One of the strengths of our church is our commitment to meaningful covenant membership. One of the weaknesses of our church is our lack of commitment to meaningful covenant membership. Not in every way, but in a big way.
I was in a meeting recently where a team of men, including elders, were eager to shepherd the flock in a mission-critical area of church life. “Where can we bring our congregation along in this?” one brother asked. Another replied, “Well, there are only about 30% of our members at Family Meetings.” I did some research, and he was about right. We have 558 members, but in February we had only 212 members present to vote on elders and deacons. Might that be the exception? I checked. Laying that next to the two previous Family Meetings, it was high by as many as 60 members. At one meeting we had only 157 members present to affirm a matter brought to the members by the elders. Yikes.
Brothers and sisters, that’s not healthy. In fact, it’s dangerous.
What’s the Big Deal with Family Meetings?
The name, “Family Meeting,” may be a bit misleading. To some it might sound like a nice way of saying, “business meeting,” or a meeting for dealing with the hard stuff. Maybe that’s repelling. To others it might sound like a bonus event. Like, the tailgating before or after the game.
I wondered if we hadn’t been clear as to the nature or importance of Family Meetings. But we have. We can do more, but from our membership class, to membership interviews, to the constitution, to digital and Sunday morning reminders, we state and restate that these are basic to church life and expected for members.
I think we just need a swift kick on this one. That’s what this post is: a kick in the form of some Scripturally rooted reasoning and exhortation. I thought of posting a mere encouragement to participate in family meetings. But I think the kick is needed, and there will be plenty of encouragement along the way.
Let’s start with this question: why do we have Family Meetings?
Here’s a way to put it: because we as members at Heritage have certain responsibilities to one another that we mean faithfully to honor. In other words, as we’ve ordered church life here at Heritage, Family Meetings are a part of the game itself. And you as a member aren’t merely a spectator but player in that game. Regular attenders are invited to join and observe, but, formally speaking, the family here are members at Heritage who have certain covenant responsibilities to one another. There are many ways to pray, and our Evening Prayer services are one way. But there is only one way we are ordered to fulfill several specific responsibilities together and Family Meetings are that way.
What are those responsibilities? “Responsibilities” can sound like a bad word, I know. Like “chores.” I’m tempted to say, “privileges.” But let’s stick with “responsibilities” and consider the privilege that it is to share responsibilities to one another as members of a local church. Here are four that are uniquely fulfilled in our Family Meetings.
1. We have keys to use
That’s probably not the first thing you thought of when you thought of family meetings. But consider that if we had only one reason to meet, it would be this.
In Matthew 16, Jesus says to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (18–29). Family Meetings are where we bind what is bound in heaven. In other words, this is where we formally affirm and receive new members into our membership. It’s why we read out loud our covenant of fellowship together. This is our opportunity to pray for and to personally greet each of our new members upon presentation as members. This is both a privilege and a responsibility of the members at Heritage fulfilled in our Family Meetings.
How do we know it’s us as the church who exercise these keys of the kingdom? Matthew 18 describes the process of loosing this way:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (15–20, emphasis added).
It’s hard to imagine a more serious responsibility given by Jesus to his church—what we call, “church discipline.” In what context do we, “tell it to the church”? Put another way, in what venue do you learn about the spiritual danger of a brother or sister and receive the charge to pray and seek their spiritual restoration? In what venue do we agree to “treat them as a Gentile” in order that they may be saved? Speaking about the church’s responsibility regarding a proudly unrepentant adulterous man, Paul says this: ”When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1Cor. 5:4, 5).
That’s Matthew 18 applied to the Corinthian church “when [they] are assembled.” Not, when some of them can get together. At Heritage we don’t, “tell it to the church,” on Sunday mornings. We do that in Family Meetings. For obvious reasons, we won’t publish ahead of time what we’ll be sharing along these lines. That’s why we need to count on you being there. Family Meetings are where we exercise the keys to the kingdom.
If we can’t say who is and who isn’t a Christian, then it means nothing to be the church together. Family Meetings, for us, are where we protect the purity and the very definition of what it means to be the church.
2. We have leaders to find and follow
Here’s one responsibility that is to your advantage: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). In as much as you take the lead of your elders, they are heartened and your soul is helped. Win/win.
