the weblog of Alan Knox

Uncle Lionel and the church as family

Posted by on Jul 4, 2009 in blog links, definition, discipleship, elders | 24 comments

Lionel at “The Gospel in 3-D” has written an excellent post called “The Church As Family: How Church Leadership is Affected By How You View The Church.” Lionel says that if we view the church as a family, it will affect how we treat one another, and it will affect how we view leadership among the church. He presents a wonderful illustration using his relationship with his nephew:

I remember my grandmother raising my nephew and I was like his big brother. We were both adopted and I was given the responsibility to helping with potty training, feeding him, carrying him, changing him, talking him for walks, playing with him in the park, and protecting him from harm, I was also given some delegated discipling power; however, the real discipline rested in the hands of the only authority in the house, my grandmother…

As I got older my nephew got older. I stopped taking him to the restroom because he could go by himself, I stopped reading to him because he had learned to read on his own, I stopped taking him to the park because he was big enough to ride his bike and protect himself, I stopped walking him to the school bus, I stopped picking out his clothes, I even became less involved in his decision making. Day by day, he matured and my role became less involved. Day by day, I saw him grow up into maturity and my influence became more of an example and less hands on…

I wonder if I were still putting diapers on my 19 year old nephew what people would think. I wonder if people saw me rocking him to sleep today, what they would think, I wonder if I brushed his teeth for him tonight what others would think?

I think this is exactly how more mature believers should help less mature believers walk with Christ. I’m guessing that while Lionel’s nephew was growing, there were times when Lionel allows his nephew to do some things by himself that Lionel could have done better. I’m assuming that there were times when Lionel’s nephew made mistakes that Lionel himself would not have made. But, this was all necessary for the nephew to grow and mature.

In the same way, mature believers need to allow less mature believers to do or say things that the more mature believers may have done or said better. Less mature believers need to be given room to make mistakes. This is the way growth happens. If this is not allowed, then those less mature believers will not mature.

Instead, leaders will always be brushing their teeth for them. But, unfortunately, I think this is what many within the church expect today.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-4-2009

    What should we expect when the “leaders” are hired and fired from the family? If the people are not dependent on you and grow to spiritual maturity, they may not need the “minister” anymore.

  2. 7-4-2009


    I agree. So what is the answer?


  3. 7-4-2009

    In my humble opinion, leaders should be “home grown”. That is they should be raised up and recognized from within the congregation to lead and serve instead of being “hired” from outside (see here: )

    I also think having them preach without pay helps because hopefully then they will want people to mature to work alongside them instead of keeping them in spiritual infancy to ensure job security.

  4. 7-4-2009

    Arthur, Jeff, and Gabriel,

    Good questions and discussions. I think those of us who are recognized as leaders can either encourage or discourage spiritual growth by our own attitudes and practices. For just one example… if we tell people that they must spend 10-20 hours per week studying in order to understand and teach Scripture appropriately, then not only are we teaching something contrary to Scripture, we’re actually discouraging their growth.


  5. 7-5-2009

    Thanks for the plug Alan, but thanks even more for attempting to live this out. I want to make sure I share, that there are a lot of good people in churches who dont’ operate this way. I love them very much; however, with love also comes an honest assessment. The truth is many churches need to be told that there over-protection is actually stunting the growth of those they are to care for. With my nephew, he scraped his leg, he spilled food on the floor, he poured milk on the floor trying to make chocolate milk, he broke a bunch of things, he even missed the stool a bunch of times. That made me work harder than I wanted to, the bathroom didn’t always smell nice, mopping up milk and buying more milk wasn’t too fun either; however, he got better each time and now as a full functioning adult I can move on to other things and he can do those things himself and teach his little sisters how to do it also. Now I am teaching my children the same thing and they are making the same mistakes and I am seeing them develop the same way. As a matter of fact my 3 year old helps my 8 month old do things I had to do for the 3 year old. I am glad to see them maute as I believe this is the natural and God given process for all normal humans. The only humans that need help in this area are those who have been born with handicaps, the problem in the church is that we handicap most of our brothers and sisters but then say “they need us to do this”. Almost like codependency.

  6. 7-5-2009

    I think the reason why many times there’s the danger of “over-protection” due to the fact that perhaps many churches feel that many mistakes are ones people cannot jump back from and are deadly in nature…..kind of like having the little 5 year old not being allowed to play either with knives or the father’s gun as if they’re toys due to how consistently it has been the case that many fatal/critical accidents have happened because of it.

