Little Churches

How do you define church?

Dictionary.com offers these top definitions of the word “church”:

1. a building for public Christian worship.
2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.
3. the whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.
4. any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a Christian denomination.
5. that part of the whole Christian body, or of a particular denomination,belonging to the same city, country, nation, etc.
6. a body of Christians worshiping in a particular building or constituting one congregation: She is a member of this church.
7. ecclesiastical organization, power, and affairs, as distinguished from the state.
Every one of those definitions falls short of the true meaning of what the Church is, and even all of them taken together still doesn’t measure up to it. Our English word “church” can be traced back to the Greek word kyriakos, which literally means “the Lord’s dwelling.” Where does God dwell? Paul writes in Eph 2:22 – “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” In other words, God dwells in his people.
Whenever you see the word “church” in Scripture, we’re actually translating a different Greek word, ecclesia. This word can either mean “a called out people” or “a gathering.” Words like “assembly” and “congregation” work as well. But the most important point about this word is that Scripture never uses it to refer to an organization, a hierarchy, a building, or a function or event. It refers to people – people called out of the world gathered together in the name of Jesus.
Jesus said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” While the Church can be all the people of God in all the world, it is also present where two or more people come together in the name of Jesus, united by their saving faith in him.
Have you ever thought of your family as a church? It fits the definition. If you are a Christian parent seeking to raise your children as disciples of Jesus, you should know that your family is a little church all on its own. You might not be called by a larger congregation into public ministry, yet you have a responsibility to shepherd – to pastor – your family. This is especially true of fathers, to whom God has given the role of leadership in the family, but it’s also true of mothers (all the more when the father is not present or not a believer), grandparents, uncles and aunts.
As a Little Church, your family can do all the things a larger congregation, and the Church as a whole, does. Think about the main things you do at church:
  1. Worship: In corporate (large body) worship with your congregation, you sing, praise, pray, and hear the Word. At home, you can sing songs of praise and devotion to Jesus. You can lead your children in prayer, confessing sins and asking God for what you need. You can read the Bible to each other.
  2. Grow: In your congregation you have Bible studies, Sunday School, and other activities to help you grow in your faith and knowledge of Scripture. At home, you can study the Bible together, talking about its meaning, and read devotions that help to explain what Scripture says.
  3. Serve: In your congregation you have opportunities to give of your time, talents, and treasures to bring the Gospel to others and to help meet people’s needs. As a family, you can find ways to financially support someone you know who is struggling, or reach out to people with the Gospel, or do work to benefit someone who needs your help.

 

Really, the only difference between your local congregation and your family is size. So start looking at your family as a Little Church, and use some of these practical ideas to help you worship, grow, and serve:

  • Who is the “pastor” of your Little Church? If you have the nuclear family, God’s clearest call is to the dad. But not every family is the same. Determine who is the natural “head” of the household, bearing in mind the roles God has given us in Scripture. If there is no dad, then it’s mom. But maybe it’s Grandpa, or an adult son, or an uncle. That person should take responsibility to lead the family spiritually.
  • Set aside time for study of the Word and for prayer. Not sure where to start? Remember that the Word has power all on its own, so the simplest thing is just to open the Bible and read. There are also many great devotion books, kids’ Bibles, and other resources for families. (see the bottom of this article for some links to some good resources)
  • Look for ways to serve. Sit down as a family and brainstorm the things you’re interested in and can do in your community. Try to come up with a family or an individual you know who needs your help. Look for a mission opportunity through your congregation. Find a way to serve together as a family, using the gifts God has given you.

 

Resources for growth:

  • The Story Bible – a beautifully illustrated Bible written toward kids, with questions for discussion about each story.
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible – a cute kids’ Bible aimed at helping children see Jesus in every story.
  • WELS.net Daily Devotions – a resource site from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod with daily devotions on many topics.
  • Focus on the Family – a conservative Christian organization aimed at helping families be spiritually strong, with lots of great devotional content
  • Seeds Family Worship – a site full of Scripture songs and devotional content designed for families
  • Mike Westendorf’s blog – the blog of Christian musician Mike Westendorf. Why his blog specifically? Because he’s the one who got me thinking about this topic a lot lately, and he has lots on his blog to encourage and get you thinking about how to grow your Little Church.

In Memory of God’s Servant

Grandpa 7

I want to tell you one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. His name was Elmer Steenbock, my grandfather. His story might sound similar to many of his generation – born and raised in the Midwest, fought and was wounded in WWII, married his highschool sweetheart, farmed for a time and then entered the ministry. After twenty five years as a parish pastor he retired to start a mission in eastern Russia, which he worked at over the next twenty years. He fathered seven children, and from them came twenty one grandchildren and twenty seven great-grandchildren. At the age of ninety, full of years, he passed away quietly in his sleep.

These are the facts of his biography, but they don’t tell you who he was. He was a man who knew full well his need for a Savior, who understood the forgiveness and grace he had received from God, and lived fully in the joy of that understanding. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I believe that Elmer had the as full a life as any man on earth can have.

