This is an excerpt from Love Your Church by Tony Merida. A free small group kit is available to help small groups read through the book together, discuss it, and apply the principles.

My wife and I have five adopted children: four from Ukraine and a son from Ethiopia. Joshua, our Ethiopian son, had been home with us for about four months when he experienced his first Christmas. I will never forget one particular moment that December—not only because it’s a precious family memory but because it so wonderfully illustrates the nature of the church.

After being amazed by the snow in Northern Virginia, we entered the home of Joshua’s new grandparents. The house was filled with family members—and it’s a lively family! Joshua, who was five years old at the time, was holding my hand as he carefully observed all of these cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. With the Christmas music playing, lights shining, and presents laid out under the tree (for him too!), he looked up and asked, “Papa, are all of these people our family?”

“Yes, son,” I said. “All of these people are our family.”

Likewise, every time we walk into our church’s large or small gatherings, we can say of fellow believers, “All of these people are our family.”

The Family Mission

Some of you may be tempted to say in your (extended) family gatherings, “Unfortunately, all of these people are our family . . .” That too illustrates the church! Every church has people who are difficult to love. You may be one of them from time to time! Every church has some crazy uncles and wild brothers and sisters; for evidence that this has always been the case, just read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. But that’s the church.

Every time we walk into our church’s large or small gatherings, we can say of fellow believers, “All of these people are our family.” Click To Tweet

What Joshua was learning during his first Christmas was this lesson: when you get adopted, you get a new family. And the church is a family of adopted brothers and sisters (see Gal. 4:4–7; Rom. 8:12–17). When we come to faith in Christ, we get not only a new relationship with our Father but new family members too (1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1–2; Gal. 6:10).

We are an “already-but-not-yet” community of brothers and sisters transformed by our elder Brother and King, Jesus; that is, we experience true salvation now (the “already”), but we await final and full salvation in the future (the “not yet”) with all God’s people throughout all of time.

As an already-but-not-yet community, we show the world what our King is like, and what the kingdom to come will be like, through our shared life and our mission of word and deed in the world. Seen this way, the local church is like a little embassy of the greater kingdom of God, living under the gracious rule of Christ.

We are situated outside of our homeland (as sojourners and exiles, 1 Pet. 2:11), so our life and actions are different from others. We are here so that the outside world would look at us and see something different and ask, “You guys aren’t from around here, are you?” No, we aren’t. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we’re waiting for our Savior to come from there to here and make all things new (Phil. 3:20).

Something Glorious and Eternal

The statements about the church in Scripture are stunning. For instance, in one single, awesome sentence the apostle Paul declares the vitality of the church, the familial nature of the church, and the truth proclaimed by the church: we are “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 4:15).

Or consider when Paul spoke to the Ephesian pastors/elders and said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, my emphasis). What a privilege to belong to God’s church, which has been purchased by the atoning work of God’s own beloved Son!

Consider how Jesus so identifies with his church that when Paul was persecuting the church, Jesus asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” Click To Tweet

Or consider how Jesus so identifies with his church that when Paul was persecuting the church, Jesus asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4; 22:7, my emphasis). In this moment, the terrorist who would become the apostle realized not only that Jesus is the living Lord, but that to persecute the church was to persecute him. That is how bound up Jesus’s heart is with his church.

When you gather in a local church to sing praise to God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and to sit under the Word of God, partake in the Lord’s Supper, observe a baptism, fellowship with fellow family members, and pray together, you are doing much, much more than “going to a religious meeting.” You are part of something different—something glorious and something eternal. And all of it is made possible through the saving work of Christ Jesus.

Tony Merida
Written by: Tony Merida on June 1, 2021

Tony Merida is the pastor for preaching and vision of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, vice president of planter development for the Send Network, dean of Grimké Seminary, and a Board member of The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including Love Your ChurchThe Christ-Centered ExpositorOrdinary, and Orphanology. He and his wife, Kimberly, have five adopted children.