    On the flip side of the analogy, I remember learning of what happened with a tribe of Indians in South America called the Yanamaho—-who had the children being allowed to play with Maccheties (large knives)/play with them extensively since it was the destiny of the children to grow into warriors when they were older and go out hunting with the older men. Rarely did the kids get hurt—and they were playing with the weapons as if they were professionals. If the kids were cut, the adults played it off as if it were nothing and decided to make the moment into a humorous event due to how it wasn’t something they wished for others to be afraid of. Seeing that made me think of how much culture/expectations we have set forth make a difference in what kind of protection is offered…….and in regards to the topic, I think that perhaps there’re many things which certain churches may not really expect of their own to be able to handle and therefore the opportunutity/training for doing so is never allowed—–which is akin to short-changing/hindering. Many churches have never seen a excellent demonstration of what it means to have people be trained in the right manner/given room to make mistakes and take risks…….and people will only go to places that they’ve been in their minds

  7. 7-5-2009


    You said, “As a matter of fact my 3 year old helps my 8 month old do things I had to do for the 3 year old.” YES! This is a great illustration of discipleship! We don’t have to know alot or live perfectly to disciple someone. We simply help someone else walk with Christ in ways that we’ve learned.


    Yes, I think protection (over-protection usually) is one reason that leaders refuse to allow others to study or teach on their own.

    By the way, I can tell you that it is possible (although uncomfortable) to “go to places” that you’ve never seen or experienced. Our church group is doing this often. But, we go to places where Scripture leads us – even if we’ve never been there before – and trust God with the outcome.


  8. 7-6-2009


    I agree with your solution 100%. There is nothing I would add or take away. Trying to convince others may take some time though. Tradition dies a slow death, especially when someone’s livelihood is at stake.


    So how would you encourage someone to prepare to teach Scripture, without studying, for someone without a seminary degree? What would that look like in practice?


    I agree with your codependency assessment. What is the solution?


  9. 7-6-2009


    I believe it is equipping then releasing. What I mean is that as Alan has written over the last couple of months, we allow ALL believers to teach, admonish, serve, rebuke, encourage and edify one another. The only way this can happen is by entrusting the work of ministry to all the saints, even if we are better at it. Allow other believers to teach when the church gathers, teach other believers that it is not the responsibility of the “pastor” to visit the sick, pray for the depressed and counsel the wayward. All believers must understand that every other believer is their responsibility and this responsibility should never be passed on to “leadership”. However once we begin to pay someone to do what God calls us to do, it becomes very easy for us, no scratch that, it obligates others to do the work I should be doing, because now I can do what I want to do and others have the obligation because they are “paid” for it.

    So for me that is how I believe it can change, and quite easy, cut budgets down to cover meeting place and maybe funding a few missionaries, the rest of the money is the individuals responsiblity, allow others to teach, this makes others responsiblie for their development in the scripture and it allows the leaders to see if there is any misunderstandings of the scriptures, and make all believers understand that the person God has sovereignly placed in their life is their responsibility the responsibility of hired men. However there is too much risk in much of this and since we like to mitigate risk versus depend on the Spirit most likely we will continue our current trend and perpetual infancy will prevail.

  10. 7-6-2009

    Definately feel you where you’re coming from, Brother Alan. Though I think it really comes down to wanting to avoid a “mess” due to how often it seems to be the case that believers cannot help but be in “Performance” mode—-as in, there’s a standard that all things in a church must always go “perfect” and look well in order for it to be considered a “success”—–and with the high risk of things getting a bit too out of control, people never wish to venture out.

    Sad, but prayerfully, that’ll change in time. If I may say, I think one way of addressing the issue is to actually give people opportunities to own something apart from feeling as if it was given to them. In example, just as it’d be for my young cousins when they wanted responsibilities like those who were older and I worked with it by giving them opportunities to lead, the same would be the case today if churches decided to find out what the people are all ready doing/desiring and chose to participate in that—adding their leadership ability to the people’s current endeavours instead of doing as many churches do by creating a new program or project and asking for the people to participate in it, under the vision of the leader

  11. 7-6-2009


    I don’t encourage someone to teach without studying Scripture. Studying Scripture is very, very important. But, our purpose in studying Scripture should not be to teach, but to see our own lives transformed. The Spirit can help any believer understand Scripture enough to know where their life needs to be transformed. That person can then submit to the Spirit to actually see their life transformed in that area. This transformation is what needs to be taught, not facts about Scripture. I hope this makes sense.


