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Kids and Third Place

August 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

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 Third Place

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 Third Place post for context.

When it comes to gathering for community, most groups try hard to accommodate children in some way.  In my experience, however, when it comes to mission, most groups give up at the outset of the conversation.  The thought of getting multiple families with multiple children in the same place to accomplish anything together is far too overwhelming of a task.  Part of that mentality is from real challenges – it’s hard to involve kids!  Part of that mentality, though, is still rooted in event-based thinking and needs to be challenged.

The objective of a regular Third Place is to involve your your non-believing friends with the life of your community.  It’s less about “where” and more about “what”.  One way that we have talked about practicing this with children is through the phrase “mission is to your kids and through your kids”.  Mission is to your kids, in that you have a responsibility to disciple them well, and mission is through your kids in that often times your rhythms as a family are oriented around kids’ activities.

Perhaps the most effective way to think through a Third Place with kids of any age is to ask the questions “what are my children already doing?” and “how can I involve my believing friends in those activities?”

Rather than adding something new to your calendar, instead try thinking through how you can intentionally do something that is already on the calendar with someone who loves Jesus and someone who doesn’t yet know Christ!

How Does it Work?

Here are a few examples of Third Places that I have done with kids involved, and also without:

  • Intentionally coaching a soccer team where two other families from my community participated in a YMCA league.  We were able to serve a single mom who desperately needed some short term care for her daughter, and contributed in her re-engaging with another local church.
  • Gathering weekly at our neighborhood coffee shop with our kids and one other mom with kids.  There were already ladies that met there with children, and we were able to have great conversations that led to three of them coming to faith in Christ.
  • My house and our neighbor’s house.  Our neighbors don’t know Jesus, but always open their home up, so we almost always intentionally invite a member of our community to join us when they invite us over.  Our house is always open for business as well, with kids in and out all the time!
  • Wednesday nights, we used to alternate with the women taking and week and the men taking a week going to a local pub to hang out and talk about life.  It didn’t yield much fruit, but it sure was fun!
Regardless on when or where it happens, the critical point is to involve your kids, other believing families, and those who don’t know Jesus in something together.

When Do You Do It?

At this point in my missional community our Third Place is shifting to be built around our school.  Currently, we’re repeating the soccer team idea in a different league, and then involving our missional community in the school PTA, even though they don’t have children.  When PTA happens, we bring folks along!  We’ve also involved another church that is right in the community to help, so we’re building bridges within the Kingdom.

Effective Third Places take into account not only your rhythms of life, but the rhythms of the people with whom you are trying to engage.  Most suburban life with children happens around a school calendar, so we use that as a guide.  If folks are busy, we get busy with them.  if it’s a slow season like the summer, we slow down with them.  Practically, weekend evenings tend to be the time when most families have availability, so do your best to incorporate Saturday and Sunday evenings into your rhythms of mission.

A Final Word

Everyone has a longing for community – for a sense of being known and a sense of belonging.  We’re hard-wired for it.  Pursuing mission as a Christian is not our natural default, however.  Mission is hard, requires sacrifice, and doesn’t often come with a lot of earthly reward.  I want to plead with you to not give up on mission as a believer – God’s glory and people’s eternity is at stake!  If we don’t intentionally create time and space to faithfully orient our lives around those who don’t know Jesus, chances are good we never will.

Lastly, your kids need a model for mission.  If they grow up with their entire lives never oriented around God’s mission to share the good news with others, it’s no wonder the church continues to struggle and flounder in emerging generations. God’s glory isn’t just at stake, the discipleship of your children is as well!

What have you found to be helpful to involve kids in everyday mission?

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:

——

Kids and Life Transformation Groups

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 LTG post for context.From the perspective of children, the LTG is probably the easiest to facilitate when it comes to thinking about child involvement.  The LTG is designed to be a place where we can gather as disciples, and hold one another accountable to obedience as a disciple.  They are single-gendered groups with two or three people, and last generally for an hour.  The most critical piece to making LTGs work is valuing them enough to commit to them every week.  I need accountability on a weekly basis to connecting with God, reflecting on my life, and participating in mission, and I would guess that you do to. I believe it communicates a lot to your children when you explain to them what you do in an LTG, as well as why you are committed to participating in one.  If you faithfully practice this, you will model well for your children that you must have some time and space in your calendar to study the Bible, continue to confess and repent of sin, and intentionally consider opportunities and pray by name for those who don’t know Jesus.  Like Jesus, it’s important that we model time alone and time with two or three as crucial to the submitted life.

How Does it Work?

The easiest solution for this is to alternate for a husband and a wife to take care of kids, or find particular portions of the day where child care is easiest.  I gather early in the morning with other men, and Olivia gathers either in the afternoon during nap time or occasionally after we’ve put the kids down to bed.  Bottom line, find a time in your schedule regularly where children are a little easier to accommodate, and then go for it!

A Final Word

In teaching my children to read and study the Bible, I am actually using a very similar framework for what we utilize in our REAP plan at The Austin Stone.  We have created kid-friendly Bible journals at The Stone, and you can see an example that my 6 year old completed here:

@gustbus's first REAP journal entry. @becca_larae would be proud! #ascc

A post shared by Todd Engstrom (@tengstrom) on

In helping my kids understand their sinfulness and what repentance and faith look like, I consistently try to preach the gospel in a way they will understand.  Lastly, as we are praying with them, we always ask them to consider one person by name who needs the love of Jesus.  As they grow older and are able to read on their own, I will start practicing LTG with my kids to model it well.  If the LTG does in fact have the core components of faithfully being an obedient disciple, then it should be transferable to our children with few modifications. In my experience, it’s a great way to regularly disciple your children!

What questions do you have about practicing LTGs with kids?

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:

——

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!

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 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.

Why Integrate?

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!

Other Resources

Several of my friends have written on this topic.  Below are some other thoughts that may serve you well!

What have you found to be helpful in thinking through discipling children in everyday life?