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 God. In spiritual terms, we obey the command to honor our fathers and mothers. The Bible provides us with examples of women who mother, both biologically and spiritually.
Church Mothers Fear God More than Pharaoh
In Exodus 1–2, the Hebrew midwives mothered the pregnant mothers of Israel, standing in solidarity in the face of a terrible decree. They defied Pharaoh, sparing the male children and ensuring the safe birth of Moses himself. Their example prompts us to ask, “How should reverence for God help me serve the church, even in the face of opposition?”
Church Mothers Plead the Cause of Women
In Numbers 27:1–11, the wise daughters of Zelophehad approached Israel’s male leaders to petition for their descendants. They secured inheritance rights for themselves and their children at a time when the law recognized only sons as heirs. Their example prompts us to ask, “Where can my voice and perspective help the church to act justly toward women and children?”
Church Mothers Defend the Defenseless
As a judge, Deborah spoke with strikingly maternal language: “I arose, a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). The Israel of her time buckled under the oppression of the Philistines. Her brave leadership yielded an opportunity for Jael to raise her tent peg, ending the oppression of Hebrew women by a wicked general. Both women risked much to protect the defenseless. Their example prompts us to ask, “Who needs me to come to their defense?”
Church Mothers Nurture Others to Maturity
When Paul told Titus that older men and women were to instruct younger men and women, no doubt he was mindful of Eunice, Lois, Priscilla, and Phoebe, among others. Each used her resources to nurture other believers. Their example prompts us to ask, “What spiritual children has God placed in my path?”
The family of God thrives when its fathers and mothers are recognized and emulated. Through both, the church becomes the stable home our biology could never guarantee. It becomes a base from which we minister to the world around us and a truer shadow of the home that awaits us, where we will “enter Zion with singing. . . . Gladness and joy will overtake [us], and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isa. 35:10). I like that. A homecoming of believers, singing through the ages: I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.
Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher. She is the author of Women of the Word and None Like Him.
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