I have a treasury overflowing with memories of time spent with him and his wife. Sitting on his lap as he drove the tractor around his hobby farm. Singing “Good morning to you” (to the tune of Happy Birthday) over and over again as my siblings and cousins came to the breakfast table, and many other Gospel songs. Helping him light he fire in the fireplace on a cold December evening. Getting scolded firmly for breaking a door latch inside his camper, but then later that same day being invited up to his lap while he read a devotion to the family.

Grandpa 2
Reading to his great-grandsons a book about pirates and potty training.

He had an abundant well of patient love for his grandchildren, a face inclined to smiling, and a pleasant laugh that he let loose freely. It was as natural as breathing for him to connect an event of the day or a news item to spiritual matters. He took his role of patriarch very seriously, always ready and eager to share a prayer or some thought about Scripture. He loved his ale, always had at least one or two cans in the evening, but never once did I see him drunk.

There was a year when I was young that we were selling our house to move to a newer one the next town over. Grandpa came and helped us paint the outside of the old house to help us make a good sale. I didn’t understand then what it meant for him to make that time commitment, but being in ministry now myself, I see now that it was no small thing. But this wasn’t an anomaly; I don’t know how many times over my childhood he and Grandma came to visit, but in my mind’s eye I can see his face smiling in the congregation during the Children’s Christmas program or year-end plays.

For being a pastor, when we visited he wasn’t busy over at church while the rest of the family spent time together. I remember him being around when we were there, and if I knew he went over to church, usually it was early in the morning before we’d get out of bed that I’d hear his truck pull out of the driveway. Yet, by breakfast time or soon after he’d be back.

I remember a conversation when I was teenager about one of my girlfriends. I’d been dating a Mormon girl, and I think he must have met her once or twice. I went down and visited Grandma and Grandpa, and sitting at the table at dinner he asked me about the relationship, how things were going, how the differences in beliefs were impacting the situation. He cared, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. That made it all the more precious when years later I was able to introduce him to the woman I now call my wife.

That particular trip, my wife and I were about to be married and we had just bought a car together – a ’93 Buick LeSabre. We drove it out to Washington to pick up some of my belongings and we decided to go down and visit my grandparents, especially since my mom’s mom had not met my bride-to-be yet. When we got to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, the first thing he talked about was how proud he was of me for buying that Buick, how safe and solid a car it was and how much I’d enjoy having it. “This is a good car,” he kept saying, patting it with his knuckles, his face beaming. After he finished talking about the car, he got a twinkle in his eye and said, “Say, are you a thirsty guy? I bet you’d like a beer, wouldn’t you?” It was the first time I’d visited his house after I came of age. We went inside, had ale and dinner, and then the four of us did devotion together.

A few years ago I was preparing for our annual Premarriage Seminar, and I called him and asked him what he would say is the most important lesson about marriage that he would want to communicate to young couples. He and Grandma had just celebrated sixty three years together. He said, “Let me get back to you on that.” Later that evening he sent me an email with a one page document on forgiveness. He said that if a husband and wife can remember daily that they are forgiven in Jesus, and that if they would show Christ-like forgiveness to each other every day, that there is no more sure recipe for a lifelong and happy marriage.

Grandpa 1

The last time I spoke to him on the phone was about a year ago. He’d had a stroke, and dementia was starting to show itself. But as I talked with him and Grandma, told them about my family and my ministry, he kept repeating things like, “If you just keep speaking the Gospel, that’s what counts,” and “Just keep raising those kids to know Jesus, that’s the only thing that really matters.”

There is no better summary for Elmer’s life than that. “Know Jesus. That’s the only thing that really matters.” That was the core of his life, and it was evident by the peace, joy, and love that flowed out of him. I owe so much of who I am to him and his influence.

He passed away this week. As I write these words, I’m on the way to his funeral. I already miss him so much. But I have taken to heart the lessons he taught in life, and I know I’ll see him again. I know he has gone home, and I will join him there someday.

Thank you, Grandpa, for living your life to God’s glory, and for teaching me to do the same. I hope and pray I can do it even half as well as you.

Let’s Start With a Question…

I often start any class I’m teaching with a question. It gets us thinking and talking.  I wrestled with how to start this blog, partly because I’ve always wondered if people really ever read the first post on a blog anyway.  I have occassionally, and usually I wish I hadn’t bothered.  It’s a little like going back and watching the first episode of an old sitcom; it’s alright, but you know by that point that there are better things to come.

However, there’s the OCD part of me that simply can’t punt this first post and just <insert random greeting and explanation about what I want to do with my blog>, so instead I’m going to ask a few questions:

  • What was the best piece of advice about marriage or parenting you ever got?
  • Where or how did you get that advice?
  • How has using that advice benefited your family?

Please share some thoughts in response to these questions in the comments area below.