Many of us are busy missional leaders. Many of us also have young children in our lives, either as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or family friends. While we’re busy mobilizing and leading others, how can we help our own children grow a heart for the world?
My mom taught me what it meant to be a mobilizer before I knew the word. If you spoke to her, she might say she was ‘just a housewife’. Yet no conference, course, trip, or biography has been more formative in my understanding of missional living.
If you are a parent, you may have felt the tension of laboring hard for the kingdom outside your home while heeding the equally important call to tend to the little flock inside it. Not only are we called to reflect the Father in the way we parent, we are commanded to bring children up in the wisdom and instruction of God.
Now in ministry and with four children of my own, I’ve been reflecting on how my parents nurtured not only my heart for God himself, but the nations. A common classroom strategy comes to mind when I consider how they did this—‘I do, We do, You do’, or the gradual release model. Similar to how Jesus trained his disciples, teachers using this strategy first teach and model new material (I do), then guide students as they practice (We do), until they demonstrate mastery independently (You do).
Using this model as a general framework, parents can consider ways to instruct, guide, and release our children to participate in God’s global work.
I Do: Model & Instruct
Model Missional Living as the Norm
As a child, I watched my mom stay up late preparing displays for missions month. I witnessed her mentoring and counseling cross-culturally, and missionaries sometimes stayed in our home when they were in town. In other words, involvement in missions was part of the warp and woof of family life.
When your children see you give joyfully and generously, witness your tears as you pray for unreached people groups, or overhear conversations about what God is doing in other parts of the world, they are learning that involvement in missions is a natural part of being a follower of Christ.
If you’re involved in missions, be encouraged that your children are already learning powerfully through your modeling. I think of God’s command to his people regarding the Passover, how parents were to be ready to explain to their children this observance. The implication was that children were to be witnesses and participants in the feast even before they could fully grasp its meaning (Ex 13:14). When your children see you give joyfully and generously, witness your tears as you pray for unreached people groups, or overhear conversations about what God is doing in other parts of the world, they are learning that involvement in missions is a natural part of being a follower of Christ.
Thus, intentionally instructing your children about missions could be as simple as having a touchpoint conversation about things they already see you doing. This could mean pulling them into a conversation you’re having with a missionary or talking on the way back from church about why you’re going on an upcoming trip. It might mean passing a newsletter (or your smartphone) over to your older child to show them an update you just read, or telling them about a meeting you had.
If you’re looking for additional tools, a simple map or globe can help children visualize the work you’re telling them about. You could also reference books on different people groups (here’s one for 8-12 year olds), courses on missions (here’s one for 4-10 year olds), and missionary biographies.
Instruct Them in the Sacred Writings
Our children’s heart for missions needs to be rooted in something deeper than volunteerism or a general sense of morality. They need convictions founded on the worth of the imago dei as declared in Genesis, on divine promises and their fulfillment in Christ, and on an understanding of God’s nature and purposes in the world. As believers, we are called to ensure our children are ‘acquainted with the sacred writings’ which make them wise for salvation and equip them for every good work (2 Tim 3:14-16). Only as the Holy Spirit brings the word of God to bear on their hearts will they see his worth, and only then will their hearts break for those who don’t know Christ.
In Deuteronomy, God commands parents to teach children his commands, by ‘[talking] of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise’ (Deut 6:7). This ‘system of parental training’ was ‘designed to associate religion with all the most familiar and oft-recurring scenes of domestic life’. In other words, the teaching of his word is not meant to be confined to one space or time (eg during church or family devotions), but woven throughout our days.
Practically, as it pertains to missions, this may mean that as we discuss the news at the dinner table, we also talk about God’s heart for the suffering, refugee, widows, and orphans. It means when they tell us what they’re learning about other religions in school, we not only equip them apologetically (teaching them why God’s word is truth), we also help them see his passionate desire for all to know him through Christ. During everyday scenes of domestic life, we can help our children understand the world’s brokenness and the hope Christ calls them to live in and proclaim.
