Proximity, Sprawl, and Being Joyfully Inconvenienced by Your Church

In my posts on proximity and sprawl (here and here), I argued that living close to your church is important. In fact, I believe that, ordinarily, one of the most impactful ways to love your fellow church members, to “consider others higher than yourselves,” and to “look to the interests of others,” is by seeking to live geographically close to your church.

Of course, one of the dangers of being so close to your church is that convenience could breed complacency. For those who live close to their church and misuse that proximity, and for those who currently live a distance from the church, here’s an encouraging blog on why being inconvenienced for your church is actually an opportunity for your faithfulness and joy to shine.

…Those who are hungry for Christ consider it their joy to be inconvenienced for the sake of His church.

Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to the way many people treat the church today. Countless multitudes attend church regularly, but view it as a commodity—a conveniently located provider of spiritual goods and services for which they make no real sacrifice…

Read the rest of the article here.

On Ball Becoming Baal

In two previous posts, we discussed how parents are often teaching our children to have the wrong priorities. In fact, this is sometimes because many adult believers have confused priorities as well. One of the common culprits is the role of sports in the life of the family. I recently read this article from For the Church, and thought it was worth sharing as a follow-up to that discussion.

Like “athlete’s foot” on the hygienically-challenged teenager, sports has taken over more and more of the life of believers. Almost overnight we have awakened to the sad fact that, in many communities, sports has even usurped the hours believers meet on the Lord’s Day. All too often members are saying to church leaders, “We’ll be gone next Sunday because of the soccer tournament.” In turn, leaders are supposed to acquiesce humbly. After all, we can’t afford to appear “legalistic;” everyone knows that the greatest crime a church can commit is to demand something of someone.

The author concludes with three principles that are well-worth implementing in your own family life. Read the rest of the article here.

Theology of the Household

As a follow up to the topics discussed in the series on family, church, and priorities (find the series here), and for a more fully developed understanding of the household economy as discussed here—as an organic economy rather than a collective of fragmented individuals (more on that to come)—I definitely recommend listening to this video in which Alastair Roberts discusses the biblical teaching on family and household.

Prioritizing Family Over Ministry

Modern churchgoers have some messed up priorities. That’s my thesis. Sometimes we have no conscious priorities; sometimes we feel there is no flexibility in priorities where there should be; sometimes we’ve just never considered the fact that our priorities may be dangerously disordered. But thinking through what our priorities should be—and then consistently acting on it—can be very difficult.

In a recent series, we’ve been discussing the importance of the local church, the priority we place on it, and the appalling dismissal of the local church that is rampant in modern Christianity (under the guise of attending to the pressures and needs of modern life).

Maybe people could devote more time to their church family in the 1850’s, but we have more pressing matters at hand. I do love the church, I’m just so busy! I don’t have time! You don’t understand how busy my family is!

My main point? I just don’t buy it. People make time for what is most important to them. I think we simply have grossly misunderstood the value and import of the local church, and have given in to the habits, values, and worldview of the secular culture. Anyway, you can read those posts here, here, and here.

A follow-up objection to my general emphasis of the local church might be: What about putting my family first? We’re always told to do that.

Indeed we are… So I’m going to do some thought exercises here on the issue of prioritizing church over family, or family over church.

Church or Family?

First of all, it concerns me that we automatically, as a matter of axiomatic self-evidential fact, assume that us (Christians) investing in and prioritizing our family looks the same as when the world does that.

We’re often told that our priorities ought to go like this:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Ministry
  4. Others

Or some variation of the above… Another way to word that would be,

  1. God
  2. My children
  3. God’s children
  4. Others

Do we get that from Scripture?

I’d like to challenge that. And I do so cautiously and conservatively, because I care a great deal about the natural family; yet I think even in our attempt to prioritize the family, we often do it a great disservice.

A better, but I think still insufficient, priority tier structure would be something like this:

  1. God and his family
  2. My family
  3. Others

Jim Daly talks about this priority hierarchy in this article. It’s encouraging, and worth the read. But I think we still need a little work on our priority pyramid.

I think that trying to conceptualize our priorities and responsibilities in chart or hierarchy form may inevitably have inherent weaknesses at various points. Also, I’m horrible with charts, so I couldn’t quite get something I’m happy with. But, with that caveat, I would recommend thinking about it a little more like this:

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 5.06.39 PM

Yes, it’s more complicated… quite so. But I think this helps in a couple of important ways. First, in this way, Christ is above all and defines all. When we become believers, our identity changes. Who we are in Christ shapes and defines everything about how we live in every facet of life.

Secondly, I don’t know that trying to put church or family, or God’s family or my family, or ministry or family, in a specific order is useful. There will always be tension, and there will always be conflicts at times. Within the overarching umbrella of our identity and commitment to Christ, we have certain responsibilities that we have to do the hard work of balancing. Christ has called us to be committed to our assembling with and encouraging the church community, raising and discipling our own family, and evangelizing the lost.

