The following article is the second in a series entitled "Too Busy to Love". In part #1, we discussed the many distractions that are robbing our attention, and therefore, limiting our ability to love deeply. In this article we will briefly explore the extended family structure called "oikos" that existed in the first century. More than being an obscure first century phenomenon, "oikos" provides a potential solution for many of the challenges we currently face in our churches today.
Many of us have just spent the Christmas and New Year gathering with our extended families. In spite of dysfunction and drama common in many families, we get back together, year after year. I believe this speaks to an innate need, built into us by God, for extended families. I think most of us would agree that our culture is suffering tremendously from the breakdown of the extended family since, historically, it was the extended family that provided a basis for close relationships. Interestingly, God used a type of "extended family" as the building block for the growth and strength of the Christian faith in the early centuries of the church.
As most of us know, Christianity spread like wildfire in the first few centuries. Much scholarship conveys to us the reality that this spread was made possible in large part due to the fact that the ancient Mediterranean world was a world of households known as "oikos". Everybody, rich or poor, was part of an extended family that was the basis for their social and economic well being. Often, when people were converted, they were kicked out of their household and were adopted into a new Christian household. This phenomenon is illustrated for us in Matthew 19:29 when Jesus shares that people who have lost homes will receive 100 times more. He is simply stating that a new family would be provided for those who lost their family because they became Christians.
In spite of this biblical precedent, too often, small group gatherings, extended family-type church groups, "oikos" communities etc. are either considered as of secondary importance, or as a first century phenomenon that is not possible in modern-day Christianity. I would submit that far from being a distant occurrence, the reestablishment of high functioning "extended families" is exactly what we need in the church! I think most of us would agree that, as disciples of Jesus, we desire greater depth in our relationships and the security that comes from belonging to a family. In a culture where we are "Too Busy to Love," we must give greater attention to more intimate gatherings that foster the deepening of our relationships.
Don't get me wrong - I enjoy large gatherings. Powerful singing, inspirational preaching and seeing so many of my brother's and sister's smiling faces has provided great encouragement to me for many years. However, I believe that our historical emphasis on larger gatherings has created a need for us to be more intentional about creating and cultivating an "oikos," an extended Christian family that we can serve, love, open up with, depend on and which spurs us on to love and good deeds.
I believe that a shift in emphasis from large gatherings to more frequent, smaller family-style gatherings would have great impact. Please notice that I said a shift and not to do away with all large gatherings. While large gatherings certainly have their place, they are limited in their ability to transform lives. In my experience, most of the "magic" occurs in smaller family-style gatherings where attention can be given to individual needs. Large events will never replace family, and, if the investment of our time and energy is disproportionately focused on the large gathering to the neglect of the deeper relationships often fostered in "small groups", we have to seriously ask ourselves if we are loving as Jesus loved.
In our current culture, it is rare to live near our physical family. How much greater the need for the establishment of church families that replace our extended families and model for a lonely world a loving community it desperately needs! God Bless!!