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As a child, I attended a Southern Baptist church that gathered for a meal on Wednesday nights. After supper, we would sing:

I’m so glad I’m a part of
the Family of God,
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by his blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus
as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
the Family of God

These simple lyrics settled over me like a blanket. In the wake of my parents’ divorce, I needed the church to be a family, and it was.

This is as it should be. In the Gospels, Jesus applied familial language to his followers: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:49–50). Acts describes the early church sharing with a generosity that would put many actual families to shame. The Epistles address their hearers as brothers and sisters. Paul sends greetings to the mother of Rufus “who has been a mother to me too” (Rom. 16:13). He instructs Timothy to relate to older members of his church as spiritual parents, to younger members as siblings (1 Tim. 5:1–2).

The New Testament writers understood the church to mirror the nuclear family: father, mother, brother, sister. Because of their controversial faith, first-century believers could not rely on natural family relationships. The church became their spiritual family. Like at home, both fathers and mothers played a pivotal role in the wellbeing of that family.

The typical church leadership structure boasts plenty of church fathers. But we can’t forget the significance of church mothers, lest the church risk functioning as a single-parent family. When we celebrate these women, we reflect a more complete picture of the home within the family of ...

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December 2016

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