    I can tell you from experience that cutting salaries and budgets is only the first step in the process. So many believers have come to rely on leaders for their spiritual nourishment and they do not know how to seek it for themselves.


    Yes, the “performance” mode thing is a great detriment to the church. I still struggle with that, but not as much as I once did. I’ve learned (for the most part) to simply be myself.

    You suggested, “the same would be the case today if churches decided to find out what the people are all ready doing/desiring and chose to participate in that”. Yes. That’s exactly what we do. In fact, I was talking to a young couple yesterday, and I told them that we do not have programs, per se. Instead, we (the whole church) wants to know how God has gifted them and what opportunities and passions God has given them. Then, the church (the whole church) wants to come along beside them to help them serve as God has called them.


  12. 7-6-2009

    Yes Sir. That is one of many barriers, I think overall I have much to aspire for in this area of serving others and loving them as I would my “natural” family. I am still a ways away but I hope to contribute to the obsolescence of the current trend by living my life in a way that develops such relationships again not talking about it but actually loving and sharing and discipling and hope to be discipled by other believers are stronger in areas I am weak and vice versa. So Jeff this is what we are trying to do I will let you know if it works out or not.

    Alan I really like your comment about “studying scripture to be transformed not to teach”. That is my facebook quote for at least the next two days as I am about to get swamped for the next few days at work.

  13. 7-6-2009


    If we study Scripture in order for the Spirit to use Scripture to transform us, then we will study Scripture whether or not we are planning to teach. Plus, if we are constantly and consistently studying Scripture in order to be transformed, then we will always be prepared to teach without actually “preparing to teach”.


  14. 7-7-2009


    Those are the most helpful quotes I have ever read regarding studing scripture and teaching. Thanks for the aha moment.

  15. 7-7-2009

    This discussion raises a question I have mulled over for a long time. Given how entrenched the system of professional clergy is, with seminaries pumping out professional ministers every year and with ministers depending on salaried positions and finally laity that is dependent on a professional clergy, how does this change happen? Do we try to influence the existing local church or do we strike out on our own?

  16. 7-7-2009


    I tell you what starting our own is one of the most difficult questions ever. Starting our own seems to only produce more schisms. However, on the flipside when you begin to introduce a different way to do things, it usually spells trouble. Especially when you begin to talk about “pastors” not being paid and a full functioning priesthood where all believers can contribute. It is very very tough and with the responses from leaders I felt myself doing one of two things. The first was just withdrawing because of the backlash and just coming to come while longing for all to participate and exhort. The second was fear, I felt myself teaching in direct conflict with the leadership so again that led to more withdrawls and even felt animosity building. So my leadership team and I decided it best for me to go where what I believe was being practiced, we are still loving and care deeply but my leadership was being paid to lead and felt it was their responsibility to do such.

    Unless these leaders are convinced that they should be releasing the saints and the church sees leaders as examples not people to be hired and fired and until our meetings stop becoming about consuming information but giving to one another I think we will continue to struggle and eventually you will bump heads unless you have a real ear with those leaders; however, I think some of the greatest resistance comes from the nonleaders who don’t want to share and serve at that capacity but would rather pass that duty along.

  17. 7-7-2009


    I’m glad my words were helpful. I certainly don’t think I have a corner on the “Bible study” method. In fact, I’d love to learn from the way other people study Scripture as well.


    It may not be a question of one or the other. Why not both?


    Yes, all of us tend to hold our beliefs very closely. When those beliefs are questioned – especially beliefs that affect our way of life, our identity, and our livelihood – we tend to become defensive. I think this is where we need to extend as much grace as possible.


