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How Jesus Shockingly Redefined Family

By April 7, 2014Theology

We’ve just come through a blog series on the Five Capitals, a discipleship tool that helps us make wise decisions about how we invest our time, energy, and money in the things that truly matter. Our new book on the Five Capitals, called Oikonomics (get it? The economics of our oikos) will be released in May (sign up for our newsletter to get three free chapters from the book today!).

At the same time, we’re going to be releasing a book called Family on Mission, which will outline much of what Sally and I have learned over the years about being a family on mission. Lots of stories from our experience as well as in-depth teaching from the life of Jesus on the topic!

Many of us don’t realize that Jesus was actually showing us a new way of being family in his ministry. I know I certainly didn’t for many years. But he really did have a lot to say about it, and the result of his disciple-making was a family on mission that multiplied and changed the world within a few hundred years.

But it all started with an act that would have likely infuriated most families today (and indeed, back then!). Sometimes I think we read the Gospels with rose-colored glasses on, not realizing how truly shocking some of the actions and words of Jesus truly were. There’s an especially scandalous scene that happens shortly after Jesus begins his ministry that gives us a picture of what he was doing in terms of building a family on mission.

Because of Jesus’ miracles and teaching, large crowds are following him. People are beginning to ask whether he might be the Messiah, the one who will save them from their enemies. Jesus is upsetting many in the religious establishment by performing many of the functions people would normally need to go to the Temple for, like forgiveness and healing. All the same, multitudes were following him, hanging on his every word.

So it was more of the same when one day Jesus went to someone’s household (oikos) and a huge crowd gathered to listen to him. “He and his disciples were not even able to eat,” Mark’s Gospel says. “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

Imagine the scene for a moment. Jesus has begun his ministry, but it’s so unexpected and controversial that his own family are somewhat embarrassed about it and concerned for him. They thought he had gone crazy. In the language and culture of the day, they were voicing what many of the Jewish leaders had begun saying, that Jesus was being influenced by a demon. He needed help, and his family had come to take charge of him.

Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive outside the oikos, but they can’t get in because of all the people. They send a message in, and someone tells Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” Jesus’ response is utterly shocking: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He looks at those seated around him in a circle and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

This would have been so astonishing to a first-century Jew that they would have never forgotten it. They would be telling this story for years. It sounds a bit shocking now, but back then it would have been utterly mind-boggling to think that anyone would say such a thing. He tells his mother and brothers that he has a new family now. Can you imagine telling your own mother such a thing if she wanted you to come home for Christmas? So much for focusing on the family!

In one fell swoop, Jesus overturned everything they thought they knew about family. His disciples weren’t just his roadies or work associates, they were his family. For Jesus, making disciples was about building a family. In one sentence, he completely redefines what family is, how it works, and what it’s for. 

For Jesus, family meant something much bigger than what we normally think of. So how did he arrive there? And what was his process for gathering this new kind of family? What can we learn from Jesus about leading a family on mission? That’s part of the story we tell in Family on Mission.

For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below to continue the discussion!

  • Have you ever thought about this scene from the Gospels this way?
  • What are the implications for your own leadership and ministry?

29 Comments

  • Chris Hartenstein says:

    Great words and I think dead on. This concept would seem easier to accept in our day and age with the breakdown of the traditional family. This has created a whole generation of displaced individuals (the millinals) who are starving for family that ruly sticks together and can be counted on. I am sure our sovereign God knew this was coming so even back during his day he was redefining family…

  • Aaron Cantrell says:

    I have a question. We noticed the wheelchair symbol in the picture above. What is that symbol for?

    An implication of Mike’s article is that one big value an extended family like this needs to have is obeying our Father above all other things. That means, as a family, we all set aside personal preferences and selfishness in favor of our common priority of hearing God’s voice and doing what he is saying to us. That would revolutionize the family. That would mean we all take care of one another, help one another reach our full kingdom potential as disciples, and we would all seek to invite others into the family who are People of Peace. Thank you for writing this book. I love that these words sound familiar from last December. I was looking forward seeing them in print! Can’t wait to buy the whole book!

    • Ben Sternke says:

      Hi Aaron, the wheelchair doesn’t really signify anything – it was simply in the picture we used for the post’s graphic. I think it was a sign for a family restroom!

