Published in Connections Magazine (Sept/Oct 2014)
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faith and family
Family,Mission and the World
by Marcus J. Carlson
As I write this article, I am sitting in the car returning home from a week-long mission trip with The Philadelphia Project, a mission organization doing phenomenal work in the city of Philadelphia. Five of our youth and three of our adults served in the city, leading day camps and doing home re- pair for the poor, elderly and disabled. We even hosted a free community cookout in the city. As usual, the mission trip was powerful and transformative as we all were drawn closer to Christ in the midst of seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
My own experience and research demonstrates clearly that service is one of three most transformative and impactful things we can do for our faith. One of the key revelations in my doctoral research was the universal evidence that the three things impacting the faith of a child or adolescent are mentors, spiritual disciplines and service.
As a parent, I recognize that the faith formation of my children is communal. In fact, our faith as Christians is communal. In our highly individualistic culture, we often assume faith is an individual matter, and while our relationship with Jesus is individual, faith is grown, expressed and lived out in community.
This week I have seen this in action once again. Half of our mission team consisted of one family: a mom and all three of her children. In my over 16 years of mission trips with youth, this is the first time I have had this many members of one family on a mission trip. In addition to a great trip and experience, it served as a reminder of the power that comes from families serving together. It is something I have spoken and written about extensively because it is so important.
So often, world mission seems like a distant thing—some- thing for those who have a special call to do, or something we are not necessarily involved in outside of offering finan- cial and prayer support. We often fail to realize that be- cause God has created and cares deeply about the whole world, we are called to love and serve the whole world. The
idea of mission—and most certainly global mission—is not something we often connect to our family life, but I believe families can and should be engaged with global mission. It is certainly my hope and prayer my own family will continue to be engaged in global mission in each and every stage of our family life together.
In regard to global or world mission in our families, there are several important truths that come to mind. In understand- ing world mission, we recognize that it is local, national and global in nature. In this way, our families gain strength, deepen in their individual and collective faith, fulfill the Great Commission and help bring about the Kingdom of God in the world when they engage mission locally, nationally and globally. God places each individual, family and church in a community for a reason and purpose in every season.
One of our jobs is to discern how we can love and serve those in our community based on he movement of the Holy Spirit, our gifts and the needs of the community. Addition- ally, we are called to love and serve communities other than our own. These can be communities in our state, our region or outside of our state or region. Finally, we are called to global or international missions as well.
The truth is that family can be involved in mission in many ways: communication, prayer, giving and serving among others. Unfortunately, so often we limit mission to our financial giving, patting ourselves on the back for the money we gave away and forgetting it was not ours in the first place. Giving of our prayers and our finances is important, but I believe God calls us to more as long as we are physically able.
I started out talking about short-term missions, some- thing I believe to be very important and effective, but even short-term mission trips and events have flaws, and in and of themselves are not enough. In fact, I have long been an advocate of engaging with one to three short-term mission organizations, opportunities or communities with the short- term trips, year-round support and engagement so that long- term relationships are built. Depending on the organization and church, this can look very different, but the beauty and effectiveness of mission is found more in long-term relation- ship than it is in financial support, trips, projects or short- term missions.
Certainly, relationships with long-term missionaries have benefits as well. The work required to discern how to best engage with missions can be discouraging, but the benefit of developing models and relationships focused on the long- term needs, benefits and connection are undeniable.
In my own family and with others we have tried to share ideas of how to engage with mission locally, nationally and globally. Offering our prayers and giving are two easy ways to do this. We sponsor and pray for three children in the same church and community in El Salvador, but we also work hard to do more than pray for them and support them financially. We write them regularly, and both my wife and I have visited them in El Salvador. In fact, I have had the rare privilege of visiting each of their homes. Our kids write them letters, pray for them and color them pictures. We look forward to bring- ing our children to El Salvador one day. We have participated as a family in service projects in our church and community, and look forward to serving on mission trips in the future— even as part of our regular vacations. We are committed to investing in our community, nation and the world in any way we can. We seek to give to mission organizations locally.
My goal as a pastor is to create a wide variety of opportunities for intergenerational service and mission as well as family mission and service in our community, nation and world.
The family is the primary community for ministry to and with our children and adolescents. While discipleship happens in community, and we must all commit to nurturing and discipling our children. As a parent, I recognize that while I am not the only one to disciple my children—and I do not even believe that I am the primary discipler of my children in every season of their life—I do know that I must be a spiritual leader to them in every season of life. You cannot be a disciple or a leader without serving others. As a leader to my children I must not only live by example but also help and call them to service to others. Our family must be mission- minded in our thoughts, finances, actions and every possible aspect of our family life.
Mission is not just an ideal or some prayers, checks and projects. As followers of Christ, we are called to be in mis- sion with our whole lives. As families, we must lead by ex- ample and create a culture for our families that is rooted in global mission.