the shape of leadership

5 Characteristics of a Family on Mission

Pursuing a life of purpose together

Karen Huber on June 29, 2017

We always thought we’d be a family on mission. For years, we’ve attended conferences and heard stories of husbands, wives and children going all in together on ministry and outreach. “Life on mission” is what they called it, and it seemed beautifully holy, even romantic.

We linked arms with a church pursuing this ministry philosophy and “did life together” for a couple of years. This was no door-to-door evangelism program; this was neighborhood barbecues and picnics, group charity runs and art events. Emulating our pastors and their own small family, we and our children welcomed the young married couples, the singles, the students and the prodigals into our home.

When our family relocated overseas as missionaries, we planned on picking up where we left off. After all, we were literally a family on mission. We rented a house big enough to fill with both our kids and those of others, we met our neighbors, we ran a community service program, and we invited the volunteers over for dinner, dog walks and movie nights.

However, something happened along the way. We became exhausted. I needed time off the clock, I told my husband. I was tired of cooking, cleaning and hosting all the time. The family on mission concept began to feel more like the hospitality industry, and that didn’t suit my private, messy tendencies.

And the kids? After an intercontinental move and the shift of family, friends and schools, our children didn’t care much about living on mission, either. They just wanted to live. So, I put up some boundary walls, told my husband we were happy to support his mission, and called an indefinite sabbatical.

A few years have passed, and I’m wading back into the mission, but with a different mindset. Our children are older, and I am seeing more and more that living for Jesus as a family doesn’t need a churchy name. In fact, the more ordinary I make it, the more it feels like holy ground.

It is about living as a family while walking closely with Jesus and inviting others to join us in following Him.

Family on Mission is the title of a book by Mike and Sally Breen. They define this movement as an extended family of faith “integrating discipleship into the fabric of our everyday lives.” The idea comes from oikos, the Greek word for family household. Families on mission share several basic characteristics.

A family on mission looks like family meals, with more faces around the table. Sometimes we host other families from church or from the community, artists my husband is working with, or neighborhood children who wiggle their way into our house at the feeding hour. We’ve even hosted strangers who heard from a friend of a friend that there’s a family in Dublin with an extra bed and open hearts.

A family on mission shows up in the community. As much as possible, we say “yes” to the concerts and the Lego clubs, the neighborhood watch and litter cleanup. We trade tools and yard work, play dates and birthday invitations.

A family on mission looks like church, no matter where we are. I’m not talking about leading public hymn singalongs or preaching on street corners. Rather, I’m talking about the things the Church practiced in the Book of Acts: breaking bread, sharing all manner of things, praying together, and serving the outcast and downtrodden.

A family on mission offers security and predictable patterns. Our own predictable patterns began with a family purpose statement. The brainchild of author and blogger Tsh Oxenreider, this statement is “a timeless, easy-to-read, holistic family mission statement that applies to everyone in the family.”

Using Oxenreider’s questionnaire, we spent a week discussing our dreams for our family, the values we want to exhibit, and the kind of life we want to live. From there, we cultivated intentional actions to support that vision, building security for our children and, in turn, those around us.

Families on mission parent like Jesus. If we just give the Gospels a cursory glance, we might think Jesus created a community out of nothing. After His baptism and commission, it appears Jesus set out to find His tribe. But, if we dig a bit deeper, we see a spiritual parent who listens, trains, challenges, disciplines, nurtures and loves His friends, His oikos.

It’s a tall order, but the same can be true for us as we live on mission with our children, churches and peers. Sometimes that means we not only spiritually parent our own children, but we may take on the role of spiritual parents for others, sharing the stories behind our choice to follow Jesus and offering space for questions, prayer and healing.

Living as a family on mission isn’t about trying to be and do all things for all people; it is about just living as a family in this world while walking closely with Jesus and inviting others to join us in following Him.

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