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No Child-Family Left Behind

This blog posting has been sitting in draft form for months now. As more Missional Communities are on the horizon, I thought this might be a good time to publish.

We’re still learning how to do community in a new way as so it disrupts the social-norm wherever Missional Communities exist. We want to do this in a way that demands an explanation (1 Peter 3:15) as it garners attention when our people live life by the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-21), not the flesh (Galatians 5:22-24).

One of the challenges of this shift in community is bringing together the different cross-sections of people that naturally occur in a church as they reflect culture they’re in. Doing life together with young and old, hispanic and caucasian, affluent and impoverished, or single and married. Initially, one of the more challenging people groups to bring together are those who do not have young children with those who do. However, with a little care and consideration this is also one of the most easily remedied.

I’m going to place much of the responsible emphasis on those without kids. Not necessarily because those with kids are more special or deserve more consideration (though in some instances they may), but because the children themselves deserve special emphasis (Matthew 19:14, Matthew 18:2-5).

Good community finds a way to allow all people, of all ages, at all stages of life to participate from top to bottom (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). I’m not saying there isn’t a time when specific demographics need specific attention, community, or teaching. However, I am saying this should be the exception and not normative.

As newer groups begin to have little kids around that weren’t there before, patience is tested and logistics get complicated.

TEACHING

The Bible says children are blessing (Psalm 127:3) and to raise them in God’s instruction (Ephesians 6:1-4). But, so far as I can tell, Proverbs 22:6 was never intended exclusively for parents:

Train up a child in the way he should go . . .—Proverbs 22:6

One of the things many Missional Communites will feature is a time of teaching and learning. Certainly, I agree, that there are appropriate times for kids to be shepherded to another part of the house so the adults can speak openly and freely. But I would ask you to consider, and therefore be more intentional, about not letting that be all that happens.

We, as human beings, tend to be very short-sighted and self-focused. If we’re not careful, how will the next generation of gospel-stewards (who God has entrusted us to steward) ever learn to apply the gospel-truth to the host of life issues that arise in community? I purport that the best way is watching a community actually do it. Therefore:

  • What conversations can they stick around and listen to that might be redeming?
  • How can the adults in the room intentionally turn their attention to the kids to remind them they are not a nuisance or just “in the way” (Matthew 19:14).
  • You’ll be surprised what getting down on one knee with a 5-year old teaches them about you.
  • You’ll be even more surprised about what it teaches you about you.

Are you planning in advance how the gospel will be heard by the kids who God has given your community? It, indeed, does take a village to raise children sometimes. Don’t simply abdicate the responsibility to raise godly children to the parents (though they are primary). In some small way, He has given them to all of us. You may not currently have or ever intend to have children of your own, but to live in biblical community is to acknowledge you may still bear responsibility for children.

In today’s culture, most parents would be horrified if you corrected their children. Which begs to ask how will they ever learn to take instruction, submit to authority beyond their parents, or receive a loving rebuke (in our case, with the intetion to make them more like Jesus) if others aren’t involved from the onset? The answer is they won’t and will be worse off for it (Proverbs 12:1).

With my own kids, I have realized there is a wealth of diverse giftings in the local church (Ephesians 4:11). Which means there is a wealth of instruction and perspective available to them for their edification (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and equipping (Ephesians 4:12). I have seen this first hand:

  • God clearly gave people like Jess, G, Devan and Tim to my oldest daughter, Kaelyn. In so doing, He has faithfully cast a vision for the next few seasons of life. That with the host of temptations and trial ahead, it can be navigated in godly community. He has given my oldest, older sisters and brothers to lean on and instruct her that she wouldn’t have otherwise had.
  • God clearly gave people like John, Jim, Bill and Tim to my youngest son, Zachary. Men who would get down on one knee with him. Men would allow him to climb all over them. Men who would introduce archery to him. Men who take him to baseball games when his dad was away. In so doing, communicate they were never too busy for him. That other fathers and brothers are ready to step in and love him and correct him when needed or I’m not around or looking. This will brand in his soul that Godly men are always more attractive than the ungodly.
  • God clearly gave people like Kathryn, Jess and Carly to my youngest daughter, Faith. Women who would scoop her up in their arms, make her up for dates with dad, redeem beauty in the world with the beauty in the Gospel. They are teaching her and sweeping her up in adventures bigger than Barbie and boys.
  • God clearly gave an entire church to my oldest son, Tyler. A place that would look to his interests and not their own, accommodate his condition, and help provide for his needs. Leaving him behind in our groups of community was never an option for fear of the noise or nuisance he might be.

FELLOWSHIP

Finally, a quick word about fellowship. There are few worse feelings than being left out. To not be included or taken along. Sadly, as these two demographics learn to integrate, this will happen. Not intentionally, mind you, but certainly nonetheless.

When Shannon and I didn’t have kids (which was only a very short season, mind you), getting out was easy. We could go with anyone, to anywhere, at anytime. When Kaelyn was born, that all changed. Our single or kid-less friends would invite us out with a few days notice and couldn’t understand why that was so hard to manage. So, the natural shift was to only have friends who had kids and could empathize. This myopic version of community is commonplace and the best a self-centered culture has to offer.

But in Biblical community we want to resist those polarizations. Which means we don’t leave parents with kids behind. Instead, we must serve them as family and either: consider events and places that can accommodate kids; or take the initiative is helping them find suitable care for their kids so they can join us. Either way, we include them in the planning from onset.

We don’t, however, say to our Missional Community family:

“we’re all going out this Friday (meaning with or without you), if you can find a sitter (meaning we won’t be helping you), we would like you to join us (meaning you’re a different group than ‘us’)”

Likewise, parents with children shouldn’t simply say “they don’t understand”, without fairly communicating your needs giving others a chance to course correct. While we’re on the subject, this exhortation goes both ways. Most parents with kids, tend to exclude parents or singles without kids from their fellowship. The assumption sometimes is they will either be inconvenienced or inconsiderate. This is too bad as they have so much to offer that those of us who get mired down in the day to day of parenting miss. We and our children teach them and they with their gifts and perspective teach us. Win, win.

Please hear my heart, I’m not saying those without young kids (or those with) in Missional Community together can never go out separately. That is not my point, at all. But gracious, considerate, inclusive community would find this to be the rare exception.

I served in the Marine Corps when I first left High School. We had a saying, “no man/woman is left behind”. Funny, God said something quite similar:

So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it. —1 Thessalonians 5:11 (The Message)

I’ll leave you with this quote:

“…yes, your children may have grown and left your home, but as of yet, their are children who have not grown and left the church. So it would seem, your job is not done…”