Christians are missionary people. Our Lord commissioned his followers to make disciples of all nations, and we see throughout the rest of the New Testament that these men and women obeyed his command. Most Christian heroes throughout history took the gospel to the lost around the world; consider Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace, Adoniram Judson, Jim Elliot, Bertha Smith, and many others. And yet, the missionary task isn’t just for heroes, it’s one that all Christians should participate in.
It’s not uncommon for us to counsel seminary students and church members when they feel the call to mission work on their lives. Students pass through our doors regularly who do not have the support from their families. As people who have served overseas, we are frequently asked for advice on how to raise missional children and how to navigate familial disapproval.
On the other hand, the thought of sending our children (especially our grandchildren!) so far from home is frightening. We know their lives will be different, as they will not understand American holidays, sports, and television shows. The news reminds us that the world is a dangerous place, and these dangers seem to be greater for Christians in some instances. We will miss celebrating holidays, birthdays, weddings, and even funerals with them. God's mission demands sacrifice and creates an opportunity for significant pain in our lives. And so many parents and grandparents ask themselves the question, “Is it worth it?”
If you take your kids to a faithful church, they will learn Bible stories about Abraham leaving home to follow God's call. They will learn about God's protection of Daniel when he lived faithfully in a foreign land and about how God sent a big fish to make sure that his missionary, Jonah, went where he told him to go. They will be encouraged by Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, and even the preacher to pray for missionaries and unreached people groups. They will also hear the challenge to follow God wherever he leads, even to the ends of the earth. The missionary challenge will be placed before your children, and they will consider leaving the United States to serve as an international missionary.
Are we turning our children away from missions?
However, despite all of this external pressure, parents have the opportunity to influence how seriously our kids take their faith. We may spend four or five hours a week at church, but the most important shaping environment for kids is in our homes. We can shape them to follow God’s call no matter what, or we can influence them to preserve their lives and comfort. Below, we want to give you five ways you might be raising your kids so that they never consider seriously missions as God's will for their lives.
The missionary task isn’t just for heroes, it’s one that all Christians should participate in.
1. Do not acknowledge the reality of God's call
If our children think that God may have a call to missions on their lives, they might be tempted to consider it. It is far better to teach them that the pursuit of money, comfort, and power will give them a better and safer life. And not only that, but staying close to family is more important than anything else this life has to offer. Teaching them to rely on comfort over the pursuit of God’s calling on their lives will certainly keep them away from the mission field.
2. Do not teach your kids to nurture a godly life of prayer and Scripture reading
Sure, we all want to raise good kids. We want them to live right and be productive citizens. We take them to church and hope they will learn to live morally upstanding lives that honor God. However, if we teach our kids to make godly living a priority, then that might be asking for trouble. We want our kids to pray at the table and before bed, but if they start praying and reading their Bibles as a way to nurture a relationship with our missionary God, we might lose control of our plans for their lives.
3. Teach your kids that their toys and earthly treasures are their most valuable commodities
We don't want our kids to be too selfish or greedy. We want them to share and even give to the church and other charities. In our culture, it’s possible for us to live happy and productive lives by taking advantage of all the cool gadgets and fun toys our kids can play with. While not bad in themselves, if we help our kids prize how full and abundant their lives can be with all of our things, we won't have to worry about them being tempted to sell everything they have and live in less materialistic settings.
4. Be protective and teach that safety is one of the highest human virtues
The world is so much scarier than it was when we were kids. We’re exposed constantly to the reality of bad people, bad germs, and bad situations. As parents, we love our kids and would never want them to get hurt by anything. Our responsibility is to protect them, after all. If we can get our kids to realize that anything dangerous is probably not right, then we will be able to keep them from considering going to hard places in the world.
5. Don't teach your kids skills to help with life outside your home
Growing up is about developing a sense of independence. Kids wean from milk to meat, from crawling to walking, from bikes to cars. All along the way, we can help them with these transitions. These steps toward self-sufficiency show us that if our kids need us to do things like pay bills, change the oil in their cars, and navigate complicated relationship situations, then they will probably stick close by. Leaving the safety of home for a foreign land will bring unanticipated problems and confusing situations. But if they aren't prepared, maybe they will always want to stay close to home.
Rethinking how we raise our children
Then again, what if we took to heart what some of the more well-known missionaries have said and lived and reevaluated how we are raising our children? For example:
- Jim Elliot famously wrote, "A man is no fool to give up what he cannot keep, in order to gain what he cannot lose."
- Hudson Taylor said, "God's work done God's way will never lack God's supply."
- David Livingstone proclaimed, "God only had one son, and he made him a missionary."
And Jesus, our Lord and King said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:25-26).”
Part of leading our children to lose their lives for Jesus’ sake is teaching them to die to their comfort in order to proclaim the best news in all the world: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
What about you? Will you seek to raise your children so that they’d be willing to go to hard and dangerous places if the Lord called? Regardless of the plans God has for our children, may we raise them, by his grace, to always be ready with a, “Yes, Lord!”