The Off Mike podcast features my in-process thoughts about a large number of topics. In order to continue the conversation, I will present a written version of the key thoughts of these podcasts.
This podcast features Mike and Sally talking together how they’re implementing Family on Mission in recent days.
Today we’re talking about something that has emerged in our reflection on Family on Mission over the last little while.
As we have dug into our own experience and answered the questions of the many people at Family on Mission experiences, we have begun to think about a new phrase.
Family OR Mission
Family ON Mission
Family AND Mission
And now Family AS Mission
It’s a new little bit to that really came out of speaking to hundreds of people and realizing that on our journey we had spent some time in none of the three categories we had mentioned before.
The thing that I’ve reflected about it is that there are moments and seasons and times in the life of a family—small, large, extended, or nuclear family—that require Family as Mission.
So the family becomes the mission rather than being a vehicle of mission.
I think this is extremely releasing and extremely freeing, particularly for people who have felt guilty about not being able to do Family on Mission but have a heart for it. The reason they can’t do it is because of some prevailing outside or inside circumstances.
So give us some examples…
It could be that you’ve suffered a loss and there’s been a big grief in the family.
Instead of being on mission in your grief and los, you need to come back and function within the family so the family itself is able to heal, recover, and go through the grieving process, and not feel like it’s driven toward mission all the time.
You’re not feeling like you have to push yourself to the edges. You’re able to say that there’s a time you need to heal and reflect. That’s one of the times that is very obvious.
We as a family have suffered grief and loss and have done that. I know that Beccy and Phil have done that with their grief and loss over Oliver, our grandson. So they’re now beginning three years on to think about Family on Mission rather than thinking of their family as mission. They now have two adopted children and have a completely different worldview.
I think it’s important that we understand that there are two default positions we need to think about:
1) Family as Mission as a default position
You’ve encountered difficulties, grief, sickness, who knows what. Just the stuff of life.
Tired. Moving. Things that are going to take a lot out of your capacity.
At that point, you return to the family, function as family, work as family, and allow the family to do the thing the family does best:
- Provide for
- Protect and
- Heal the people within it.
2) Family on Mission as a default position
This is to say we’re now functioning as family, and as family we can go on the frontiers of our mission to our community, to the people we’re called to, and go and do mission. This is the other swing of the pendulum.
So Beccy and Phil, they lost Oliver a few years ago. They gathered in, functioned as a family with us as their extended family, with their new adopted children, and now are beginning from that place of security to move out as family on mission.
I think the first time we experienced that was when we first came to America to Little Rock, Arkansas, in the early 90s. I particularly had suffered a lot of grueling, hard times. Just miserable stuff within that environment.
I realize that what I was doing unintentionally but with a purpose was concentrating on us as a family and making sure that everyone was OK after that experience. To nurture and to grow.
We’ve been through a similar thing recently.
When we came to Greenville, we did exactly the same. We realized that the previous 10 years had been very hard, and we needed to assess, regroup, reflect, and find out what the new direction would be. And to find who the People of Peace are and where the next mission might be. That’s another thing family as mission can be used as a foray for.
It’s a recalibration. You pull back and you take stock and you look at the new frontier and say, that’s where we’re going to go.
Rather than just plowing forward.
Really, what we’re saying is that family is the principal vehicle of mission in the New Testament and since the New Testament. We believe it is the principal vehicle God wants to use today—certainly as we understand family as a bigger unit. Not just the nuclear family but the extended family where we add other people to it. The Missional Community movement is an expression of Family on Mission.
But actually, that family needs to live in the rhythm of life. The semicircle in the LifeShapes gives us a picture of how the family should function.
The family should swing toward mission, produce fruit, and then be prepared to be pruned back from all of the external activities it’s doing, come back to a place of rest and abiding, and allow those times of healing and regeneration where Jesus says, “Abide in my love. Let my words abide in you.”
That’s not just as individuals. That’s as a family.
On the basis of that, allow the growth and the movement toward mission to occur again.
The picture that we find in John 15 is a hugely important one. I’m thinking particularly of the way Jesus describes the vine. Think of this in terms of family:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.—John 15:1-4
If we think of a branch not as an individual but as a family, then we say the family grows, moves out, there’s fruit, and then prunes back.
A family abides in Christ, lets his words abide in us as a family, allows his love to marinate in the family, and then on that basis moves out again and grows.
This is the rhythm of life first established in Genesis where God rests from his labors. The very first family, Adam and Eve, rests with him. And from that place of rest, we go into work. And the main work of the Kingdom is to carry on the mission of God to the world.
