Monday, July 7, 2008

All Together Now...

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling Charlotte campus

I just returned from a week teaching at a family camp sponsored by PRMI (Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International). In the past, organizers of family camp divided the attendees into age groups for teaching times. We decided, however, to do things differently. We asked that, except for the youngest children, the families attend the teaching periods together. Thus, we had the pleasure and challenge of teaching people aged 10 to 60+ in ways that were relevant and engaging to them all.
We taught a series on building strong families, based on Ephesians 6:10-18. In this passage, Paul tells us to stand strong against the evil one by putting on the full armor of God and by persevering in prayer. Paul, under house arrest, was reminded of the armor, no doubt, by the constant presence of the Roman guard to whom he was chained. The pieces of armor include the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. As I studied in preparation for this week, I was struck by how the image of the Roman soldier and his armor led me to consider the corporate nature of our faith. Most commentators I read discussed the critical importance of the Roman soldiers' coordinated formations, standing firm in a united front which both afforded protection from the enemy and created an imposing front for assault.
During the course of the week, as we presented lessons on each piece of armor, we drew out this emphasis on the individual family and the family of God, the Body of Christ. Yes, we are each individually saved by faith in Christ, but we are born into the family. God's intention for us is to live and grow into the person he intended us to be in the context of that family, the Body of Christ, the Church. God does not want solo Christians. We need each other. Even the soldier's armor, which seems at first glance to be designed for one person, needs others to be most effective. The large Roman shield, for example, was made to interlock with the shields of other soldiers. When the soldiers did this, they could create an impenetrable defense against the enemy's flaming arrows. What a wonderful image of the Body of Christ, united against the schemes of the devil!
We also had plenty of time, during the week, after the morning teaching for fun and fellowship before evening services. I found myself sought out repeatedly by one man who kept telling me about lots of people he knew who had been hurt by churches in the past and now refused to be a part of any church. We discussed the teachings on the armor and the implications for Christians remaining in fellowship to accomplish the work of the Kingdom. I encouraged him that he could be an important mediator of God's truth to these people about the need for fellowship with other believers. The church, composed of fallen, redeemed human beings, is not perfect. But it is God's chosen instrument for the living out and proclamation of the gospel. That is why we are told to not give up on coming together (Hebrews 10:25). This is the only way we can build up, encourage, and support one another as we seek to grow into the people God wants us to be and proclaim the gospel to a world that desperately needs it.
On the final morning of family camp, we set aside some time for “debriefing,” giving attendees the opportunity to share whatever they would like about their experience of the week. This man stood up and spoke, with tears, about how he now finally understood that God wants us to be together, not alone, and that it is important for him to be part of a church. The woman sitting next to me, who apparently knew this man quite well, raised her eyes to heaven in thanksgiving for his words. She had known that he was one of those people he kept talking with me about who have been hurt and were intent on staying away from any church.
Many churches have the practice, as was true of previous times at this family camp, of separating people by age. For teaching children, I can understand this, as their cognitive abilities are developing over time and what a 3 year old is capable of understanding is quite different from a 13 year old. But most churches take this much further and separate 20 somethings from 30 or 40 somethings, singles from couples, young marrieds from empty nesters. But I think this cheats us of the advantage of the family of God sharing experience and wisdom across the generations. Some people at family camp commented on how much they appreciated being together, old and young and everything in between. It had indeed been a delight during the week to see teenagers praying for their elders as well as vice versa, each encouraging the other and bringing to each other the perspectives unique to their age and life status. It does take some additional effort to make the teaching relevant and meaningful across the age ranges. But I find the value of the generations sharing their experiences to be well worth the effort.

No comments:

Post a Comment