Family Meetings are one of only a few basic ways your leaders at Heritage lead you. Our public corporate gatherings are not the venue for everything we need to say or explain or do. There are certain exhortations we need to give, certain plans we need to bring you in on, and certain decisions for which we seek your input and affirmation. Sometimes that’s through a vote. Voting, by the way, is not reflective of a democratic process, but a means of discerning and expressing shared agreement in the Lord. Family Meetings are basic to all of this.
Our elders meet twice monthly for several hours each meeting, and between those meetings our elders are present at their Shepherding Groups, present in the hospital, and present on their knees in prayer for you. One reason to come to Family Meetings is to fan the flame of their joy and love in care for you. Family Meetings help them serve us. That, in turn, benefits you and our church.
What happens if we’ve got bad leaders? Well, that’s a problem. That’s also where Family Meetings come in play. There’s a prudential process for identifying and appointing biblically qualified elders and deacons, and this process involves the congregation’s affirmation of all appointments. The Family Meetings are where agree together in the Lord concerning who will lead us.
Perhaps family meetings at times seem boring or uneventful. Consider this: maybe that’s because they’re working. In a church without family meetings (or in a church with poorly attended family meetings) confusion, rumor, and distrust increases. Our present attendance percentage is why your elders can invest time in shepherding and communicating on a topic, and then spend months answering questions and addressing points of confusion. Our present attendance percentage puts our whole church in a precarious position.
3. We have encouragement to exchange
Here’s another high-stakes responsibility: “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25). This passage tells us two things. First, other members of our church need your active encouragement in order to persevere in love and good works until the coming of Christ. Second, you need the active encouragement of your brothers and sisters in order to persevere in love and good works until the coming of Christ.
This responsibility is easy to neglect, but the health of the church hangs on it. This verse doesn’t mean you need to be at everything going on at Heritage. But, as I hope you’re beginning to see or remember, Family Meetings are where some of the most important things we do take place. You need to share and hear stories of God’s grace in the lives of fellow members. So, if you want to grow in love and good works, and if you want our church to grow in love and good works, go to church on Sunday morning, and put Family Meetings on your calendar.
4. We have a mission to fulfill
Finally, Family Meetings are like the war room for our shared labor in seeking the salvation and rescue of the lost from sin and hell.
We’re well familiar with Jesus’ words Matthew 28:18–20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This Great Commission requires great energy, and often great planning. Jesus told us where to go, to the nations, but he did not give us a roadmap. Thankfully, we have one another. That great commission wasn’t merely for individual disciples on their individual missions. Disciples run together, send together, go together, and partner together. Wherever disciples were made they were congregationalized into local assemblies. And it is in that context of local church gathering and strategizing that the great commission is advanced. In Acts 16:5, we read that “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”
In Acts 2:42–47 we have this beautiful and compelling portrait of life in the earliest days of the church:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul . . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”
Don’t miss how it ends in verse 47, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” As we gather and strategize and pray, may our Lord do that among us. Family Meetings are a needed venue for uniting our church family around a biblical strategy for reaching the nations.
Dates for your Calendar, Children, and Getting in the Game
Friends, let’s not just improve that statistic. 50% or even 60% attendance by members would be an improvement, but that wouldn’t make our Family Meetings fulfill their important biblical role for our church. We’ve got some ideas for the months and year ahead for how to elevate the importance of Family Meetings in the life of our church. We need to address some doubled-up programming and ways to communicate more clearly and early on these meetings. But, for your part, go ahead now and plan to be there.
Put these dates on your calendar for 5:30PM on the following Sundays:
- April 29
- July 29
- September 30
- December 30 (tentative)
As you put those dates on your calendar, prepare yourself for the presence of children—yours or someone else’s. If you’ve got kids, we offer nursery care for the really little ones, but bring the rest. We’ve got a seat for them. It’s good for them and it’s good for the rest of us to have them there. We’ll work to keep our meetings to an hour (with some exceptions), you work a little on their behavior, and we’ll all be ready to flex for the privilege of having them observe and learn.
Remember, you’re not a customer or a client here at Heritage. You’re a partner. You’re not a spectator in the work of the church, but a player. Spectators can miss a game. Players, but for obvious exceptions, never miss a game (of course, there will be times when you can’t be with us. We’ll trust you with that). Better still, you’re a part of this family. I don’t invite my children to dinner. I don’t offer them reasons why they need to join us at the dinner table. They just show up.
We have souls that need watch, a mission that needs strategic advance, and keys to exercise for glory of Christ in his church.