Wednesday, March 24, 2010


One of the main functions I've imagined for this house is that a group of believers would inhabit it and live into the definition of "family" that Jesus gave us. Becoming a Christian means being adopted into God's family, a vast organism reaching through time and around the world. You have brothers and sisters in China. You have mothers and fathers in Iraq. You have sons and daughters in Somalia. This is not just a nice idea to talk about either, as Jesus demonstrated: his immediate family called for him while he was with his disciples, but he refused to come, saying that all those who love and obey him are his true family members.

I'm not sure where or when the phenomenon of the "nuclear family" came into being and asserted such dominance that a whole building type emerged to support it (the "single-family house"). But isolating a married couple and their children within their own building seems to elevate this group to a status beyond that given to it scripturally. It suggests that this unit is complete in and of itself. If for Christians true family is defined by relationship to Christ, what sense does it make for each single set of parents and their kids to live in a separate house?

A pastor shared with me recently that he went through a period of loneliness while he was (happily) married. His epiphany from that experience was that God did not mean for his wife to satisfy every relational need that he had. He needed to find friends outside of his "family." Or better - he had to befriend his true family members outside of his immediate family. The same could be said for the relationship between a parent and child (the generation gap tends to be a barrier) and between siblings. These relationships have their purpose, but only accidentally do they ever satisfy our deep and real longing for true family. By Jesus' example, family is not to be defined or limited by marriage or the walls of a house, but by each person's relationship with Him.

My house could be used as a "single-family house," but there are subtle hints in the plan that this is not my intention. One of the three bedrooms is large enough for a queen bed (so that a married couple could live here), but there is no "master bedroom" in the usual sense, nor a "master bath." Indeed a "single family" is meant to live here - the single family of God, or rather a small portion of it. Many combinations of family units could live here (a single mother with child plus a married couple plus a single, for instance) or it could just be four or five singles. The common denominator is not blood but spirit.


  1. Of course this also raises other equally challenging and even further-reaching questions - about ownership, for example, or liability, or inheritance, or taxes, or American property rights . . . .

  2. Indeed, and the good news is that those questions have been answered already by the hundreds of "non-nuclear family" Christian communities around the country and the world. A phone call to The Simple Way in Philly or Rutba House in Durham could clear a lot of that up immediately. I see those issues as secondary to family living itself, but also look forward to satisfying all those secondary issues in unique, counter-cultural ways that perhaps also will express God's upside-down kingdom.

  3. Thanks, Chris; I knew about Simple Way but not about Rutba. Out of curiosity: would you explicitly aim to fulfil most (not all, I presume) of the "twelve distinctives" of the "new monasticism" mentioned at

  4. I can say that I hope that most of the "12 marks of a new monasticism" will be fulfilled at this house, and it's conceivable that all of them would be. But that will be dependent on the people who end up living here. I should say I don't think of this place as a branch of new monasticism; I don't really even like that term. I just see their marks as deeply biblical and great goals for every church. And that means I'm flexible as to what particular ways of life develop here. One of the central activities I've had in mind for this house from the beginning is not part of new monasticism's list - hosting a regular worship service.