I am not in vocational ministry. So it was weird to wake up at 4:30 Wednesday morning with the song Family Affair by Sly and the Family Stone ringing in my head, followed by the notion, “Hey, this would make a great fall sermon theme.” It was even weirder to be in the kitchen at 4:35 AM with a pen and scrap paper outlining the theme. And now, here we are writing about it. (If you’re not in full-time ministry, but write some of your own Bible studies, you could adapt this for a small group fall kickoff.)
The series slide can include a few seconds (audio only) of the song. (But don’t play the verse!) (Alternative: We Are Family by Sister Sledge.)
Week One: A Common History
We only know bits and pieces of our family history, and the average person reading this can’t do much going back more than four generations. Photography didn’t exist either, so we have little in the way of a snapshot of where we’ve come from. The best genealogists can do is give us lists of names or a sketch of a family tree.
Still, we have a common ancestry. Family gatherings consist of people we might never choose as friends, but you can’t pick your relatives. Sometimes families cut across socio-economic lines, and, through marriage, even ethnic lines. There is truly neither “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, rich nor poor;” but there is neither ‘young nor old, intellectually astute nor intellectually challenged.’ Families are a mix. But there is “one Lord and Father over all.”
Having developed that theme, you can then skew a bit and talk about adoption. (But being sensitive to people in your hearing for whom this is an issue.) God has adopted us into his family. An adopted son or daughter who fully integrates into the family takes on that identity of what it means to be part of the ________ family. In God’s family there are no secondary members because we’re all adopted. Lots of good stuff in Romans 8 and 9.
Week Two: Common Values
No matter where I travel, if I am among people of the family of God, we have a common set of things we hold to be important.
This section could go many different directions as we consider the “things that matter.” It could be an opportunity to present and review a local church’s statement of faith and discuss the propriety of Christ’s divinity in the incarnation and his atoning work, the authority of scripture, the basics of salvation, the anticipation of the second coming, and whatever 7-12 things your statement contains. (Video suggestion: The song Creed by Rich Mullins, though it runs 5.5 minutes.)
But then, this can move from the doctrine to the ethic; the Christian distinctives that play out against the backdrop of a broader society. (It would be better to focus on things like compassion and generosity than things with political overtones.) Concluding comments might include how we can work together on projects to change our world and witness the Good News.
Week Three: BFF – Best Family Forever — A Common Destiny
This message would look at our common destiny; the eternity that we will spend with each other; the idea that we are heading to a common place.
This also allows us to look at our joining with the “cloud of witnesses” described in scripture. What might it be like to walk alongside believers from the various centuries of both the First Testament and the Second Testament? Their experience of church life was far different from ours; we know they even regarded some scriptural passages in a different light.
It’s okay to ask questions here, too. Is our commitment level the same as the saints of old? Do we long for eternity? Do we anticipate spending eternity with that portion of the Body of Christ we are closest to?
This could also branch out into a study of what we believe about heaven vs. new earth. This is an area where many of us are still ‘unlearning’ what we were taught as children. It can also branch out into a discussion about the concept of eternity itself. (C. S. Lewis has some good material here about how we perceive time.)
Week Four: Families Eat Together –A Common Experience
It would be ideal to wrap this up on what would normally be a communion Sunday, and to share the significance of what it meant to enjoy table fellowship, to learn about the intimacy that still attributed in Eastern cultures to sharing a meal. This can be developed through reference to extra-Biblical sources, but also filled out with references to eating together such as Rev. 3:20, Jesus giving thanks and breaking bread with the two men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus eating at the home of Zacchaeus and/or the Pharisee’s house, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Much of this is covered in chapter two of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book, The Awakening of Hope which I reviewed here. The book deals with the features of monastic community, but there are ways we can borrow some of those concepts for our own 21st century lifestyle, in fact some of the chapters might even suggest alternatives for Week Two or Week Three if you chose not to go with those themes. (There are some great movie clips of dysfunctional family gatherings around the Christmas/Thanksgiving table that work well here as a contrast to what such meals should not look like.)
Better still would be to have communion in the context of a full meal, as it was in that upper room. (Would everybody stay for a potluck dinner after the service? Depends on your church.) The Salvation Army doesn’t practice communion, but their ‘Love Feast” is probably closer to the original than anything we do with thimble-sized juice and crouton-sized bread as a worship service postscript. This probably only works in a small or medium-small church environment, and when you wish to either begin or return to the communion portion — especially if your church requires the Words of Institution — then everyone needs to be attentive.
…Anyway, I don’t know why I posted this today, but I hope it’s either helpful or inspiring to someone! Some people wake up in the night and write songs, or sketch the ideal sports car, and then there’s church nerds who have been listening to far too many sermon podcasts… And yes, I realize this has been already thought of by others.