  18. 7-7-2009

    If I can offer,

    I am reminded of the phrase “If actions speak louder than words, don’t interrupt”—-as the reality for many fellowships was that there was more said in silence/seeking to do demonstration of what one had on their heart as opposed to raising a significant amout of activity over it within a fellowship….as people cannot deny things such as examples or genuine love taking place…and as often is the case, when it comes to people having vision, those who’re hungry will come and follow. This is something that I’ve seen to be one of the best responses that those against many things in organic church circles have at their disposal—-for many may not listen/get automatically into adversarial mode whenever it comes to raising issue on certain practices within church. When people simply live life and others begin to follow/see where the people of God are going, it tends to get the attention of others ……

    If one seeks reform and yet pushes it to the point that it becomes as if one’s a zealot–without the understanding of basic human nature and how often many things (i.e. pressupositions needing to be reprogrammed, exposure, processing/prayer, seeking truth for oneself rather than having it be brought by another, past experiences, etc)—then the person seeking to implement a change suddenly would be akin to trying to turn an ocean liner on a dime…as it’s most likely the case that something may become damaged in the process and one will not miss an iceberg

    Covert demonstrations are indeed the best way to go, IMHO—-though Overt as well. And on the issue of Reform, an interesting article that may be of benefit for others on the discussion we’re having can be found at

    I know that there’re alot of people who’ve been more open to hearing the perspectives of those who may not be for a traditional model whenever it seemed that they were not really concerned with going into a fellowship/trying to turn things upside down from the inside out. Many times, it was people going to both traditional fellowships and associating with others from non-traditional ones that made a difference since their working with those in established churches showed their hearts for service—-whereas at the same time they were able to be advocates/voices for the other organic fellowships they gleaned from and get others accostomed to considering some of the perspectives that may not be considered as often. Having solid relationships with others, of course, males a difference….but it is indeed true that the best apolegetic/case one has for something is found in the fruit and genuine love demonstrated for others.

  19. 7-7-2009


    That is great advice, and I’ve seen it work many times! Many people will follow a consistent example.


  20. 7-7-2009

    If I may also offer..

    I think that for many who may lean moreso toward a concept of ministry that involves programs/schedules and other things that may often get in the way of “brother/cousin/nephew” dynamics and a family mentality, perhaps one way to bridge the gap with many churches would be to show the examples of where programs/ridgid structures are not necessarily contrary to the concept of family.

    For anyone doing basic youth ministry and work among adolescents, one example coming to mind would be things such as “The Boys and Girls” club—where many times, if you did not sincerly desire to work with the teens/invest in them in the ways that certain programs designated (i.e. Peer Leadership programs, “Big Brothe/Sister” experiences, etc)–people did let one go. For there was no purpose in keeping one around who only desired to have a title and yet no inclination to keep the function…hence, why people did not wish to acknowledge them in the position of caring for others/being looked up to. And in many cases, long-life relationships were developed in the process when true workers revealed themselves….with the program not getting in the way at any point since love/investment was the purpose. The same thing seems possible for many traditional churches where they may have “Staff”/strong leadership and yet all are connected and showing clear demonstration of love for others—-whether it be calling others on the phone weekly or hanging out and a host of other things. Many who may be “Deacons” many times are not paid and yet work in churches where pastors are…..and yet for many, it did not matter since love was being demonstrated and that was enough. For those who were being “fired”, it many times had to deal with them not showing the heart of a caretaker….much as one would say toward a widower and the girl he was investigating if she said “I want to marry you/be with you forever, but I do not want your kids” and then claiming that she still loved him.

  21. 7-7-2009

    Thanks Brother Allen.

    It’s indeed something that I do agree with you on its effectiveness….and for that matter, humbling–as what it does is show that one is not doing that which they may say they’re against, which is preaching a paticular system above Christ…for if led by the Holy Spirit, just as we’d gave room for our loved ones we mentored growing up to make mistakes/learn things in time, so we also show we’re in the Spirit by demonstrating that others have freedom and the same grace to seek the truth for themselves/come to their own conclusions rather than us trying to be the ones seeking to change them—in the process, losing ground and failing to show Christ…especially in regards to the issue of humility that older brothers are to have in showing that we’re all on a journey.

    But on the issue, it does help also to simply show similarities between something new being advocated and that which may already be in place so that people feel they have more of a bridge to walk on. If one can show ways in which family already takes place in differing churches—especially seeing that all families are different—-there’s more room to talk about the myriad of possibilities families could be benefited by new ways of interaction

  22. 7-7-2009


    Good comments. You should write about this on your blog.


  23. 7-7-2009

    If I can get the blog updated—as there’s too much to do and way too much information to organize on the site. Otherwise, you do enough of a good job as well as others from a myriad of perspectives writing on the issue…and it’s always a good thing to read.

  24. 7-8-2009

    “But, our purpose in studying Scripture should not be to teach, but to see our own lives transformed.”

    Now that is a whole new way of viewing preparation, and it makes so much sense.