Kids and the Family Meal

August 14, 2013 — 2 Comments

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:

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Kids and the Family Meal

In the first post of the series, I talked about why you should involve your children, primarily from applied theology.  The rest of the posts will focus on the philosophy and practice of involving children.  Before diving into this next post, I’d highly recommend you read the MC Family Meal post for context.

Kids can present some interesting challenges when it comes to life together.  If you are primarily gathering around the event of Bible study, then more often than not you’re going to want to keep the kids separate.  But that’s not the primary purpose of the missional community family gathering – it’s to be obedient to Jesus in acting like a family.

With that in mind, and a meal at the center of what we do, I would strongly encourage you to integrate children into this time.  First, it presents the opportunity for them to see and hear other people’s stories of following Jesus, both the good and the bad.  Second, it helps them see that they are part of a community that knows, loves and serves one another frequently and often.  Third, children learn to relate to people of all different ages and life-stages, and are presented with examples of faithfulness that will equip them well for the future.  Finally, it’s just a whole lot of fun having a mess of kids running around for dinner!

How Does it Work?

As far as involving kids in the Family Meal, there are two strategies that I have employed.  The first is to keep them involved in everything we do, from prayer, to eating, to sharing Jesus stories, and all the way to cleaning up.  I think it’s a great way for my oldest child to learn what it looks like to have healthy, Jesus-centered relationships, and I still learn things about the Lord from his struggles and successes throughout the week.

The second is actually feeding the kids all together at a different time.  I really like this strategy, especially with kids of a similar age.  You really only hate the “kids table” when you are old enough to understand adults!  Often we will set the kids up at a table outside, serve them dinner together, and let them make an absolute mess of themselves while we are inside preparing.  It’s been fun to watch as occasionally the conversation will turn to more important things than farts (boys) and ponies (girls).  While the adults are eating, we let the kids go play in the back yard if it is nice outside, or upstairs in our playroom if not.  It gives the adults a chance to focus on conversations that will last a little longer than 30 seconds.

How Long Does it Last?

My family gatherings were typically involved affairs, lasting for a good solid few hours.  I have found that in order to the Family Meal to be successful with children, you need to give it plenty of time.  Don’t expect to have any sort of joy in the evening if you’re trying to cram food down your throat while feeding your kids so you can get out of there in an hour.  Take some time as a family, enjoy one another and the mess the kids are making, and joyfully clean it up when you’re done!

When Do You Do It?

Especially in suburban life, I have found that week nights are absolutely insane.  Whether it’s sports, community involvement, date night, or something else that comes up, weeknights are a really difficult time to accomplish a healthy gathering.  In our rhythms, I have found that Sunday afternoons or evenings are quite possibly the best time to practice this kind of gathering.  Most people are available during this time, and you have plenty of time generally on either side of the gathering to prepare and clean up. Lastly, most of your neighbors rarely have regular appointments on Sunday afternoons, so they may just be interested in sharing dinner!

A Final Word

To be quite honest, doing this kind of gathering on a weekly basis can be really exhausting.  Our normal rhythm has typically been every other week, and we have found that it has pressed us to be more intentional in forming LTGs and given us more space to practice Third Place.  Don’t wear yourself out trying to pull of an event…the point is to act like a family and enjoy one another!

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

2 responses to Kids and the Family Meal

  1. I love the idea of the kids eating first and then having them play in another room while the adults eat! What do you do, though, if most of your children are too young to be left in another room?

    • Marlena,
      I’d say one of two things – eat with the kids involved, and do your best to have some conversation, or alternatively, rotate through who watches them. It’s a good opportunity for parents to learn how to teach little ones, and get better at discipling your own kids!

      Lastly, you’ll definitely want to call in some babysitting and just go out with adults every other month :).

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