There’s a nice article at Christianity Today challenging the prevalent, ongoing “focus on the family” mentality of the American church. In it, Rebecca McLaughlin gives five reasons “Why I Don’t Sit with My Husband at Church” on Sunday mornings.
There’s one big reason: McLaughlin believes that congregations must be more open to showing hospitality to strangers who visit or to ministering to others in the congregation who might have needs. This may mean separating from our spouses or children while at church in order to have the freedom to serve others.
Here are her five reasons under that umbrella:
Outsiders should not be outsiders.
Every Sunday, my husband and I walk into church and see someone new sitting alone. If possible, we go and sit with them. If there are two people, we divide. It’s often awkward and uncomfortable but nonetheless worth it. Why? Because the gospel is a story of juxtaposition in community: Jesus sat with a Samaritan woman and asked her for a drink. Phillip got into the chariot with an Ethiopian eunuch. The early church ate together.
Our Sunday mornings do not require “having it together,” but they do require being together. Newcomers need us and we need them.
Family is more than immediate family.
…the Christian family is not a closed unit but rather part of a larger ecosystem. Community starts now.
Although being a healthy family sometimes requires drawing boundaries, we must be careful how we operate in community. If we close off in biological pods every Sunday, we leave out singles, newcomers, and others. If we open up, we experience a gospel gift—the body of Christ in all its fullness.
Your spouse is too much like you.
If our churches are in the messy gospel business of fostering family across differences, then it makes sense to sit with others unlike us.
McLaughlin specifically mentions sitting with people of other races and cultural backgrounds, as well as joining people from various socioeconomic situations.
Your marriage isn’t only for your benefit.
Marriage is a gift that we steward not just for ourselves and our children but also for the church. People in healthy marriages are outward-looking, spurring [others] on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).
We all need disillusionment with church.
Rebecca McLaughlin ends her article by reminding us that the church family itself is a community of the broken, who need each other to be available for mutual edification.
My hope is that, in the midst of our disillusionment with church, all of us—marrieds, singles, and kids—will grow in our sacrificial love for each other as we reach across our differences.
• • •
This piece resonates strongly with me.
Gail and I have always been partners in ministry, finding ways of reaching out to others when the church has gathered. We always viewed our relationship with each other and our children as part of a bigger web of relationships in which we were called to serve. We’ve depended on each other to allow the other a measure of independence so that we might be free to be available to those in need.
Even now, when we are no longer a pastoral couple in parish ministry, we actually attend different churches so that each of us can use our gifts in ministry. We attend and serve together when we’re able, but even then, it is not unusual that we find ourselves separately seeking out people who may need companionship or conversation.
And… I actually don’t think this is all that extraordinary in church communities. But it’s not the standard rhetoric, and I’m grateful that Rebecca McLaughlin had the courage to challenge us to see the bigger family perspective.