It was a Friday, and I was outside working on a building we were in the process of renovating in Alton, Illinois.
Our family had moved after our first church plant from Portland, Oregon, to Denver, Colorado, for our second plant. And now we found ourselves in Alton all because our son Ryan’s physical disability had wooed us to be closer to him. This afternoon, however, had nothing to do with him. My daughter Mckenna had simply driven up to me, rolled her window down, and said, “Hi, Dad.” We chatted for a minute or two, and then she drove off.
I kept working for a few minutes, and then I had one of the most powerful moments in my adult life. I sat down on the curb, put down the tools, and just thanked the Lord that my adult daughter (then 25) had come with us to Alton for a third mission.
In fact, it wasn’t just her and her new husband Jesse, my oldest daughter Alli and her husband Matthew had also joined us. It was then, I thought, “Time to finish that righteous brood book.” Years earlier, I had started to write a book specifically for families that were attempting to live a more missional story. Now, seeing my adult kids with us on mission seemed like a good time to tell the whole story.
A Parent’s Job Description
Whenever I speak to Jesus followers, I always ask, “What do you think are the primary roles of Christian parents?” The answer seems to always fall into these categories: To protect and provide.
In one meeting, a young mom yelled, “So what do you think our job is Hugh?” Without reservation, I said, “Develop and Send.”
Their Christian bubble was not just their place of worship, it was their justification to circle the wagons and wait for Jesus to come save them instead of a community of friends who model, challenge, and develop stout-hearted missionary skills in their kids.
I thought they would all agree, but the meeting went south in a hurry as I realized that these parents wanted nothing to do with having their kids anywhere near the world. Their Christian bubble was not just their place of worship, it was their justification to circle the wagons and wait for Jesus to come save them instead of a community of friends who model, challenge, and develop stout-hearted missionary skills in their kids.
For most of our lives, we’ve been starting churches… from scratch. We never took a large group of folks with us from traditional church settings, we never really took a salary, and we, for sure, never provided the standard children’s church or youth group experience for our kids. All we had was our life and the stories of other families that were on mission with us. Our style was more along the lines of creating networks of microchurches with a few church gatherings, but there was never a weekly thing for our kids.
We learned the rhythms of kingdom life, and we watched young families struggle against the currents of consumer Christianity.
In all three settings, we tended to reach young 20-somethings. So, there were always a ton of weddings, toddlers, and screaming babies to make the journey gritty. And in all three places, we learned the rhythms of kingdom life, and we watched young families struggle against the currents of consumer Christianity.
Our largest network was in Denver, and we wrote about the rhythms of our community life in a book called The Tangible Kingdom. This one book sent me all over the world, coaching missional communities, both as a form of church and in existing traditional model churches. Now that the church is in stark and irreversible decline in every form, our unique way of doing real life with people is becoming more mainstream as a possibility. But we always get hit with one primary question as people are thinking about doing ‘church’ differently.
The question is, “What do you do with the kids?”
These are rhythms or ways of life that only make sense if you’ve already decided that you’re going to live like missionaries in the places God has put you.
Before I share our little trade secrets, I must tell you that these are not gimmicks or tricks for how to keep your kids busy or out of your hair as you try to navigate life. These are rhythms or ways of life that only make sense if you’ve already decided that you’re going to live like missionaries in the places God has put you.
If you are trying to add a little mission onto a little bit of church you add to your already busy life, these will not make sense. But if you are done going to church and want to help God build his church, I think these will serve you well and help create a story big enough to not only hold your kids in their faith, but big enough to woo them into living the same type of life you did.
The Four Rhythms for Family Formation
1. Open House
This is about literally seeing your house as the mission post. Cheryl and I have had 11 homes in 30 years of marriage. Every single home was a project in creating space for parties and people. If hospitality is the ancient strategy for evangelism, I think space-making is the new form of evangelism. They are one and the same.
It’s God’s home.
Cheryl and I are always blowing out walls to accommodate 40 people and making sure we’ve got rooms to put people up. Most of the guests were friends of our kids who needed some family and some safe space, a single mom, and occasionally homeless youth or adults. But over the years, our kids came to know that our home is not our own space. It’s God’s home.
2. Open Table
This is literally about the table where we eat and talk. Those two things are quite literally where the life change happened. Sometimes it was a big dinner with 30 or a family dinner with 10 or just a few couples over. But Cheryl and I always tried to share at least 3-7 meals a week with people outside our family. As many of them became part of our spiritual family (church), they told us that the family dinners and happy hours, and late-night cocktails were where the lightbulbs went on for them.
They learned how to move from fun conversations to more intimate times and how to serve and be served.
Even better, our kids were with us at hundreds of these parties and meals and got to learn that toasts can be more powerful than prayers before a meal and that alcohol isn’t an issue unless you make it an issue. They learned how to move from fun conversations to more intimate times and how to serve and be served.
3. Open Book
Often, we get asked, “Where is the Bible in all this life stuff?” I always laugh now because the ones that usually ask this only have one primary “feeding” a week in their local church. In our experience, we tended to talk about God and Biblical passages and ideals along the way of life.
Of course, I carried the pressure most men do in hearing they are the “spiritual leaders” of their homes. And I tried to mandate family devotions. Most of these attempts went terribly and often would end up with someone yelling or crying, followed by the ubiquitous eye roll of my wife: “Well, that was great again, Sparky.”
Somewhere in their later elementary years, I stopped trying to lead and force the Bible and instead let them both know Dad is always here to talk about anything. They took me up on it, and I can honestly say the Bible opened up for our kids as an ongoing conversation rather than a scheduled meeting.
4. Open Road
This rhythm is about exposing our kids to the world and helping them see Jesus in the struggle of life instead of the country club bubble of a church-focused culture. We learned early on that if Jesus said he is always with the poor, we would be well served to be with the poor and have our kids with us. It’s where we found Jesus and, quite literally, the experiences that formed our kids into the people they are today.
I could drop my girls off in the worst part of central Detroit, South Africa, or a burning landfill community in Nicaragua. They are not only not afraid, but they jump in with a sense of calling to transform it. I always taught the girls, “As long as God is with you, you’re never actually unsafe.”
There are rhythms of life that will always disciple your kids to become adults that are willing to live larger than most.
As you can see, there’s no way to have a balanced life or a perfect parenting model. But there are rhythms of life that will always disciple your kids to become adults that are willing to live larger than most. The stats on kids leaving the faith after 18 years of age-appropriate Bible studies is pretty depressing. But I’ve found families that live like this all over the world, and their kids tend to grow up and change the world.
I hope The Righteous Brood will be an encouragement to you and your family and the family of God that is the church. I also hope that just like Mckenna drove by to say hi to her dad, that your own children will see a story big enough in your own life to want to join you.