I think singles past that age tend to feel progressively more excluded. Their peers begin to pair off, and so instead of the large group of singles they knew in high school or college, they become surrounded by couples--married or otherwise.

This, in and of itself, can be unintentionally exclusive. I can only imagine that it would not be fun to feel "left out" in a scenario like this. It's not a church "problem" per se, but a societal phenomenon.

Second, I think Missy is hitting on a bit of a semantic issue in her second paragraph, but if there is underlying truth to it in the actions and attitudes of the Leadership, then that needs to be addressed.

Finally, I do echo the perception that this particular single has of the Grace Family Campout. Admittedly, I was rarely ever in SLO during the summer to even consider attending the event, and I didn't ever hear any of the official church announcements that might have further clarified. But based on the information I had, I doubt I would have gone. My perception was always that this event was for "nuclear" families, not for the "church" family. I've seen the pictures in the bulletin, and it looked like there were a lot of families with few singles. Now, it could be argued that I missed something, but like your "thought-provoking" single, that was my perception.

Is irrevocable damage done? I don't think so. But it sounds like there is work to be done in ensuring that no group--singles, families, men, women, boys and girls, etc.-- feels like "second class citizens at Grace."

Anonymous said...

Tim,
It is true.
Sigle are left out at Grace. They have been for a long time. With a population were 45% of the people are sigle, Grace is missing an entire groupe.
So what are you plans.
or just explane it way?

Tim said...

Seemed to have touched a nerve with this post. . .

Missy, there's a lot there in your comment and perhpas, a lot underneath your comment. . . though I'm not sure exactly what. I'd love to get together and talk, if that would be helpful. Give me a call.

A couple of quick comments here:

1. I do think this person misunderstands our/my heart, but I don't agree that noting that belittles their experience. In fact, I acknowledged that their experience is their experience. Their experience is valid. Our hope and heart for Grace is something else.

2. You are correct in your assessment that our ministry staff has made decisions to direct our ministry in particular directions. As in any family, choices must be made about the ongoing stewardship of time, talents and treasure. While we are open to input, we also feel a responsibility to purposefully direct our ministry with focus before the face of God. Sometimes that means making difficult decisions among a range of "goods" for for what we, as leaders, believe is best. Its not easy, but we believe its necessary. In no family does everyone do whatever they please all the time.

And addressing ANON's question about specific singles ministry: We have been and are open. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to staff a single's ministry, but we are committed to promoting and supporting a group of people who want to spearhead some sort of singles ministry. The challenge has always been leadership. In my conversations with singles over the last 5 years, many, if not most, singles have been resistant to singles ministry, preferring instead to be integrated into the life of the church in other ways such as Growth Groups, ABFs and Women's Bible Study. But we are open to trying something new. ANON, come and talk with one of our staff and we can see where this goes.

Suzette said...

Even if a singles program is started I think finding ways to bring singles and families together would be great also.

I have really enjoyed the things I have participated in in the past at Grace that bring different groups together. Awhile back Herritage Builders got together at different times with other ABF's. We got to meet some different people and experience what they are up to. I also like the adopt a college student program.


I could see how someone could feel left out if they came to the camp out on thier own and did not know anyone. Maybe singles could get adopted by a family or two. We have a campsite and would be willing to share it with some one. We have an extra tent and sleeping bag too.

Also the people who seemed to have the most fun were the ones who walked around and stoped by all the camp sites to meet and greet. We will walk around with you and introduce you to the people we know and get to know the ones we haven't met before together.

It's not too late as the camp out is a few weeks away.