During a worship gathering my four-year-old daughter was smitten by the arrival of snacks. The samples of juice and bread coming our way grabbed her attention and probably reminded her of that lady who passes out similar bite-sized temptations at the grocery store.
Enviously watching as I took a small cup and a less than filling piece of bread in hand, she pleaded to have some as well. I said no and “no” is not something little people like to hear. How was I going to avoid an unholy fit at this holy moment?
My initial parental instinct was to correct her into dutiful silence. But rather than fighting to keep the peace, I felt prompted to explain this moment. I bent towards my girl and we talked about the cross and the broken body and spilled blood of our Lord. I explained redemption and how this “snack” is our tangible act of remembering Jesus, and that it is reserved for those who have confessed their need for a Saviour and are committed to sharing life with others who have done the same. She sat quietly in contemplation—or maybe just resigned herself to whatever the Sunday school teacher had to offer a little later.
This simple episode reminded me again of the awesome responsibility the church has to develop mission-shaped homes. This task must be central to the life of the local church. It always has been, we might argue, but I’m not so sure we’ve been doing it as well as our recent formulas might suggest.
I once knew a young couple who were co-habiting and struggling to understand love and life, and whether God had anything worthwhile to say about either. The young woman had been raised in a Mennonite church, the young man had virtually no church history whatsoever. He asked her to explain herself and she blurted passionately, “I’m a Mennonite! I’m thrifty and I cook.” Now, I’m all for thrift, and Lord knows I like good cooking, but if our churches and the homes that constitute them only produce thrifty cooks, then we are to be pitied beyond measure—even if we’re eating well.
It struck me that this young woman did not in any way mention radical faith in Jesus Christ as that which defines being Mennonite, nor vibrant discipleship that cannot lie dormant, nor submission to the will of God, nor service to the world in the name of Jesus.
Whether we have children or not, if we are part of a church family we are in some way charged with the duty of passing on that which is of inestimable worth—the salvation of souls—and what that means for living life beneath the reign of a good God.
Children are searching for answers and explanations to how they should interact with that neighbour kid with peculiar religious headwear, and that school friend who watches certain movies and sings certain songs we want to guard our kids from; and how they should respond to the over-sexualization of culture, the inundation of technologies, and the spiritual apathies of the day that make enthusiasm for Jesus out of step with what is acceptable.
Our task is huge and it demands more than thrift! The mission-shaped family begins as we take advantage of every opportunity for conversation, for honest wrestling, for faith-filled adventure, and even for disrupting the sober silence of communion.
Phil Wagler is the author of Kingdom Culture: Growing the Missional Church and loves the challenge his five kids throw at him in building a mission-shaped home (firstname.lastname@example.org).