by Frank Severn
The role of families in missions is highly debatable.
After successfully completing candidate school with their mission, the couple appeared certain to be appointed to overseas service. Their interview progressed nicely until they announced that they would be teaching their three children at home. After hurried consultations, they were asked to reconsider their plans. The committee felt that the demands of the children’s education at home would preclude effective service and also be an insult to the people of the city where they hoped to serve.
The role of families in missions is highly debatable. Specifically, the question most often asked is: What is your mission’s position on the education of children? Prospective missionaries want to know if boarding school is required, or if home schooling is allowed.
These questions grow out of America’s crumbling family life. Statistics about divorce, single parents, and nontraditional families boggle our minds. The family is going through catastrophic changes produced by a radical shift in moral values.
Consequently, Christians must carefully critique social trends and speak prophetically to the culture. Nowhere is this more necessary than in family relationships. However, in trying to counter family breakdown we must not go to the other extreme and idolize the family. If we’re not careful, in trying to protect the family we may cause grave harm to the cause of missions.
God has established the family (household or house) as the basic unit of society. It’s the training ground for children and the training ground for church leaders.
Some people say that the biblical hierarchy is God-family-ministry. However, this hierarchy of values or relationships has a weak biblical base. According to the Bible, God is first and everything else must be aligned with him. There may be times when ministry takes precedence over family. Certainly there are times when family will take precedence over ministry. But the central issue is our obedience to Jesus Christ in all situations and a commitment to live by the principles of his kingdom, giving up our rights, serving, and loving deeply.
The problem with any hierarchy of values is our own perception of those values. What we perceive to be best for our family may really not be best at all.
So, at bedrock, we must ask whether or not our children see this kind of obedience to Christ. Jesus never condones irresponsibility or indifference to family needs. But our intense desire to safeguard our families must grow out of and be sustained by our devotion to the Lord.
We must commit ourselves to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We must teach them that freedom means obedience. We will attempt to live the doctrine that seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness is the greatest assurance of family welfare.
Following are some principles to help us to be devoted to our families. They do not come from a family expert. I have made many mistakes. My wife and I are working through some stress as we take our hands off and watch our children "fly" on their own. We can’t go back and undo or remake thingsâ€”we really don’t want to.
Many times I have sought my family’s forgiveness for my failures. I am keenly aware of the marvelous grace of God in taking frail, sinful parents, whose hearts’ desire is to see our children walk with the Lord, and somehow use us to influence them for good. (I am purposely avoiding the how-to style in this article because of the dynamic nature of family relationships.)
BE DEVOTED TO LOVE
Love is the great mark of discipleship, the first of the cluster of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the impetus for God’s revelation of himself in Christ. Fathers and husbands are commanded to make love the standard of their family headship.
What does this mean practically? It means self-sacrifice for the sake of others. It means listening. It means doing dishes and helping to relieve the housework load. It means compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
We cannot condone husbands demanding submission by force or physical abuse. The only kind of rule that God sanctions is the rule of love. Love bears with the partner and the children; love forgives; love binds us together.
Men must earn the honor of their wives through self-sacrificing love, which grows out of putting on the new self in Christ and being renewed in knowledge in God’s image. Men must also earn the honor of their children. Studies of children of missionaries show that the one universal positive quality in the families of well-adjusted missionary children is the demonstration of affection at home.
BE DEVOTED TO FAITHFULNESS AND INTEGRITY
We must guard the sacredness of our marriage vows. Temptations abound everywhere, especially for men but also for women. Honoring our vows at all costs means not even entertaining lustful thoughts. Avoid compromising situations. Be especially discreet with household help. Do not defraud your spouse in failing to meet his or her sexual needs.
Husbands and wives should demonstrate to their children that their spouse is the apple of their eye. Be lovers at home. Be committed to integrity; speak the truth in love.
For single persons, their walk with the Lord is patterned on the marriage relationship. That is why the single state can be so uniquely blessed. It allows unencumbered service and devotion to the Lord and to one’s spiritual children. Single persons, too, must be devoted to faithfulness and integrity.
BE DEVOTED TO DISCIPLINE
Discipleship begins at home. Allow discipline to flow out of the home where thankfulness, praise, and singing abound. Let discipline flow from a home where the word of God is taught; where family members can admonish one another in the Scripture; where dad is the teacher. Let discipline be administered with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. If that is the case, parents will not embitter their children.
BE DEVOTED TO GROWTH IN GRACE AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF VALUES
We would do well to take heed to the wisdom of Socrates, who said: "If I could get to the highest place in Athens, I would lift up my voice and say, ‘What means, ye fellow citizens, that ye turn every stone to scrape wealth together and take so little care of your children to whom ye must one day relinquish all.’"
I want my children to exceed me, not in material things (although I wouldn’t mind if they did), but more importantly in their spiritual walk. I want them to count for God. I want to build a house for the Lord.
What about my wife’s growth? Do I allow and encourage her to grow in ministry and in personal development?
High expectations must be tempered with grace and patience. We must remember our own ups and downs. We must also emphasize the importance of people, honesty, and justice.
BE DEVOTED TO THE CHURCH
Parents must have a love for and a commitment to the local church. It’s not wrong to develop the discipline of church attendance. Like all spiritual disciplines, it grows by consistency. No church is perfect; churches are filled with inconsistencies and dull sermons. We need to demonstrate our love and commitment to the church with all its imperfections. The awe of worship and the meaning of the ordinances need to be taught and caught. It may be that our children attend because we insist on it, but we prayerfully look to the day when they, too, will want to go.
BE DEVOTED TO JOY
The thing my children remember most is hilarity around the table. Make home a fun place.
Often I come home just looking for a quiet place to relax. But I’ve found that my picture of a home where quiet and tranquility reign after a hard day is far too ideal. Too often, I lose my joy and act like Ebenezer Scrooge, rather than a spreader of joy. My wife works hard to make our house orderly, but a preschooler, a teenager, and two young adults have a way of disrupting order. I’m working to make my entrances joyful and positive rather than negative.
Joy makes for enjoyment. Be committed to joy. Missionaries struggle with a lot of stress. The old things they used to do for fun at home are gone. Life becomes something you endure. May God enable all of us to move from enduring to enjoying. We can ask Jesus to fill us with his joy.
The place to begin in our devotion to the family is by presenting ourselves and our family to God, and seeking first the Kingdom of God in all things, including the family. The way to save the family is to lose it in Christ. Devotion to our families is devotion to love, joy, faithfulness, integrity, discipline, and to the church.
God’s grace is sufficient for us as we seek to live as salt and light in our age, which is given over to the satisfaction of self without normative moral values.
Copyright © 1987 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.