We Do: Partnering Together in God’s Work
As I grew older, I went from observing to helping my mom prepare for missions month. If you’re already involved in missions, moving from ‘I do’ to ‘We do’ could be as simple as inviting your children to join you in your work in age-appropriate ways.
This could look like:
- Inviting them to pray with you. If you need an organized way to go about this, there are many prayer resources you can find such as the Lausanne Movement’s recent prayer calendar. But we can also do this as we ‘walk by the way’. Driving past a temple or mosque, you can pray together for those inside who have yet to hear the gospel. Or, if there is a burden on your heart pertaining to global news or missions, you can invite your children to intercede with you. More than once, conversations about missionaries or other nations have begun with our kids asking us, ‘What did you mean when you prayed that?’
- Teaching them to steward their money. Just as we teach our children the habits of going to church or praying, we need to train our children in generous giving. Parents can help their children set aside birthday or allowance money towards missions. And if they’re old enough, walk them through not only how to give generously but wisely, as stewards of their finances. Where their treasure is, there their hearts will be.
- Bringing them with you. Consider bringing your children with you to meet-ups or presentations by others involved in missions. Or bring them with you to witness kingdom-work firsthand. My parents took my siblings on a medical missions trip, which influenced the kind of work my brother wants to be a part of now. One of my friends in the US works with an organization doing impact investing in sub-Saharan Africa. She has committed to bring her children overseas during summer breaks so they can grow up globally minded.
You Do: Release and Send
In Your Own Heart
As a mom now, I marvel at the faith it took for my parents to support me as I chose summer missions trips and para-church ministry after college. It’s one thing for us to be willing to take on the call of Christ, to sacrifice and trust him. It’s a whole other thing to allow our children to take the same risks and pay the same costs.
Even for those of us with young children, it’s not too early to begin to reckon with this in our own hearts, to be examining and surrendering our own dreams for them, and praying they would be willing to take up their crosses and follow Christ. As we pray, he not only prepares them, but us for their eventual release into the world as arrows (Ps 127:4). He keeps our hearts soft so that when our children make difficult choices in faith, we are ready to be senders and supporters.
With Their Schedules
Teaching them to walk in radical faith and obedience often starts with smaller decisions about free time, summer vacation, and spring breaks.
One vital way we can teach our children the value of missions is to encourage them to show it with their time. A friend serving in campus ministry recently said it’s been increasingly difficult to find students willing to take part in missions projects during school breaks. Most are too concerned about finding internships and securing careers to even consider it. While it isn’t the case that choosing a secular internship over a ministry opportunity necessarily demonstrates a lack of faith, the heart of the matter is that our children need to be discipled to see their time differently than the rest of their peers.
For many of us, this means teaching (and resolving in our own hearts) that our children consider factors beyond what looks good for college or job applications. Parents of older children can help them actively seek opportunities to take part in what God is doing in the world given their unique strengths, passions, and skills (which, incidentally, can end up being things that advance and lead them in their careers). Teaching them to walk in radical faith and obedience often starts with smaller decisions about free time, summer vacation, and spring breaks.
Discipling Those Under Our Roof
I don’t think my parents knew how my vision of Christianity was being formed in crucial ways as they gave, hosted, welcomed, prayed, partnered, encouraged, and sent. But through their involvement in God’s work beyond their home, they were also modeling, instructing, and equipping disciples under their own roof. Their own daughter was learning that her life was meant to be leveraged for the sake of those who have yet to know Christ’s name, developing a vision for the glory of God extending to the ends of the earth. I’m praying their grandchildren will learn the same.
- The full model includes a “collaboration” phase (“You do together”), but I’ve left it out for the purpose of this article. ↑
- Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 125). Logos Research Systems, Inc. ↑
Original illustration by Eunice K. Woo