Sunday, May 08, 2011

Missional Communities and Children

If you have been following my story a little you will know why the excerpt from the interview below is ver-r-r-r-r-y interesting. You might also know I am on a three month break to attempt to write a book on all things to do with children's spiritual development, outreach and mission to the young and their families and how to do this in the context of the wider church.

I'm not wanting to go back the way to recount again the past few weeks as I am feeling a fresh wave of thankfulness, gratefulness and hope for the future (after a very low low on Wednesday). I've now resolved in my mind that part of what I have been going through, in the past few posts, has been for the following reason:-

This writing project and time out to reflect and to talk to others means that IN PARTICULAR I can hone in on how younger ones, lone parents and families who I love with all of my heart might fit into and GROW into the missional church model that my church bravely entered into. What is God's Spirit saying about missional communities and families and kids/teens?

Already I have had some vivid new dreams about what this might look like. Like, what shape it would actually take to make it begin to happen, but in the dream it isn't me that's giving it shape, I'm simply facilitating, it's the people gathered together under a waterfall, a pouring out of God's Spirit who receive the details he breathed into them. It feels as if I am seeing a fresh and new perspective because I am away from it all. Is it possible that precisely when you're not IN something you can see something new?

It's important to note that the things I've experienced with missional expressions were not because they were wrong - I don't think that nor have ever thought that. Missional expressions/communities turn inward-focussed Bible study groups into groups of people who look at local needs and ask the Spirit of God to lead them deeper in what it means to do the kinds of things that Jesus would do. Therefore, once they are ablaze with the Spirit's power and living out of a deep, personal revelation of the Father's love and a solid foundation on his word, there is literally nothing they can't tackle head on!

So half-hearted meeting together for Bible study out of routine, struggling every step of the way is not what I envisage. Nor is a tight community of people of similar socio-economic backgrounds what I envisage.

Radical, Holy Spirit empowered encounters deeply engrained in simply loving the community around and watching and listening for the people God is bringing across one's path is what I really want to be part of.

I personally love looking out for the Person of Peace God puts across my path(the terminology used) as I know in my noah what that means; that one who you pray for and love to bits and look for ways to love and serve. Someone who, for that period of time, is receptive to you and the good news about Jesus. For reasons of confidentiality its best to share an example from many years ago. Someone I knew vaguely was very ill a few years ago and it became clear that she was my Person of Peace. For a long time I thought of her, prayed for her and tried to do practical things to help her as often as I could. I still miss her and think of her often.

The greatest privilege was asking if I could pray for her in hospital and seeing her full recovery some time later. The whole point of the person of peace is that we love them and serve them.

Back to the last week's research on missional communities and children, teenagers and families. This forms part of what I'm writing and follows on from my first chapter, an examination of how children and new Christians learn and grow in their faith and the second chapter, the place of nurture, which missional communities are so well placed to offer, if they are growing well.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Mike Breen, who is widely credited as one of the first people to practise missional communities in his church in Sheffield (Mike now lives in the States). You can read the whole interview here, on Fuller Theological Seminary's blog.

The parts in bold are the interviewer's questions:

I don’t think I’ve read any book on the missional church that spends as much time discussing how to create space for families and children. What are the primary difficulties you’ve seen incorporating children and families into these types of communities? Why is it worth the effort to do this?

Well like I said above, I think there are different ways of incorporating kids into Missional Community life. There isn’t one way we’ve found best to do it; it generally depends on the mission context, age of the kids, temperament and work situation of the parents, size of the meeting spot, etc. But at a bare minimum, we would say that kids need to be seeing their parents involved in mission and discipleship and participating with them. We’ve done a fair amount of research on this and what came to light is that kids who have atheist or agnostic parents have a better chance of having a strong faith than kids who have parents that go to church, but don’t ever disciple their kids themselves. There’s simply too much dissonance there. Parents must be the primary disciplers of their kids and Missional Communities let this happen.

The reason it’s worth it is because this allows our kids to journey into a story bigger and far more important than the consumeristic narcissism they are sold everywhere else. And parents and spiritual aunts and uncles have to show them how to live this kind of life if it’s going to stick.

And so, for me in the quote above Mike Breen highlights this kind of thing that I've banged on about before and I personally can't wait to hear what else he says when he speaks in Scotland next week.


  1. Lynn, this is so interesting.
    I know from personal experience that the reason I have the faith I do today is not because I attended church with my mum but because she, and others in the church, lived out their faith with us. We were taught that Jesus could speak to us and use us just as much as the adults. If we wanted to pray or respond to something we felt Jesus was saying to us, or we wanted to serve others in the church we were encouraged and it actively helped our faith to grow.
    I hope all your reading, researching and writing is going well x

  2. This is interesting, and I agree with the comment. A lot of people don't like it when I say this, but I'm actually very thankful not to have grown up in a Christian family - because I wasn't sheltered and learned about real community, and it meant I had no preconceived notions of God or church. I got to experience and discover straight from God & the bible for the most part.

    I also like the part about 'spiritual aunts & uncles'. I've had them in my last church, and there's a family in my current church that I consider my sisters & brothers! It doesn't matter that we are not of the same flesh and blood. Equally I have been given the honour of being a godparent to my friends' firstborn - I stood before their family and their church family and most importantly took vows right along with them as a spiritual parent taking on a responsibility. I know that as my friends' kids grow up they will be watching me (in fact I know one that already does!)

