Monday, January 16, 2012

Missional as a Family?

About a week ago, someone asked if Geoff and I could share some ideas on living missionally as a family.  We interpreted the word ‘missional’ as ‘sent out’ and we told our friend that we would feel inauthentic sharing thoughts about something that we’re not sure we’re doing.  After all, most of our time feels like it’s spent ‘in.’  After speaking those words, I continued to think about it.  I didn’t want that to be my answer.
But we live in a bizarre place… a church parsonage on 6 acres of land in an old community that was swallowed up by the suburbs of Chicago.  We look across the street at a newly refinished playground and behind it, houses that are less than 20 feet away from each other.  I can’t even tell you how many hours I’ve spent at that playground with my kids… waiting to meet my neighbors.  I’ve met nannies and grandmas whose English was so broken that we couldn’t communicate… and I couldn’t realistically learn enough Russian, Polish, Korean, and Chinese to keep up with them.  My kids played with the other kids… but only as well as kids who speak different languages can play.
I used to play the clarinet… I joined the symphonic band to try to meet some folks in our community.  But there weren’t many opportunities to have meaningful interaction and the time spent in rehearsal and performance put too much strain on our family… the cost didn’t seem worth it.
I joined a community of unschoolers, hoping to build some relationships with other homeschooling families in the area… They were wonderfully warm and welcoming.  We had fabulous discussions about politics, spirituality (none of them were Christians), and education.  My kids mixed well with their kids.  But they meet on Friday afternoons… and that’s one of the only days I can get a babysitter so that I can prepare sermons, pray with people, and keep up on other pastoring reponsibilities.
I ended up in relationship with a single mom who was fed up with the church and with Christians.  There were kairos moments.  But she eventually got fed up with me because I couldn’t give her all the things she wanted from me.
And so there remains only one place in our lives where we are involved in our neighborhood and community.  And to me, it’s an enormously significant and healing place.  But it’s not exciting or spectacular.  There are two men who live next door to us - a father and son.  The father is in his 90s and the son is in his 60s.  They both lost their wives to cancer before we moved into the house over 8 years ago.  There are skeletons in the closet… they were both workaholics, one was an alcoholic, and the choices they made during their pasts ripple into their present.  They don’t have close relationships with siblings, children, grandchildren. 
But they have become grandfathers to our boys.  The kids interact with them fluidly and naturally.  They spoil our kids with cookies, juice, tootsie pops, and cash for birthdays and Christmas. The boys love their grandpas!  They give us spaghetti sauce, chili, and baked beans.  They joined us for Thanksgiving.  They take in our mail and feed our cats when we’re gone.  Together, we coax vegetables from the ground in our garden.  They have become family.
But apart from these relationships, there’s nothing else apparently ‘outward’ going on in our lives.  We intend to raise kids who pay attention… who notice kairos moments… who are open to God’s work in them and through them.  For us, this has taken the shape of homeschooling… creating a climate where we set the priorities on relationships over and above the academic rat race of the affluent northwest suburbs in which we live.
This allows us to be family to our neighbors.  It allows us to care for little ones when needed.  It allows us to invite other families into our family life.  It allows for a lot of flexibility with our schedule, which allows us to be freed up for ministry.  It allows for fabulous conversations about God and about listening and responding… but it’s also very ‘in’ and not very ‘out.’
Most of the time, I feel like we’re living faithfully to what God has called us to. We’re equipping and empowering others in our local body to be missional… to go ‘out’ in their neighborhoods and workplaces.  We’re building into our kids, preparing them for lives of obedience and service in the kingdom.  And right now, these places feel like the part of God’s work that we’re participating in.  But is it OK to equip others to go ‘out’ when our own lives are so much more ‘in’?
How do other missional, bi/tri/quad-vocational pastoring parents work through this?  Anyone have any feedback?


  1. I can't tell you how strongly this resonates with my wife and I. We also homeschool our kids. For us it also creates space for us to "be the church" to those around us. I'll admit, intentionally choosing to be a single-income family was a hard choice for us. But what we give up in income we make up for in the freedom to be present to one another and to those with whom our lives intersect. We hope that our children grow up understanding that people are more important money, that sometimes it is who you share life with, not what you earn, that makes you rich.

  2. Good to hear from you, Andy! It sounds like we would have much to talk about... are you & your wife pretty intentional about intersecting your life, as a family, with others (going out)? Or do you approach your missional life in such a way as to leave space and time for whoever God brings? I'd love to know more about how you might describe your participation, as a family, in God's mission.

  3. Hey Cyd,
    Sorry that I didn't see your response earlier. To your question, I think we more closely fit with the latter. We make space for people and places that God would have us intersect with. We don't have a "mission" as a family, per se. It's God's mission. As people who see themselves as "missional" (not even sure how much I like that word as it has a fairly narrow meaning in some Christian circles), we see our entire lives as being part of God's mission. So, that could look like inviting our new friends to join in our Friday night family pizza ritual, or raking our neighbor's beds and driveway while we're raking our own, our taking our kids with us when our local faith community does a collaborative service project...

    I guess the point is, we see our whole lives as a "going out," of sorts. Most of the time, it's not very interesting. If we were to keep a daily blog chronicling our "missional" activities as a family, I'm not sure many people would read it. There are perhaps a half-dozen things each year that would be notable. But the sum total of our posture toward our neighbors and our community is, I hope, unmasking the Kingdom in our midst.

    Like you, we've struggled with "walking the walk" of missionality. Talking about mission and living it sometimes sound like two different things. What I've learned is that the kind of "missional justice" activities that so many young people are drawn to for a season just aren't very sustainable for a long, long time (especially when you through kids and a job and school and all that stuff in to the mix). So, I don't expect that people will beat a path to my door because they're attracted to our lifestyle. In fact, I might be a little suspicious of anyone who did. The reality of it is, faithfulness just isn't very sexy.

  4. Now it's my turn to apologize for taking forever to respond...
    Thanks for your interaction... and I resonate with so much of it - especially that all of life is part of God's mission. It's just a challenge to try to talk concretely about a lifestyle that so often feels so ambiguous and abstract... but maybe that's for the best. I suppose it's better for all of us to be constantly listening and responding to the work of God in us, finding that it's hard to replicate... rather than seeking the next 'law' to put into practice...

  5. Cyd, I think your observation about the challenge of quantifying what you do as a family to be missional is right on. I didn't even have that vocabulary when my boys were small; all I knew is that I was in this place (home and neighborhood) and I needed to be watching who God put around me. It led to a number of great opportunities to minister and bless people, even if it was an offer of help which was never accepted. I think being missional as a family has more to do with being present and open to what God is doing, and then doing that, than it does figuring out where to "go" with your family.