There are two reasons people struggle to envision church as a missional family. First, the natural family at home predominates our understanding of family so we assume that the home is the only kind of family that we target in our ministry discussions.
The second reason we struggle to understand the family nature of the church is scale. It is difficult to really understand and live family when hundreds of other people are involved. There is no way to be familiar with each individual in a typical church, so it is a far-fetched idea to believe that the church is a family. Today, I want to address how churches can develop a family model of ministry by overcoming the scale problem.
The answer is that the church cannot be a family on a macro-scale until it is developing micro-scale familial relationships.
Last summer my family and I were doing the college visit tour. As we drove to Chicago, somewhere in Indiana we got hungry. The small town that we drove into had one place to eat. It happened to be an Austrian café. It was crowded, but we were hungry and interested in the German heritage.
As we ate, we noticed that most tables were typical of a restaurant, seating 4 people or so. However, on the other side of the dining area there was a large table. When we arrived we noticed that all the other tables were in use, but this one was empty. Slowly, it began to fill up. As we sat there I noticed a sign above the table, “Stammtisch.” My daughter has taken 4 years of high-school German so I asked her what it meant. She broke it down. “Stamm” means something like family. “Tisch” means table.
In the crowded restaurant there was a place for the family to meet each evening. As we experienced the gathering of people, it seemed that those invited to the Stammtisch were family members and close friends. The members of the Stammtisch enjoyed one another and they seemed to care for one another. They were diverse in age…even children sat at the table. They interacted as a family would.
Many churches have small groups. Some work better than others for forming the family model of ministry. When groups are formal and forced, they are not likely to develop the feel of the Stammtisch. When the focus is on what the group needs to get done, even when the task is community, it will feel forced, and relationship will be shallow and easily broken when the task is finished.
We need to encourage and model for our churches groups of people that form naturally, and have a common meeting place. These meetings shouldn’t be closed to outsiders, but joining the Stammtisch should be based on purposeful invitation of the members. Pastors or elders cannot create a Stammtisch for others. They can only create their own table.
This is probably making some people uncomfortable since the seeker movement with its priority on reaching those from outside our body has taught us the danger of cliques as closed groups. Cliques are closed groups, and usually formed based on conformity to the group and the acquiescence from the group’s leaders. On the other hand, the family table is formed on a need for community in diversity. A clique requires members to earn their way in based on their ability to give to the group and to be like the group. A family table invites people in based on the new comer’s need for community.
If you want a family model for your church, start by forming a family table—a Stammtisch—that is based on welcoming a diverse tribe of people that shares care and concern for one another. Let that group be known to the bigger body of the church, not as a matter of pride, but as a matter of example. Encourage other leaders to form a Stammtisch of their own so the practice spreads across the church. Start micro with the goal of moving macro.