This session answers a VERY common question we get about organizing the church as small villages on mission: What do we do with the children?
CAVEAT: The content below was originally written before the pandemic, so please apply it with wisdom and discernment.
It’s an important question, because we can’t ignore or minimize the impact of children. And we’re not just talking about infants and toddlers; but also elementary aged children and high school-aged children.
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 children.
But it’s the journey of figuring out how to integrate our children into mission (aka our life) and discipleship that helps us become the kind of community we say we want to be.
We all have to deal with the inevitable messiness that children create. We have to help the child that won’t listen. We have to learn to love a nine-year-old who is struggling to get along with other children. 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 village leaders to discern the answer together.
Where to begin?
This question comes up because we are transitioning a Traditional Group to groups that are a supporting cast. We so accustomed to being dependent, to consuming programs and needing space to do this we are still unsure how to meet with each other in a natural way.
To understand this more clearly, I have made a diagram of the ideas presented so far. Our traditional approach is to focus on the peer group and assume that life is being impacted. By having a shift in our understanding of how we mature, we see our focus change to the Village on Mission. This is where life and hence growth is happening.
If we start with the village on mission, many ideas come to mind. This is often an informal gathering. Perhaps these are everyday life events or maybe special gatherings where children and adults are working together. Little needs to be done here.
There are times now when the supporting cast will gather. But one benefit of a focus on the village is that when the supporting cast get together it does not need to be all of them at once. Perhaps just talking over a cup of coffee is a good start. It also does not need to fulfill all of the social aspect of gathering as the village gathers together on other occasions. Again, there are many ideas that naturally come to mind.
What sets the stage for adult growth is assuming the responsibility to take care of a child: to be the ANSWER to a child’s attachment needs, to give a child and unconditional invitation to exist in our presence.
Our focus is to make disciples, rather than just being content with running through a program or getting through some content.
Parenting our children together
We know having children in our missional communities puts our parenting on display, which in other spaces is often segregated out. Having children in missional communities forces us to NOT outsource “dealing with our children” to someone else. This can cause some anxiety because it’s really difficult to control children. Parents may feel anxious because their children are causing havoc not only in their home, but now in others’ homes as well.
However, we have a wonderful opportunity to parent our children together in this context. We can come alongside each other to support and encourage whole families. Having children in missional communities forces us to deal with the anxiety and relational difficulty of parenting.
In a village we are not alone, and our culture can be shaped once again to support the family. The wider society does not and cannot support families because of virtue that society is only concerned with itself, not with the messiness of child-raising or discipleship.
There is also amply insight these days to help us shape our culture both deliberately and effectively in a biblical and developmentally conscious way.
Maintaining a non-anxious presence
As a leader, most of your job is simply managing your own anxiety about the children, 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!” These are all great opportunities for us to find what is moving inside of us to respond this way.
Some practical examples
There are times when we gather, where it is best to have just the adults gathering, say for training sessions. We knew you would probably want some of the practical things to try during these times. Here are a few things we have done:
· We’ve paid someone to come and do childcare with our children.
· We’ve had two parents go to the basement or another room with the children and just spend time being present with them. Leaving cell phones behind, do an activity or game with them.
· We’ve also just had children participate with us in what we’re doing as a main group. This works great for worship, fellowship or family meeting times.
· Sometimes we do our training over zoom so as the children are in their home and often find things to occupy their time.
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.