Lots of you have been asking how those who aren’t married or part of a nuclear family can do family on mission so today we want to explore this.
The simple answer is that living as a family on mission is for everybody – whether we’re single, married, have kids, or don’t have kids!
In the gospels we see Jesus, as a single man, leading a family on mission. He functioned in an older brother role as he led his disciples. A healthy family on mission is made up of the following components:
All of us can learn to live out these principles. To help us glean insight into how to practically live this out as a single person we talked to Diane Kershaw. Diane has lived in various different communities across Sheffield, always seeking to build a family on mission with other people including singles, married, and nuclear families. She currently lives on a large council estate in Sheffield with 3 others.
Diane, we understand family on mission to be made up of Spiritual parents, predictable patterns and missional purpose. A spiritual parent is someone who takes responsibility for the spiritual welfare and development of the family – what has this looked like for you as you’ve led families on mission?
What I’m trying to recreate at the heart of our family on mission are loving, committed, and faithful relationships just as you would find in functioning families. I want it to be a place of investment. So in a biological family, your main investment is in your kids. I’m really wanting to see people reach their potential, and making investments in them to see that happen.
I look for our household to be a place of home, solidity, and welcome. It’s about being there in bad times and good times, just as you would for your biological kids. When I called people to live with me and be part of this family on mission I was very clear that I was calling people to come and live life as a family but that I was head of the household.
All of the people who are with me understand and respect that. With my current household I see myself more as an older sister, rather than a parent, because we are more like peers in terms of age and maturity. But because I take a clear leadership role I am able to say which direction I think we need to go in and they will follow that. Obviously, they’re adults so there’s a measure of maturity in this – it’s their adult home.
I’m also the one who set the rhythms in terms of what we do on a daily and weekly basis. I set the rhythms in terms of “Up”, “In” and “Out”. There will be times where I take more of a parental role with those in my household, particularly if they are much younger in age or maturity but at the moment I’d see my headship of the household more in terms of an “older sister”.
In the bible we see Jesus establishing predictable patterns with his disciples. These included regular meals together, itinerant teaching, times of retreat and rest, routines of synagogue and temple worship, and regular rhythms of personal prayer. So what has it looked like for you to form and set predictable patterns?
Families need to be predictable so I try to be predictably gracious when stuff is tough – it’s something I’m growing in. Different people have had different difficult seasons and it’s important to give them a sense of predictability – of a loving, kind gracious response. I want our house as a whole to be predictable – whilst also giving people freedom to get it wrong.
Predictably welcoming – our household is about welcoming others, not just about one another. A healthy biological family isn’t just introspective. Invitation, hospitality and welcome are all part of what we want to offer to others. There are times for boundaries to say “not right now”, but we want to be predictable in the welcome and grace to anyone that knocks on the door, even if we communicate that we’re not able to spend time with people.
During the weekdays we pray together in the morning. We vary the time we pray slightly according to different work times of various people, but our rhythm is to pray every morning together. The fruit of this is that if something comes up in another point in the day, we have a heart to pray for each other, for anything, in any circumstance.
We always eat together- that is an absolute default that we do that.
We always shop together. We have a joint bank account which we all have access to. Each week we put the menu together and work out who will do the shopping for the week. We try to make this really simple. The bank account is for bills, food, or we’ll buy a gift for someone out of that, or for weekends away. Everyone puts a certain amount in the account and we’ll reduce it if someone’s not earning. We have a baseline that’s common but different people will put in different amounts and that will come through conversation together as a family.
One night a week we have a house night where we take more time together for the evening. Another night a week is our “out” night where we’re all involved in different things and we often have a rest and chill together on a Friday night.
Monthly, Termly and Annual Rhythms
We have termly time away together, so in the autumn we had an “adventure” weekend, in the spring term we have a retreat weekend and in the summer we all went to New Wine together.
We have a predictable pattern with birthdays and how we celebrate each other. We make sure we cook our favourite meal, make a fuss of each other and do what they want to do. It’s really important to celebrate one another at birthdays.
We also have predictable patterns for the local kids, when they come for their kids’ groups (we’ll return back to this in “missional purpose”)
Families on mission, by definition, have a mission, which means they are reaching for a reality that transcends their own existence. What does your missional purpose look like?
When we arrived in the area I spent some time reflecting on who the people of peace were. It was obvious that was with the kids. So I called us all together to do stuff with them. This has changed slightly now but this was our starting point. We do shared mission together in the summer holidays. Last summer we all went to New Wine together and we took the kids and neighbours with us.
The local kids come weekly for their kid’s group. They always set the table, and clear away – they love being involved in the jobs. We start with the same song of grace before we eat. We also have the sweet jar which is for thanksgivings. We put the sweet jar in the middle and then put a candle in the middle of the table that represents Jesus. The kids take a sweet and we each say what we’re thankful for and everyone says something. We make it clear we’re giving thanks to God because he gives us good gifts. We listen carefully to each thank you. We have a strong rhythm of that together – mess with it at your peril!! When any new kids come we get the current kids to explain the rhythms and routines. For the kids, this is the highlight of their week- they are really following Jesus. If they do artwork at our house, they want to leave it here because they know it will go up on the wall. One of my favourite testimonies was when I was talking about Jesus, and I said to the kids “Jesus is a bit amazing” and one of the kids replied back “he’s more than a bit amazing… he’s totally amazing!”
Thank you for sharing with us Diane. I know that you haven’t always found the call to live like this an easy one. Can you tell us what some of the challenges are as you seek to live as, and lead, a family on mission?
We’re not related and that does make a difference. There’s power in biological relationships – they are a God-given gift and I don’t have that so it can feel quite vulnerable. There is an inherent strength in biological family and that makes a difference. With biological family you’ve had many, many years together. And when you create a non-biological extended family it can be more transient, people might move on and so you don’t get the same sense of stability that you’d get with a biological family -that can be quite tiring.
Also, when we’re not all from the same biological family we can all come with very different perspectives and starting places because we’ve all been brought up in different families.
We represent four families and we have a great sense of commitment amongst us to each other’s families. I can’t assume that will happen but we’re increasingly seeing that we’re relating more to each other’s families. We all have different levels of commitment to our biological families and so that can bring pressures and tensions when you’ve got so many extra people in your life.
Establishing a family on mission with single people has the same principles as a family on mission based around a nuclear family. It should consist of a Spiritual Parent leading the household, someone who is willing to invest in the members of their household, someone who can set the rhythms of the household. In Diane’s case this headship role looked more like an “older sibling” role than a parental one. In turn, the spiritual parent and the household can begin to follow Predictable Patterns of life; eating, praying, shopping, and simply doing life together in a way that is predictable and understood by the members of the household. And of course, the household should be united under a Missional Purpose. For Diane and her household this was to serve their people of peace, the local kids.
Diane is single and lives in Sheffield. She has lived in various expressions of community for over 15 years and is committed to living missionally with others. Diane and her household live in a large council estate in the north of Sheffield and are reaching out in what is a pretty un-churched and spiritually poor environment.