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?