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The following post was written by Peace Ani. Peace is a student at Notre Dame of Maryland University, and she regularly attends The Village Church. A version of this post was first published at her personal blog,

I was contemplating on the meaning of family the other week, as Pastor Dan was speaking on the importance of church planting. As he was speaking he started to describe the Church as the ultimate symbol of family and speak on what that title truly means, and I decided that I wanted to write about it.

Family is defined in two different ways in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The first is the most common and traditional definition that says family is “the basic unit in society, traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.” This is the definition of family that was law when raised in a Nigerian household, like my own. This was considered the “proper family” and you, and your household, were often looked down upon, or seen as less than, if you did not fall into this category.

Growing up, I yearned for the traditional family that all of my friends seemed to have. Don’t get me wrong, with my family of three (my mother, brother, and I), I never thought anything of it, usually. My father had become a very volatile and dangerous man, prompting my mother to flee with my brother and I, effectively saving our lives. We grew up in a loving Christian home that, while not perfect, was the best we could have been given at the time. So, this yearning I felt was not because I didn’t receive enough love and attention, but rather I longed to know what it felt like to be loved and protected by a father.

Because I had never experienced a father’s love for his children, I never really understood God’s love for me and, in extension, never honestly grasped the idea of being family with all of His children. I attended a church, at the time, that was very individualistic and I never felt that I could trust anyone there. I felt it necessary to keep a mask in place and pretend that my family never had hardships, or struggles, in fear that those would be used against us in some way.

It wasn’t until I was able to attend a youth-formed group for the first time, that I was able to understand God’s picture for the Church family. In this place everyone was joyful and genuine. They shared with me their hardships, doubts, and pains but also about how Christ was bringing them true joy in the midst of it all. I was shocked, to say the least, that although the pain was honest, the smiles were just as true.

Even with this revelation of what the Church family should look like, I was still left in the dark as to what the love of God meant/felt like. What does it mean to have a father that loves you? Let alone a father in heaven that does. The answer to this came when I was neither looking for, nor expecting it. At InterVarsity’s winter conference, we were covering the topic of identities, when George Hopkins, the speaker, talked about God’s fatherly love and described it in a way that impacted me deeply, giving examples with his own kids and leaving me in awe. Long story short, lots of tears were shed and I started to, and am continuing to, understand God’s love for me better.

So here is where the second Merriam-Webster definition comes into play. It defines family as “any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family.” This is the definition of family that I have been immensely blessed with. Christ has given me, not only my mother and brother to lean on, but also my church family, my friend circle, and my InterVarsity family to lean and rely on as well. As I looked around in church that morning, my heart welled up at the diversity, care, and belonging that was felt with the people around me. Are there areas for improvement? Absolutely, but I think that as the church we should always be striving to be molded into God’s Will.

I’ve learned through all of my experiences that latter definition is the exact definition of what the Church should be. The church is not the building or the organization in which you attend regularly, but rather the people of God. When one becomes saved by the grace of God, they then become part of the church. It is the church’s responsibility to care for one another as well as those in their communities.

We should not be divided by petty things, but rather united in worship. We should not hold in our pain, but rather share our own pains as well as in the burdens of others. We should not withhold our many from those who have few in fear of having few ourselves. Instead we should give wholeheartedly, love wholeheartedly, and share wholeheartedly that we might be an example to the world as well as each other, what it truly means to be a family under the ultimate, most loving Father.

References: Matthew 12:49-50, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 John 3:1-24, Ephesians 1-2.