      Love your comment, by the way! Setting aside selfishness is a hugely significant shift that makes family on mission a possibility. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty much impossible unless we learn to lay aside personal preferences.

  • Joel VanBriggle says:

    You have peeked my interest! I look forward to reading the broader context of this family paradigm shift initiated by Jesus. My mind is racing with questions! Thanks for your post.

  • Steve Earnshaw says:

    One of the challenges I see in this passage is how to honor one’s biological family when they are not of the same mind. I can fully embrace what Jesus says about the new nature of family, but how does one go about honoring the family that is not interested in being on mission? Perhaps if we live out an example of oikos with others, our biological family will see the value and want to join in the fun… or maybe not.

    • Mike Breen says:

      Very good question Steve! I think we can take some cues from Jesus here as well. What he did for his mother Mary on the cross is a great example. Making sure she would be cared for by John. I am sure this would have happened whether she officially joined him in mission or not (it appears his biological family did eventually do this). And yet, he also embarked on a mission that he knew would end with his early death. It would seem there are certainly ways to do this that both honor our biological families (as per the Commandment!), but also honor God in obeying the call he gives us.

  • John Evans says:

    Amazing! We just talked about this in our gathering this week. It is our desire to erase or at least blur the line that is drawn in between family and ‘church’. This line has generally has existed in the American culture separating our ‘family life’ from our ‘church life’. Kind of like the line we draw between ‘secular & sacred’. We are in process of restoring ‘oikos’ on mission! As for leading this ‘oikos’ the challenge is the challenge is to have ‘oikos’ development as a higher priority than ‘numbers’ of people attending.

  • Andy says:

    Love it, Mike. Cant’ wait to read it.

  • Ruxseena says:

    I can see Jesus’s mother being shocked initially. However she would also be aware that he is the messiah, so she surely must expect this sudden change in him. I don’t think I personally would be shocked with Jesus’s actions because its already written earlier that the people have been waiting for a saviour. However I would like to learn how Jesus managed to influence his disciples into following him. Especially the 2 fishermen who just dropped everything gave up their jobs and followed Jesus! Also the follower who asked Jesus if he could bury his own father and Jesus replied let the dead bury their own! Really amazing!! In this day and age this would be considered madness I consider really shocking of people to do this! How did Jesus manage to influence these people how!!?

    • Mike Breen says:

      We talk a bit about this in the upcoming book, Ruxseena, but I believe the disciples knew who Jesus was before the dropped everything to follow him. They had likely observed him and seen his life, and spent a little time hanging out with him and learning what his life was all about. Eventually they realized he had such spiritual gravitas that they wanted to follow him above everything else!

  • I work with families at our church so this gives me even more to think about. What would it look like for our kids and parents to expand their ‘family’ to include school friends, co-workers, etc.? The potential to grow our faith family is obviously huge, if we live with intention.
    You always make me think, thanks Mike

  • Christine Wanstall says:

    I love the thoughts in this blog and look forward to reading more. It is raising a few threads for me that I am pondering – yes it helps those who are displaced to find a place in family (especially challenging to model a good family pattern with people’s experience of family breakdown and dysfunction) but I also find the challenge from families who want to protect their nuclear family from expanding. Also sitting in amongst this is the strong message when you are ‘in ministry’ to have firm boundaries to protect your family life from church life. It’s good to have these ingrained messages challenged and see how God works through us when we start to experiment with extended family.

    • Mike Breen says:

      You’re exactly right, Christine, about those ingrained messages of keeping strict boundaries between family and ministry – it’s something we talk quite a bit about in the book, because that was our experience. The problem with it is that it is impossible to make disciples that way! We found that after we invited more people in, life actually got easier, as counter-intuitive as it sounds!

  • Sharon Earl says:

    I love this blog and am looking forward to the book. Going back to the answer you gave Mike about Jesus honouring his own family:
    John 19:26-27
      * When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.”   * And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.
    It’s interesting to see his Oikos family ended up being home to his blood family and serving them. It reminds me of what Ruth said to Naomi ” Your people will be my people”. I love the way I’ve seen families on mission loving the members blood families and the breakthroughs that has brought about.

