Perhaps the single most frequently asked question I receive with respect to missional communities is “what do we do with our children?”. For this next series, I’m going to focus on answering that question from multiple different angles:
- Why involve your children?
- Kids and the Family Meal
- Kids and LTGs
- Kids and Third Place
- Kids and Demonstrating the Gospel
- Different Ages of Children
Why Involve Your Children in Missional Community?
The questions “how do we handle kids?” is perhaps the most frequently asked one I receive. I think there are a number of reasons for this:
- People want to disciple their children, but also have the opportunity to be discipled and grow
- One of the best places for children to learn is in an age graded environment
- Most small groups are aimed at adults, and childcare is often provided or organized
- Having children of different ages makes it incredibly difficult to ensure that every child can participate
I’m sure there are many other reasons that have made that question so prominent, but the reality is that many have it and we must answer it theologically, philosophically and practically if we are going to disciple well in our culture.
A Brief Theology of Family
With respect to missional community life, I think there are three critical points of theology that must be emphasized.
First, children are a blessing from God:
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5, ESV)
Second, parents are primarily responsible for the discipleship of their children:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, ESV)
Third, we must make disciples of our children who obey the commandments of God:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV)
Although I could probably spend several posts focusing on these three points, I’m going to assume that most people would agree with me, and focus more on how this plays out in the life of missional community.
We Become What We Behold
My greatest desire for my children is that they would be saved – that they would bow to King Jesus, seek to be conformed to His image by the word of God and the power of the Spirit, and that God would ultimately glorify them for all eternity. I want my children to worship Jesus, and I want them to be conformed to His character in all of life.
Their best, and most frequent example of what a redeemed, repenting and believing, worshipping missionary submitted to Jesus looks like is me. The longer I’ve been a parent, the more I find myself looking more and more like my parents, both for good and for bad. Bottom line, we become like what we behold, and right now, my children are beholding me.
If I want them to become like Jesus, and they are looking to me, then I must primarily model what discipleship looks like in all facets of life – as a family, on Sundays as we worship corporately, in my vocation daily, in our community involvement, and in the fabric of everyday life. My children are primarily learning what it looks like to be a missionary from me, and therefore I want to be a compelling example for them. A good children’s program or youth ministry can certainly help spark their affections, but they are apprenticing for life in Godliness with me.
Children Need a Model
If that’s the case, I believe that children indeed need some age-graded instruction, but I want to prepare them for maturity in discipleship and show them what faithfulness in our culture can look like. We have prayed for our second son to be a missionary from the day he was born, and I’d prefer if he didn’t have to go to a mission agency training to learn what it looks like. That means that we are going to model the practices of missionary living for them, incorporating them into rhythms of missional, communal life as much as we possibly can.
Discipleship is Meeting People Where They Are
Simply because I’m the best model though, doesn’t mean that I don’t take them into account. Our fourth son Owen is only 4 months old…he’s not quite ready for a conversation about repentance and faith, and he’s for sure not leading other babies to Jesus! Discipling your children means getting down on their level and calling them up over time to Jesus. My first grader still can’t read super well, so an every day Bible reading plan would be tough for him. Instead, we still tell Jesus stories, and are teaching him the basics of observation, application and prayer. I encourage him to pray for and talk to his friends about Jesus, but I’m not yet holding him accountable to evangelism on a weekly basis because he’s not yet mature.
Many children are saved at an early age, but let’s not make the mistake of expecting a child who hasn’t been regenerated to be immediately mature, just the same as you wouldn’t immediately expect your lost neighbor to understand the totality of God’s commands for their life.
So we’ve got a brief theology, the need for a model, and meeting children where they are. How do we put that together? For me, I want to integrate my children into as much of our missional community life together as I possibly can in order to faithfully live out those convictions. I think it’s critical to integrate kids intentionally into your community both for their benefit, as well as the adults. I have been sharpened in my theology more by having to explain the resurrection to a 4 year old than I have in just about any other way. I’ve been more equipped to talk about Jesus in everyday life because I have to help my 6 year old understand why he gets angry when things spin out of control.
I integrate kids because I need it!
Several of my friends have written on this topic. Below are some other thoughts that may serve you well!
- My friend Logan Gentry has written some good thoughts here.
- Ben Connelly wrote a three part series for Verge that is great: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
- Jeff Vanderstelt had some good thoughts on considering children here
What have you found to be helpful in thinking through discipling children in everyday life?