It’s a really important addition to the teaching of Family on Mission.
I feel like it gives freedom and release for people who are in that place but feel guilty—who need to abide but have felt the pressure of the teaching of mission and go, go, go. It’s absolutely key.
And I think that the only sort of caution in that is if the family becomes an idol—if you’re only concentrating on the family so much that you will never step out in mission.
We’re not healed enough yet.
We’re not whole enough yet.
Because we’re never going to be ready.
Clearly, it’s possible in my opinion to carry one person who’s tired. It’s when you’re all in that place—you’re all tired, you’re all grieving, you’re all lost, you’re all in the space of change—then it requires you to concentrate on family as mission.
But you need to be accountable for when that moment changes and the concentrating on the healing and abiding becomes indulgent or excessive or an idolization of the family.
The way that we avoid overly focusing on mission or overly focusing on the family is to have predictable patterns. Some of the predictable patterns we have are to go on a walk on a Sunday. It’s a common meeting place where we all turn out at Cleveland Park. It’s a very similar walk every time. It’s a place of abiding for us as a family.
There are patterns and predictable patterns of being family as mission and being family on mission.
And the thing about them being predictable is, they don’t cost you as much energy. They’re easy, and you’re able to abide. We always go to the same place, park in the same spot. You’re not having to text everybody. It’s always 4 o’clock, Cleveland Park. I think that’s one of the keys to making the abiding productive, because even in that time of abiding, you can make it hard. If you have the predictable patterns, you just roll into it.
So every day, when the kids were young, we would pray with them at night before they went to bed. We would have breakfast with God, as we used to call it. It’s us as a family being restored and being ready.
Really what we’re doing is relabeling part of the predictable pattern. Part of the predictable pattern of a family on mission is to be family as mission. So daily we do it, weekly we do it, and seasonally we do it. You say vacation shouldn’t be mission—it should be vacation.
And maybe, like the season we’ve just been through, over a period of time, it’s almost like a Sabbatical from the family on mission thing. You retreat, regroup, reflect, think through what’s going on, and then begin to move out.
It’s interesting to see how we’re beginning to move out right now with the Monday evening neighborhood evening.
On a Monday evening now, we’re meeting. Anybody in our neighborhood, we meet together. I cook something in the trusty Crockpot—anything that’s easy—and everyone brings things. It’s very easy, and we call it our “We made it through Monday meal.” We meet, we chat, we tell stories, we laugh. And we’re beginning to work out things we can do to bless and nurture this community. We’re talking about doing one of those Little Libraries. We have a community garden we’re all going to work in and maybe have picnics in when it’s hot weather.
So now we have Mondays. But that as come out of the season of abiding.
I think the key is while abiding, you are very clear about still listening to what the Lord is saying. You don’t have your blinkers and your earmuffs on. It’s been in our season of abiding that we have felt the grace and opportunity to do this Monday night meal.
It’s like Jesus says in John 15:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.—John 15:7
Sounds like a good plan to me.
Clearly the idea of abiding is to abide in his love and to express that love for one another, and clearly there’s this thing about listening. It’s really key.
And it’s also like having open hands even in that time of abiding. It’s not about bolting the doors and shutting everything out.
It’s letting go of stuff so you have empty hands to receive the new resources and blessings and revelation God has for you.
We’ve been teaching Family on Mission for a long time, but this is something people may not have heard of.
There’s a kind of a rising sense in the seminars do and the experiences we share that people really want to hear about this. The people who are at these events are people who want to do mission, but they’re having to think about what this has to do with my life.
- We’ve just had a baby
- What about when I’m ill
- What if I’ve just moved jobs
How do you steward the life of a family on mission is really the big question?
And it’s mainly the women who have a sigh of relief on their faces.
I think that’s because very often the women are the more practical of the pair. They think of all the practical considerations the men aren’t thinking about.
If I have to open my home 24/7 for the rest of my life, I’m going to be burned out, so I don’t want to engage in it.
I think when you put this in, people are more likely to engage in Family on Mission, because they know they have this rhythm to come back.
Jesus says it quite clearly: You will bear fruit. You have been chosen to bear fruit. But it comes out of abiding. You cannot bear fruit unless you abide.
We cannot be a fruitful family on mission unless we are a thoughtful family as mission.
The last thing to say is that for everybody abiding will look slightly different. So don’t look at everyone in the family and tell people the way they’re going to abide.
So we’ll put this out and see what your response is. We look forward to continuing the conversation in the comments below and online.