    I say all this as someone who is single, and might be forever more, but has a deep heart for building family and community. So how do people like me become part of these communities? Or do we separate ourselves from all the 'parent & children' families?

  3. Thanks, sisters, for the comments!
    On one point, "how does someone like me become prt of these communities", the answer is: just go! Throw your lot in, as you do already in the families that love you and you them!

    Certainly, in my past, unless there was safeguarding issue about a specific individual known to us, intergenerational groups were simply that....intergenerational groups.

    All common sense safeguarding procedures were in place, and anyway, we were all together. We ate together first, worshipped together, opened the Bible together then ministered to one another. Kids played together as the tea and coffee were served. I'd love you to be around me and my kids whatever your "status"! We need you.


  4. Anonymous12:46 AM

    Having been brought up within church, been around church all of my life, been disillusioned, disappointed and eventually falling away from it your words have hit a sore point. The Church Family is a big deal to me. I recently began attending a church again, for the first six weeks the only people to talk to me were those on the door. Literally no-one else even said hello. Then, a couple of people began to say hello and now, a few months on, I know some individuals by sight and name.

    I will never have children, I have no blood-family, I have a shaken and broken faith. There is nowhere to go and seek church community. The church I attend has small groups, they ask for people to join them but close themselves off to (it seems) anyone who doesn't fit the correct stereotype of what they think they require.

    Gifts, God given gifts, are ignored in individuals who have so much to offer and yet would never suggest that of themselves because to do so feels arrogant and self promoting. Assumptions are made based on opinion and scant, if not non-existent "knowledge" of the individual. So, those people with so much to give, watch from the edges feeling more and more isolated, alone and bereft but unable to tell anyone for fear of being told to leave and not return.

    So, how do they contribute? How should they go about getting involved? I know of one person in particular who is scared, actually afraid, of attending a church service because they know that walking through the door will confirm their self-perception of being nothing. They are fighting to try and maintain a faith in the loving Father God while being systematically destroyed by doubt and their fellow humankind. They used to feel church was a safe place, now they dread the arrival of Sunday.

    How can we, as a church community, reach out to people like that? How can we say, it's ok to be you, we love you. How can we claim to be living in the image of Father God when our actions or inactions say we do the opposite.

    You probably have no answers, and please don't feel that this is my getting at you personally. I think you're remarkable, not least because of your honesty. There is pain behind your words. I pray you feel healing. Hang on to your Father God, you're never alone.


  5. dear anonymous

    I wrote you a long reply a few hours ago and Blogger seems to have gobbled it up so I will attempt to recall most of what I wrote!

    First up, I am so sorry that you are finding church so difficult, and I am troubled too about what you said about your friend. I have spent a lot of today thinking about what you said. Please forgive me if I have ever said or done anything that has contributed to the way you feel, whether we have been part of the same church or not (I don't know if we have) - I still ask forgiveness as one who was in leadership on behalf of any other churches where you have felt less than part.

    We are to be called the community of the broken, for Jesus didn't come for the healthy (he said they had no need of a doctor!), and what I was trying to say in my earlier comment that got lost, probably far more eloquently, is that we need to remember that we are sinners, saved by God's grace. I listened to the minister of the church I am visiting at the moment speak of this; how we often spend little time repenting of who we are and the things we do, to move on to talk about successes. I've just come out of a period where I'm spent, done and out of ideas. That's why sabbaticals are so needed! You are right, I've been hurt, and felt broken, but the truth is, I have never operated as a church pastor out of feeling that I know it all. Knowledge and competence is the opposite of brokenness. I've come to every role I have ever had vulnerable, teachable (I hope) and trying to be dependent on God for every next step of strategy and action.

    The one thing I have tried to do well is love. Love children, love parents, love adults whether they serve alongside me or not, love the church.

    And I think I must have managed to love well. what has been sown back to me in the time since I have left is love in abundance, in cards, gifts, texts and conversations. It's really blown us away. And with hands on hearts Mr HIWWC have and are persisting in loving others through this time God has given us. I'm hearing my own words used to others come back real strong - love like there's no tomorrow and forgive like your life depended on it.

    I know you weren't getting at me personally when you said the post hit a raw nerve and I appreciate your kind words to me, but we are ALL remarkable. We so need each other - in the community of the broken we all have a part to play; the whole body needs each other.

    You have a unique role - maybe its in reconciling people to one another, maybe its befriending, it is certainly in modelling to those younger than you that hard times happen but God is faithful when not everything is OK.

    With all my heart I want to encourage you to find a place where you belong. The local church truly can be the most beautiful place on the planet. And if I may be so bold as to say to you and your friend - thank God for the good things you do see in the local church. Speak well of the things God is doing and persist in asking him to direct you to the right place and the right people.


  6. Anonymous9:30 PM

    I've been having a break from reading blogs. Your rainbow is beautiful. I admire you for being able to keep hold of faith.

    As for me, I think my faith is too broken to be fixed. I have made the decision to remove myself from church. I think that when attending a service begins to cause pain then God would probably understand someone deciding never to return. I have no idea where God is in my life now, I think probably he is nowhere. I keep looking, searching and I never find anything.

    I'm just not good enough for him and I know it. Everyone in the church I was attending must know it. I'll never do anything that is worth gods time & effort I must be such a disappointment just the same as I am to everyone.

    I wish you all the luck and good things in your future.



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