The stratification of what we call “family” looks a little like a bell curve. On one end are any number of single people, who often become married, (curve increases) and create families of their own. These families grow, and eventually the goslings leave the nest. We begin to see the curve retract, often concluding quite sadly, with the passing of one lover before the other, returning the household to a state of singleness.
Most churches struggle with issues related to being who God has called them to be, and at Oasis we are no different. Having an ongoing conversation, when the members of the family range in age from one week to 97 years old, can be a bit challenging. For the most part it is an enjoyable struggle, but it is a challenge none-the-less. So I was struck by the juxtaposition of two passages in Matthew chapter 19. The first relates to the single life, and the second, to the life of the child.
v. 12 - Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.
v. 14 - Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Many of us find ourselves in the middle of the family bell curve, (married with children) myself included. The tendency for all of us is to relate best to those we are most like. But what of those on the edges of the bell curve? Scripture teaches, and in our head we know, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. But to live it out, that is a challenge.
Too often the church responds to this bell curve in much the same way as the rest of the world, not with authentic love, but with programs, throwing money at the “problem”, and further stratification. We place the children over here, those poor singles over there, and the weak and aging somewhere else. This way, we who are the majority can get on with the business of life and church, unencumbered with the distractions of people not like us; people who quite frankly remind us of our own mortality and the fragileness of life at beginning and end.
At Oasis, we are no different. We don’t excel at breaking down these barriers, but we would like to. (You may have some suggestions on how to do this.) To further complicate things, running up against the value of togetherness is a value for communicating appropriately within a given culture. This value includes children, and so in the near future we will be starting up a “children’s church”, something which at first glance would seem to perpetuate the conflicts of interest we have been talking about. And to some degree it does. What we want is to have our cake and eat it too, and I think we can, if we approach this challenge with the right attitude. We want to value our children, and at the same time communicate with them in ways that meet their needs, without simply shoving them off on a volunteer.
Also present on this bell curve are those who are single, whether young or old. And these too, the church constituted by the majority, (those married with children) often struggle to embrace. Our first reaction is often to help them be just like us. We want them to enjoy all the benefits and consequences of marriage; forgetting that both the apostle Paul and Jesus suggest that in fact it may be better not to get married. We in the Evangelical community would do well to consider other traditions, which seem to have done a better job of embracing the life devoted to God.
At Oasis, (and where you’re at as well I’m sure) we would like to create a community where young and old can live, and play, and serve together. The question then is how? I believe we begin by learning to truly believe that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. The next key, as it is in breaking down any barrier, is intentionality. We need to intentionally build relationships with people who are different than us, and create structures which facilitate this. Children are not a nuisance, the elderly are not a problem, and singles do not need to get married. We are humans created in the image of God, and together (not apart) we are the church.