And yep, there’s tension and difficulty in trying to balance those. Having a hierarchy that tells me, well, whenever two seem to be in conflict at any given point, [this one] or [that one] must win out at every point, I think is less than helpful. Trying to put that tension to rest with a simple order of categorical priorities is problematic. We may need to attend to one or the other more urgently at times, and this takes wisdom, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes much sweat and tears.

Within the various spheres of responsibility that we have, however, I think we can identify from Scripture certain levels of priority given to certain functions within each domain.

For example, within our church family, our responsibilities include assembling together regularly for worship (Heb 10:25), encouraging one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), and fencing the community—meaning being responsible for who is affirmed and who is expelled from the fellowship through membership and discipline (Matt 18; 1 Cor 5; Gal 1). Beyond those responsibilities, we are blessed to have various ministry opportunities available by which we can serve in different ways as we are led, as we are able, as time allows. But the clear hierarchy here is that the various ministries we can voluntarily commit to are subordinate to our scriptural responsibilities to assemble and disciple.

Within the sphere of the household, our main responsibilities are to our spouse, and to our children (1 Tim 5:8). Our relationship to our spouse is, in fact, primary, and children secondary. Our responsibilities to our children are, first and foremost, to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). If, and only if, we are properly instructing our children in their knowledge of the Lord, and discipling them to love and obey Him fully, we then have liberty to involve them and encourage them in various recreational activities. But recreation is clearly subordinate to our responsibility to disciple and discipline our children to develop godly and biblical beliefs, morals, and affections. I think this is the case both within the sphere of the church and within the home; and the current tendency of parents to outsource the discipleship of their children to the church is perhaps one of the leading reasons that children sniff out the hypocrisy of parents who say Christ is important, but don’t consistently live Christocentric lives.

In our relationship to others (those outside our local church) we have the responsibility to encourage, pray for, and support other believers, and to share the good news with unbelievers. Anything beyond that is subordinate to those responsibilities.

One clear implication of this structure is that it shows the deficiency of trying to put church or family above one another. Scripture clearly calls us to be devoted to our church family; and Scripture clearly calls us to provide and care for our physical family. The hard work of balancing those responsibilities is just that—hard work. It takes discipline, wisdom, and prayer—and leaning on the Holy Spirit and His church for guidance and aid in all of it.

It should be clear from this chart that our commitment to our local church takes priority over our children’s recreation. Not only that, but our responsibilities to our local church actually have priority over our relationships to believers outside our own church as well. And that’s an important principle that we’ve largely forgotten.

I’m not entirely happy with the chart. But the bottom line is this: I don’t like trying to simplify our priorities as God, then Family, then Ministry… or God, then Ministry, then Family… or even as God-and-His-Family, then Our Family, then Others. The fact of the matter is that our identity in Christ shapes and defines everything about every facet of our life, and Christ calls us to minister to both our church family, and our own family. At times there will be perceived tension, at times we will need to make the decision to put God’s family above our own, and at times we will have to radically alter our picture of what we think fulfilling our responsibilities to our family looks like. Why can’t you invest in your family by spending time with them serving the church together? Do you think that perhaps that may in fact be one of the best ways to teach your children (and yourself) the importance of serving God?

Why do we think that ministering to, discipling, and investing in our families will look the same for us as it does for the world?

Christ calls us—and our families—to live radically Christocentric lives. And that translates immediately into living church-centric lives; because those who love Christ, will love His church (2 John 1:1).






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Proximity and Sprawl: redux

In his book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, Jonathan Leeman describes eight ways Christians ought to submit to their local churches. The second of those is completely in line with the articles I discussed in my post on proximity, sprawl, and the importance of living close to your community. Leeman says,

If you can, ‘consider others better than yourselves’ and ‘look to the interests of others’ by living geographically close to the church. When a person lives within walking distance of a church or clumps of members, it’s easier to invite people to one’s house for dinner, to watch one another’s children while running errands, to pick up bread or milk at the store for one another. In other words, it’s just plain easier to integrate daily life when there is relative—even walkable—geographic proximity.

When considering what home to buy or apartment to rent, Christians do well to ask some of the same questions that non-Christians ask (How much does it cost? Are there good schools nearby?). But Christians also do well to ask additional questions like these:

  • Will the mortgage or rent payment allow for generosity to others?
  • Will it give other church members quick access to me for discipleship and hospitality?

Must a Christian move close to other members of his or her church? No, the Bible doesn’t command this. But it’s one concrete way to love your church.

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Raising Children Regarding Church

Related to the ideas in the articles I shared on proximity, sprawl, and permanence (that we ought to give our local church priority in our geographical decisions and commitments), is the idea that we ought to be giving our local church community the priority in our time commitments.

