Our Forgotten Mission Field
By Guest Contributor: Ben Connelly
In the following post, Ben describes a mission field many church leaders neglect in favor of their vocational ministry: their own families. Youth workers must walk a delicate tightrope by ministering to their relatives without losing sight of the students and volunteers to whom they’ve been called. –Kyle Rohane, Editor at LeaderTreks
Adapted from Week 2 of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission: “WHO Is My Mission Field?”
The largest collection of not-yet-believers we interact with may live under our own roofs.We share our lives with no one more than our spouses, kids, parents, and siblings. Our mission and ministry must not neglect our immediate and extended family. The church I pastor has a two to one ratio of adults to kids. But some of our small groups flip that ratio: one adult for every two kids!
Occasionally, we see believers drag a not-yet-believing spouse with them to church on a Sunday morning. But often it’s easier to get relatives involved by inviting them to someone’s home for a cookout or movie night. We know parents who grieve their children’s souls. And we know children—college-aged and middle-aged—who beg God for their parents’ and siblings’ salvation.
God’s call to the family
Throughout the Bible, God turns his people toward the home. After giving the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, God commands Old Testament Israel to teach this crucial declaration to their children in as many everyday ways as possible. This sentiment is echoed throughout the Old Testament, as God instructs his people to make his ways known to their children and their children’s children.
Jesus famously invited children to himself, even as his disciples pushed them away. And he often used elements of children’s faith as a metaphor for the kingdom of God. Some of Jesus’ own family members were among his first followers: two of his brothers (James and Jude) penned biblical letters, and his brother James led the world’s first church.
Family imagery fills the most common metaphors for the church in the New Testament. Family patriarchs and matriarchs were baptized with their entire households. Still true in much of the world today, extended families in Bible times lived under one roof. When a child got married, a room was added to the house, and life went on. Children apprenticed with parents to continue family businesses. Fathers led families as patriarch pastors. Missional leader Mike Breen—not the sportscaster; this one has a British accent—explains that the Greco-Roman oikos (a unit of “extended family” of 20 to 70 people) was a primary venue for the gospel to spread in the early church. Since families were close-knit, if one person began following Jesus, family members often followed.
We don’t live in homes of 20 people today. At most, parents, in-laws, or a sibling may live with us for a season. We might follow Chevy Chase’s example of a full house for the holidays, but after the presents are unwrapped and the turkey is eaten, everyone goes home. We may not live in the same city, state, or even nation as our parents. The most we might see anyone outside our immediate family is at a reunion. In that context, they might be as excited to talk about Jesus as they would be about putting on the commemorative iron-on t-shirt your aunt insists everyone wear. But unless your family is uniquely blessed, there are likely people in your own genealogy who don’t follow Jesus. Some probably reject him outright.
Our number one priority?
But is family a more important mission field than non-family? Jesus’ own family became believers. But he did not allow his heartstrings to be tugged exclusively by his parents and siblings. He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” (Matt. 10:37), while“everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life,” (Matt. 19:29). Before they believed he was the Messiah, Jesus’ family rejected him. But that did not deter him from his mission to fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes. At one point when his family sought to speak to and likely distract him, he responded harshly: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? . . . Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” (Matt. 12:48–50).
We must pursue mission wherever God has sent us. On one hand, our family is our closest, most heartfelt mission field. But on the other hand, we must guard against family idolatry—putting more value on our families than our neighbors, co-workers, and the students in our ministries, simply because we have a longer history with and an abiding love for our relatives. So is mission to family primary? Perhaps the safest biblical line to draw is that we must guard our emotions, motives, and idols to speak of family as a priority, without making it the priority.
Ben Connelly is the co-pastor and founder of The City Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He also teaches public speaking at Texas Christian University. Follow him on Twitter: @connellyben.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More