This post is part of a series of posts we will cover over the next few months looking at discipleship and mission in a variety of contexts. This week we’re looking at discipleship and mission in the context of family. Invariably this is one of the most common questions we are asked from people trying to lead a life of discipleship: “So how does this all stuff work with family?”
To help us gain some key insights for this post we interviewed 2 community leaders from Sheffield, both of whom are mums with young children.
How do you do discipleship with kids?
We have tried to involve the kids in all aspects of our life as a community together, whether that’s praying together, hanging out at the park with a few other people, doing devotionals together, or more “structured mission”. For example our kids have been out with us prayer walking for specific areas, litter picking, taking gifts and cards to our neighbours, as well as just being salt and light in whatever situation we found ourselves in.
Having said that, we have also had seasons where our community has been much more based in the evenings when the kids are in bed. On reflection, though, our more effective times of discipleship and mission have been when all the family have been involved – I think that reflects more fully who we are as a family.
Catherine*These are a few practical examples of some of the things we’ve tried:
- Do some activity that links with the theme that the Missional Community are exploring, for example sung worship, painting, drawing things in worship.
- Do something as a family that we invite other people into. This is usually single people and other families.
- Include the kids in include the kids in mission events, e.g litter picking, planting bulbs.
How has having children affected the way you are missional?
CatherineI think the chunks of time you have available as a family are different, so it’s mainly now Saturday daytimes or Sunday afternoons. It’s hard to get babysitters so you can go out and do stuff in the evening and even when you can, to be honest, you’d rather go out and enjoy yourself as a couple! So obviously this changes things – you aren’t going to be out doing nightclub mission or student stuff. Also, the people you end up meeting are more like you – they may have other children and want to do things in the daytime like birthday parties. In some ways however, it doesn’t change us. I think we would have carried on looking to live the same way even if we didn’t have children. For example, we still invite vulnerable people into our house, to be around the children and pray or chat together, we just make them aware of the family rules with things like language etc! On balance though, the type of people we are connecting with are shaped by the fact we are a family rather than a couple and it has meant we have pursued different opportunities in a mission context; either because of the time or capacity we now have.
In many ways it has been easier since we’ve had kids, purely because of the wealth of relational opportunities that are opened up. New parents are often really open to new relationships with other parents and there are lots of shared opportunities – baby groups, birthday parties, school gates etc.
If we’re part of a large church it can be easy to spend time with other Christians but if we can make the most of the opportunities for relationships with those who don’t yet know Jesus then it can be incredibly fruitful.
What are some of the best opportunities to take hold of?
CatherineSeasonal stuff takes on greater significance when you have kids, for example bonfire night or Christmas. You become more aware of these when you have kids because they are getting it through school or nursery. People want to come out and do something on bonfire night because they want their kids to have that experience so it’s easy to connect. Or, even if they wouldn’t have gone to church at Christmas, they would sometimes want their kids to have the experience of a nativity play or something.
We’ve found seasons a great opportunity too. We always go out with the kids at Christmas and Easter with a small gift for the neighbours on our street. It really helps break the ice in some relationships where you might not naturally see people. Birthday parties have also been a great way to get to know other families. When we’ve had our own kid’s parties it’s been a great way for our extended family/oikos to come along, and get to know some of our local relationships and people of peace.
What are some of the key challenges and how have you overcome those?
I think changing your mindset is a key challenge, and a requirement, when you become a family. When we had our first child we tried to carry on in the same way. In many ways this was possible in the early months of our first son’s life. But as he started moving and chatting, and then we had more kids, we had to re-think how we did life. Our values and principles remained the same.
We still look to live a balanced, three-dimensional life but the outworking of that looks very different.
There are definite limitations in terms of capacity, particularly with young children, but if our lives become missional, rather than doing mission, then every day presents opportunity to share Jesus, however seemingly small that may be. Looking at new opportunities gained, rather than looking back wistfully at opportunities lost has been a much more helpful mindset for me.
CatherineHaving children presents practical challenges, in terms of energy levels and time. You have to learn to work within those boundaries and constraints. And also it’s challenging on a heart level. Because of those practical challenges, I can’t respond in exactly the same way that I would have done 10 years ago. It’s challenging to ask the question “what do I see the father doing?” but knowing that I can’t just say yes to every opportunity or need that I see. I’ve got myself to the point where I have burnt out because I got distracted and wasn’t asking “what was God saying to me at that time?” and how would he like me to respond. There may be a sense of mourning what you have left behind and coming to terms with the fact that you are not in that season any more. There is a tangible loss of old opportunities. Its learning to cope with how some things will look a lot smaller, because in some ways what you have to give might be smaller, i.e. time and energy. I have had to learn not to despise the small beginnings, because he doesn’t despise them. I expect far more of me than he does sometimes! It’s learning to be content with what can look small on the surface. We have to learn not to look around and become jealous of people who seem to be tackling marvellous opportunities and doing lots! You have to get to the point in your heart where you can say “ I’m not doing that because God hasn’t asked me to do that” He hasn’t got regret, so I don’t need to either. This is what gives me the peace to be fully present in the season he has me in now. That’s a huge ongoing challenge.
How have you discipled other families in how to live a life of discipleship and mission?
CatherineWe’re all at similar stage of life so we are not experts! We’re really grateful that we now have a family with older children around so we can ask them how to do some things as they are ahead of us. What we try to model is a lifestyle of openness to others. We try to remember what Jesus says in Matthew 16:25 “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it”. Sometimes it can feel like “if I open my family life up, I might lose my life” but our testimony is that, as we have tried to open up our home and our life, we have found life in those places. Some people definitely share this view and have seen life in it too. Others have found it hard to get past this barrier.
How do you manage the tension between nuclear and extended family?
I think we try not to view it as a “tension”, otherwise it implicitly infers that our life is in two compartments: nuclear and extended.
If you think of a natural functioning family, there are times when the grandparents, the aunts and uncles are there, at other times it’s just the cousins and other times it’s just the nuclear family.
Our family life includes all these times, and to varying degrees in different seasons. Our extended family has always added life to our nuclear family.
This has been a journey for us, and we’re still on it. I remember when we first started opening up our lives by having people live with us, and walking more closely with others it felt deeply challenging. If you haven’t lived this way before, and you want to grow in it, I would just recommend taking small steps to living a more integrated life. For example if you don’t normally let other people cook in your home, let others in and let them loose in your kitchen! And then build it up from there. This goes for people who have families as well as those who don’t.
Can you share one testimony about discipleship or mission as a family?
CatherineI will pick a recent one that I hope is encouraging! We have a particular family tradition that we do every year. It has become a precious tradition to us. This year, we felt challenged to not be over protective of our little thing and open it up – so we did! Some people from our community came along and it was a really lovely afternoon and added to the whole thing to have others with us. It was an opportunity to spend some quality time with one of the girls who came and I never felt like I was missing out on time with my family. The family tradition didn’t become lost, rather it got added to. We often tell our kids is better to share and that was definitely our experience. It cemented both the tradition we have and also the relationships in the community. One of the guys that came suggested we pray together at the start to give thanks – he’s a fairly new Christian so that was a great encouragement, and it also brought something new for us into the way we did the tradition.
* Names have been changed to keep anonymity