What about me? Church as Family. A conversation for the outliers.

What about me? [Church as Family]

In my article, Church family? Or maybe we just call it family?, I spoke mainly to those who find themselves within a more typical church structure — gathering on Sunday to worship together and to hear a message, meeting on Wednesdays for small groups. But there are also followers of Jesus who may not belong to a church organization. I’ve been apart of many conversations that beg these questions. What about us? And, How do we move forward in family?

This is what I would say to “What about us?”

To those outside an organized church family [or perhaps to those who have just moved to a new city], these would be a few questions I would begin asking in response to the What about us? question. What does it look like for you to begin to cultivate rhythms of togetherness and family with those around you? What are the mundane areas you can invite people to join you in? What are the fun things you can celebrate together? Even if in answering these questions, the people who come to mind attend other churches that you wouldn’t necessarily attend, that’s totally fine! It would be weird to leave them out… seriously. When we are talking about rhythms of family, we are talking primarily about relational rhythms, not organizational ones.

Come join my church… if you can find it?

When people find out that Becky and I do not attend a church in the standard evangelical sense, they ask what we do instead. As we describe our rhythms, sometimes, we find people who really want to enter into our rhythms with us, to belong to our community. The problem is, our community doesn’t have a member roster or a small group signup sheet. We my simply invite them to our Sunday evening dinner. Or we might invite them on a family play date with our kiddos [what adults with kids sometimes do instead of going out for drinks]. We may tell them about the prayer room at Ember and let them know when we plan to be there next. Perhaps… I might even invite them to help me paint my house or trim a tree or two the following weekend [how very inviting of me, right?]. But this is real life for us. To invite someone into our ‘community’ is to invite people into what we are actually doing together. We don’t create other things for people to belong to. We have plenty already.

What if we can’t find Christian community where we live?

This is also a common conversation we have with folks. What if there are no people around us who know and follow Jesus? Becky and I typically steer the conversation in the following way. What are creative ways to build togetherness w family/friends in other cities [FaceTime, texting, and all that stuff], while being light in places and in relationships that need the light of Jesus? The early church was filled with the church gathered and the church scattered. Perhaps instead of asking God, Where are all the Christian friends I’m entitled to? Maybe a more helpful posture toward the Lord could be, God, use me [us] as light in this place you have set me [my family].

A great place to begin a longer conversation

The following is an intensely challenging quote, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that has helped me as I navigate the community conversation.

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. — Bonhoeffer

Yeah… that’s an intense way to say it, but really though. In the end, it is the Spirit of God, Emmanuel God with us, who builds and directs the body of Christ. We may work really hard with one particular idea of how we should or shouldn’t gather, but honestly, Jesus is the best shepherd and he will lead his people. All of us. So, in my process, the best place to begin is by quietly asking, perhaps consistently asking, Lord, where would you have us be and who would you have us be among. If you have any thoughts or questions about any of this, always feel free to reach out. I would love to continue the conversation.

Phil Rice

Oh yeah, and if you resonate with any of these thoughts, consider joining the conversation more regularly.

I send out a super helpful [I think it’s helpful] short email with [5] highlights of content over the last month [or so], my 5-things email — meaningful content for the religiously disillusioned [or spiritually tired] seeking to practically and authentically follow Jesus in real life.


Phil writes like he speaks – with a God-centered, challenging, winsome humility. He gives permission to reflect on the edge about what it means to be the Church. — Lance H.