Religious Affections has a good introductory article on this here—Does Your Schedule Show a Commitment to God’s People?

Tim Challies also has a good article about prioritizing your church in general here.

I think we need to seriously consider the time we commit to our local church. One of the areas this has become a significant problem is prioritizing our kids’ extra-curricular activities over our local church.

This article has a good summary of a discussion with Carl Trueman explaining that “The church is losing its young people because the parents never taught their children that it was important.”

And when Trueman says “taught,” he doesn’t mean parents never said church was important. He means that we teach our children every day, with every decision we make, by what we give our time to, because that demonstrates our priorities more than our words do.

If the sun shines out and their friends are going to the beach, do you decide to skip church and go to the beach? In which case, you send signals to your children that it is not important.

The article then has an excellent further discussion of the topic as well:

Now we know that artificially taking your kids to church neither bestows salvation nor guarantees it. God is obviously not honored by external religious acts without heart worship. This type of legalism is not the subject of this discussion. This is about parenting and the weight of the responsibility behind how they prioritize their time and lifestyle choices for their families…

When television, sports, school, hobbies even family itself are elevated to a place of idolatry and replace the vital Christian responsibilities, then we tell our children that Christ is secondary to all these things. We tell our children that it is not necessary to take up your cross and die to yourself daily in order to follow Christ. We tell them that you only have to live for Christ when it’s convenient for you. We tell them it is okay to sacrifice time with your all-satisfying Savior if something “more fun” or “more important” comes along…

The issue is touched on with similar insights here as well—Why Are Kids Leaving the Church?

The tendency to miss the regular meeting of the church in order to make sure your kids make a sports practice or game, for example, is becoming a very real problem—and a problem I think it is. The Babylon Bee even picked up on the trend in evangelicalism to skip out on church whenever it seems convenient, and nails the implications on the head—read their fun, satirical, but heartbreakingly accurate jab here.

I imagine we’ll hear objections such as:

“But how could I keep my kid from being involved in something good like sports?”

Sure, sports can be a great thing. But better than worship, discipleship, and instruction in the context of the local church?—see 1 Timothy 4:8. Also, it’s entirely possible to find a way to do both sports and church; it’s just a matter of priorities. Okay, maybe not the sport you’d most like to play, but again, it’s just a matter of priorities. And even if there’s no way to reconcile the two—again, it’s just a matter of priorities.

“But it builds character!” “It teaches them discipline!” “I’m putting value on/investing in my family!”

Really… More than local church discipleship? More than regular, weekly instruction and corporate worship—with no off-seasons? More than you would by consistently training them to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength? Any excuses we give just don’t stick.

Even more problematically, the rising habit of skipping out on one’s church commitments in order to fulfill sports “obligations” is evidence of an entirely upside-down value system. We’re choosing to get our kids involved in a voluntary, recreational activity, and then skipping opportunities to assemble together with our local church—which is not simply a voluntary association—in the name of teaching our kids discipline and fulfilling commitments? I don’t think so.

We’re teaching our children to have the wrong priorities. [tweet this]

On that note, Mary Kassian has recently weighed in graciously on the issue of balancing sports and church here—Spring Sports and Sunday Church.

But it’s not only about sports (that’s just probably the most common example). It could be a club, it could be doing something with friends, it could be a job your teen loves (it could also be the money they love, and that motivates them to skip church in order to work more, at which point you have another problem). It doesn’t matter what the alternative opportunity might be. As a parent, and especially fathers, it is your responsibility to establish your family’s priorites.

In this article entitled Should You Force Your Kids to Go to Church?, the author explains that parents usually don’t have a problem establishing their family’s priorities in other areas, and we shouldn’t feel afraid to establish church commitment as a norm either.

By classifying church attendance as a law and not a freedom, we are making a statement that God’s priority is a core value in our home. Parents generally don’t care whether a child wants an education or not in determining that going to school is a household “law”; likewise, parents shouldn’t care whether a child is interested in faith or not in determining that going to church is a “law”. Christian parents should not feel church is any different than any other parental choice when declaring, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

The article does go on to explain that having our children come begrudgingly to church is not our ultimate goal, and we ought to ask why our children do not want to come to church. The article looks at that question as well. It’s worth the read.

The bottom line is: parents, you are setting the tone for what your family prioritizes. Don’t be shocked when your teen graduates and no longer attends church if you allowed your kids (or your aspirations for them) to sideline your Christian duty to “not forsake the assembling together” of the church (Hebrews 10:25)—you taught them that commitment to the local church is not that important.

Lastly, just a couple of books I would recommend for you to continue growing in this area include:

The Home Team: God’s Game Plan for the Family by Clint Archer

Family-Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham

Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes by Voddie Baucham

Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing by Doug Wilson

Praise Her in the Gates: The Calling of Christian Motherhood by Nancy Wilson

Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants by Doug Wilson







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