Here’s a VERY common question we get about missional communities: What do we do with the kids? This is a really important question, but for reasons most people don’t guess.
This question often comes up even before people have started gathering as a missional community. Sometimes it feels like the question that prevents people from pulling the trigger on starting a missional community!
It’s an important question, because we can’t ignore or minimize the impact of kids. And we’re not just talking about infants and toddlers; but also elementary aged kids and high school-aged kids.
The desire beneath the question
When we ask this question, what we often really want is a “silver bullet” solution. We want the one answer that will take all the messiness and hassle out of figuring out what to do with our kids so everything goes smoothly every single week.
But it’s the journey of figuring out how to integrate our kids into mission and discipleship rhythms that becomes a foundational practice that helps us become the kind of community we say we want to be.
As leaders, if we rescue people and “answer” this question for others in our community, we are robbing them of an important step they must take. It’s tempting to take it on ourselves and figure out childcare for the people who participate in our missional communities.
If we do this, though, we end up hijacking a crucial process. They need to go through the journey of wrestling with this and discerning it. It’s an essential question that ultimately boils down to: How do we exist in community together?
Where to begin?
We each have to deal with the inevitable messiness that kids create. We have to help the kid that won’t listen. We have to learn to love an eight-year old that is struggling to get along with other kids. We all have to do this hard work. This struggling and wrestling breeds wisdom and commitment.
So, we have to begin with not “fixing a child care problem” but helping and resourcing our missional community leaders to discern the answer together.
That being said, some of the questions we often begin with are:
- Are your missional community rhythms open enough and flexible enough for kids to participate in many aspects?
- If you have some discipleship component within the MC, are you discipling the kids too? (Beyond hitting play on a Veggie Tales video? Because, surprise! That doesn’t disciple our kids.)
Remember, the benefit of asking these questions lies in the actual wrestling with the questions; not necessarily in finding the answer to the question.
The goal isn’t having a smoothly running missional community where you never have any problems with your kids. The goal is that you actually wrestle with that question within that framework.
You can’t actually become a healthy missional community unless you ask questions and discern together. You don’t become a healthy missional community by getting an immediate answer to the question.
Seeing kids through a different lens
Kids aren’t a problem to be solved or fixed, they are persons to be invested in, empowered and developed within the context of community. They provide a unique opportunity for us to really think through what it really means to make disciples.
Oftentimes adults are content with a smoothly-run program, but kids are going to call you on it if it’s not something that’s really helpful for them!
Having kids in a missional community provides a unique opportunity to rethink what it is you’re actually doing together. You’re not just running a program. You’re not just going through a series of questions. Or running though some content.
Having kids present really help you focus in on what it really means to make disciples, rather than just being content with running through a program or getting through some content.
Parenting our kids together
Having kids in missional communities also puts our parenting on the discipleship table, which in other spaces is often segregated out. Having kids in missional communities forces us not to outsource “dealing with our children” to someone else.
Having kids in missional communities can cause some anxiety because it’s really difficult to control kids. Parents may feel anxious because their kid is causing havoc not only in their home, but now in others’ homes as well.
However, we have a wonderful opportunity to parent our kids together in this context. They say it takes a village to raise a child. We can come alongside each other to support and encourage whole families.
Having kids in missional communities forces us to deal with the anxiety and relational difficulty of parenting. It helps us get it on the table for discipleship. And we know we’re not alone in it all!
Maintaining a non-anxious presence
As a leader, most of your job is simply managing your own anxiety about the kids, so that you can help others navigate anxious situations. It is all about having a non-anxious, grace-filled presence in the midst of what often feels like chaos.
This cultivates a safe atmosphere where we can name what’s really going on inside of us and process it. Discipleship starts for all of us with those moments of realizing, “Wow, I feel terrible when I feel out of control” or “I feel shame when my kid misbehaves” or “My eight-year-old is sabotaging the prayer time. I’m the pastor leading this thing and he’s being a little jackrabbit!” (True story!)
Some practical examples
We knew you would probably want some of the practical things we have done. So now that we’ve laid some of the groundwork, here are a few things we have done:
- We’ve paid someone to come and do childcare with our kids.
- We’ve had two parents go to the basement or another room with the kids and just spend time being present with them. Leaving cell phones behind, do an activity or game with them, and sometimes there would be spiritual content, sometimes not.
- We’ve also just had kids participate with us in what we’re doing as a main group.
Those are three practical solutions. Remember, though, rather than just take what we say and slap it onto your group hoping it works, don’t forget what you decide to do comes from your discernment.
The discernment is where the good stuff lies – it’s the secret sauce of missional leadership.
Check out the video below to hear Matt and Ben talk about this topic:
Leave a comment below and join the conversation!
P.S. Did you know we do in-depth training for the kind of discernment Ben and Matt talked about in this video? Click here to check it out.
Mandy Smith says
Good stuff, guys! I want to see the exact same video with some kids in the back! 🙂
Ben Sternke says
That would be AMAZING if we could get any of our kids to talk on camera 😉
Paul K says
Great stuff, Ben & Matt. Thank you. Love hearing your experience – and your wisdom on the importance of wrestling with the question and discerning together what, when and why.
Ben Sternke says
Thanks Paul! Glad it was helpful.
Thanks for addressing this “hot” topic.
As we begin a missional community in Vienna Austria, it’s good to hear from practitioners ahead of us. Especially a good word that it’s much more about the process of wrestling through the question as a community than finding the perfect answer. Thanks.
Ben Sternke says
Glad it was helpful, Nathan! Blessings in Austria!
Bring lead is key. Last summer we devised to make the kids the center piece of the meetings. Working with elementary / middle school age children we often times had the kids act out the scripture story. It made lots of fun conversations and learning opportunities. A year later I can still see the fruit of that investment in the kid’s lives.
Ben Sternke says
Yes Eric! Love this story.
Great video Ben.You and Matt sound like interesting presenters.I think the kids must be part of this whole process.We as parents are actually playing movies for our kids and they are very fine observers in what we as parents are doing.So for us to exclude the kids would be a big mistake.
Regards and God bless.
Ben Sternke says
David Stravers says
Kids might be the best witnesses you can influence. A study in India revealed that the vast majority of new converts came into the church through the influence of children. Kids are not growing up to become leaders, they already are leaders (a leader being someone who impacts others).
Ben Sternke says