  • Richard M says:

    Mike,

    I do agree with this sentiment, but would like to challenge/explore just a little. Might we be a little too quick in declaring friends to be ‘family’?

    Clearly many of us develop very close relationships with our church friends. However, how many of much current small group / church / missional community will I be in contact with in 5, 10, 15 years time? Who will come to my funeral? There is a permanence and long-running commitment in (good) biological families that even the best church group will struggle to match. Or are we in ‘family’ for a season, then we reconfigure and join another family for a while? Seems odd.

    Asking this as a missional practitioner, trying to invest in the people around us and yet struggling with how we balance time between “the people around us now” and long term friends/family.

    My company likes to describe itself as ‘family’ too – which is a real devaluing of the word in my opinion, as you don’t downsize your family or fire them for missing targets! These words are precious and the commitments of family need to be clearly spelt out.

    • Mike Breen says:

      Really great thoughts there Richard. You’re right that we are often too quick to put the “family” label on relationships that really don’t resemble that level of covenant. One of the themes we explore in the book is how Jesus had friends, followers, and family – but not everyone was at the same level of covenant, and it actually took the 12 disciples awhile to get to the “family” level. They started as friends who served him (letting him use their boat), moved to followers who submitted to him (letting him use their oikos as a base of operations), and finally became family who surrendered to him (giving Simon his new name Peter and the keys to the kingdom).

      We’ll also be exploring it in more practical detail in another book later this year dealing with how we discern our covenants and callings as families on mission. Hope that helps!

  • […] was reading a blog (this one by Mike Breen) and stopped on this sentence, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and […]

  • Brian Majerus says:

    Great post Mike. I am looking forward to the book. And these conversations above are a blessing.

    Recently I preached on Deut. 6:5-9 and touched on the theme you shared from another gospel account. This Deut. 6 passage is often applied at a household/nuclear family level. But when you consider that the entire community was being addressed, it’s a good reminder of the call to discipleship we have as a whole family of God. Not just to our nuclear family. Looking at my kids but also others’ kids.

    Greatly appreciative of how God’s vision and mission is coming through you guys.

  • Jay Cull says:

    We’ve talked “we are family” at our church for a number of years and put environments and experiences in place to help people walk in that language. There’s been a general sense of family but something’s been missing – “whoever does God’s will”. In recent months, we’ve begun using the language of “we are family ON MISIION”. Some are beginning to ask questions.

    Immersion 3 is helping us get in motion practically. My wife and I have decided to model for a while first.

    I’m loving this family on mission stuff, Mike. Thanks for drawing attention to it in Mark’s gospel. Please keep it coming.

  • Dan says:

    Great thoughts and insight. Two thoughts that your blog immediately stirred in me were the implications that this has on working with students and young adults… First, I (student ministry culture) have spent a lot of time getting students plugged into small groups and defining what a small group “is” and “does”, we have also spent a lot of time training “Small group leaders” and defining there roll… As I have struggled to introduce discipleship language into our small group culture I think what Jesus is saying about family and your thoughts in this blog (and hopefully the ones coming in the new book) will open our eyes and change the way we see discipleship and redefine our small groups more accurately as “family” or Oikos. Second, as I talk and meet with students that are not from our church that have accepted Christ over the last year… This is what they are looking for! A lot of them have “secular families” that they need to walk away from or get rejected by when they accept Christ. They have come to me (the church) looking for a spiritual family to replace what they have lost Sadly, I don’t think the church has any idea what this looks like… we have small groups that “answer questions” and “read books” and do “service projects” together.
    Thanks for this insight. I can’t wait to read more…

    • Mike Breen says:

      Great thoughts here Dan! Exactly right on people outside the church who are looking for a new family within the church.

  • Dave Wacker says:

    Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” (http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action) Reading your blog and the comments, I’m trying to figure out the “Why” that compels like one of your favorite companies:
    Apple. Is the why “counter-intuitive family on mission”? Is it something else or something simpler?

    • Mike Breen says:

      Dave, your question is part of what we explore in the Family on Mission book – I think the short answer is that this is God’s methodology for saving the world. It’s always been about family on mission – in short, it’s part of what it means to be human in the way of Jesus!

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