What would you do if you were nonchalantly hanging out with your neighbors and suddenly heard a quiet whisper in your ear, “You have to tell them about Jesus right now.” Would you panic? Shut it down? Speak up?
What would you do if that whisper was actually the voice of your own child?
For Mike and Mary, a non-missionary couple who have moved their family intentionally into a life of availability and love for their neighbors, one of their deepest joys has been to see their children grasp and champion the love of Jesus for neighbors.
Honest reflection on what this way of life has meant for their family reveals that there is a significant cost, but also significant fruit.
Children Championing Jesus
The voice in the above illustration came from Mike and Mary’s six-year-old son, Sam. As father and son hung out together with a certain neighbor, Sam had gotten Mike’s attention and whispered to him, “Dad, you have to tell them about Jesus right now.”
This moment was the fruit of Mike and Mary’s intentionality to tell their kids about why they were moving into their neighborhood and getting to know their neighbors. Their kids are getting it in their own simple way. They’re growing up with an understanding that life isn’t just about them.
Mike explained that their intentional way of life as a family means, “We’re building into our kids a certain understanding of the world and way of looking at the world. We’re hospitable, we’re open. We realize we’re not just about ourselves — that there are people who live around us who have needs and that we can build friendships with — and that’s good. We talk about how we know Jesus and not everybody does.”
Their oldest, Sam, has really taken that last part to heart. He once asked Mom and Dad, “Do our neighbors know Jesus?” “No, actually a lot of them don’t.” Sam’s ready response was, “Well, we should tell them.”
The simple way Mike’s kids understand and champion their purpose in the neighborhood both humbles and challenges him. With childlike faith, as they grow to know the love of Jesus, they’re saying, “We want [our neighbors] to have that too!”
On a relational level, being connected to neighbors has been really positive for everyone in the family.
As they spend time outside, three-year-old Claire will now exclaim over anyone she recognizes, “There’s our friend! Hi friend, hi friend!” Their little worlds have been expanded by love of neighbor.
Counting the Cost
One of the more costly pieces of the move was putting their kids in the local school around the corner, which suffers from a lack of funding. Mike and Mary are very aware that their kids won’t have all the opportunities that they had growing up and may not receive the strongest education. Seeing their nieces and nephews in extracurricular activities, learning art and music as early as kindergarten, has been a challenge for these parents. They want to champion their children as well as Jesus.
Mike pointed out that putting their kids in the school around the corner was an intentional choice on their part, despite the educational drawbacks.
“We chose to live here, and the school is an extension of that, a network which we’re going to be part of for a long time (six years with each kid), building relationships with the parents and with the teachers. That is an extension of our mission, and we have to see it that way. So there’s a tension - are we doing what’s best for our kids? Well, no. We trust them to God.”
Choosing to go “all in” with a family calling has really tested the trust muscles of these parents.
But for them, it is part of saying yes to Jesus, and yes to the belief that God is faithful to care for us...and our children. “By saying yes to this, we’re saying no to [better schools] and trusting God that whatever [our kids’] future looks like and the opportunities they have, God will work that out and provide for them, not based on what we can see right now.”
“You want the best for your kids,” Mike shared.
But what is best? Mike and Mary are so encouraged by things they see in their children as a result of this lifestyle. “Education is only one piece of a child’s development,” Mike asserted. “Courage, diligence, ability to love others and be aware of others - I think those are really important qualities wherever you are, and if you have those you are going to succeed.”
Through intentional choices to talk with and include their kids in this missional way of living, Mike and Mary have built a strong sense of family identity. “Our family is doing something! We’re in relationships with our neighbors!”
But they also look for ways to strike a healthy balance and prioritize their kids and their family, so that their identity as a family is also about connecting with and loving each other. Sometimes they pull back into the house or the back yard for family time, or go on family outings. They also schedule special trips and vacations that will build good memories and establish loving family bonds.
Intentional Risks, Unexpected Fruit
To be healthy in mission as a family requires intentionality. It requires a weighing of costs and listening carefully to Jesus. Living on mission as a family creates a special growth zone for parents to learn to trust God with the most precious parts of their life - their children. And it is a place where the fruit of God’s faithfulness can be seen: the fruit of young lives in love with Jesus and learning to love others as well.
What About You?
Are you a parent wondering how to balance a life of following God while keeping your kids’ best interest in mind? Or a young adult trying to discern whether pursuing your bold vision from God will have too high of a cost on a future family?
Be encouraged that loving others and loving family can go hand-in-hand.
And the more you pursue Jesus and think intentionally about how to bring the two together, the more possibility you may see. Here are a few questions to personally consider:
1. How are you including your kids in your life with God? What is one way you could share this part of your life with them?
2. In what specific areas do you need to entrust your children/future family to God? What do you sense God is telling you about these things?
This post is based on an interview with Mike and Mary Matthias, who live with their four kids in Long Beach, California. Mike and Mary are not on staff with CRM, but they have inspired us with their commitment to live as an “ordinary” family on mission in their neighborhood.
This post was written by Megan Beehler, who recently completed an apprenticeship with :Beta: Communities also in Long Beach.
Read Part 1 - An Everyday Family on Mission: Catching the Vision
Read Part 2 - An Everyday Family on Mission: Being Available