Seems like just yesterday I was hiking through places where no American had gone before. I was fearless. Ominous weather? Let it rain. Dangerous creatures? I give chase. Hostile village? Let’s go there. I was single. I was sent. There was nothing to lose for the sake of God’s unshakeable kingdom.
Today, I’m a husband and father of two. Call me boring, but I just don’t take to adventure quite like I used to. This became quite clear on a recent journey to Nepal. Leaving my girls safely behind, I saddled up our pieced-together Sherpa jeep and scuttled into the mountains.
But just as the twenty-something within began pulsing with that old independence, my adrenal glands sputtered out right along with the jeep. We were inches away from a 3,000 foot sheer drop. Amidst my heart’s deafening arrhythmia, I heard this involuntary prayer:
Father, please just let me get back home to my family.
From Unbelievers to Missionaries
By God’s generous grace, I made it. And by the generous counsel of older men, I am learning to be fully present in the new adventure of raising a family. I will confess, however, that my longing for the old kind of adventure often supplants the new. Sometimes I struggle to see how my calling to missions and my calling to family can practically co-exist without hindering one another.
One of the most helpful signposts in my journey has come from Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Their mission statement describes the church as “God’s multi-ethnic bridge that draws all people to Jesus Christ who transforms them from unbelievers to missionaries.” It is the phrase “from unbelievers to missionaries” that has captivated my thoughts regarding missions and family. It’s such a spectacular vision for the church.
But couldn’t it also be a vision for the family?
Discipling Little Missionaries
Families are responsible for discipling their children, not just church leaders and programs. Professor and pastor Timothy Paul Jones argues the case. To make his point, he turns to Deuteronomy 6, the Shema:
Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (vv. 4-9).
Thankfully the Scriptures continue beyond Deuteronomy, and help us see more clearly that the Law isn’t the end in itself. It’s meant to tower impossibly over us as a constant reminder of our need for grace. Too bad much Christian parenting rarely gets past the Shema. The law reigns supreme in many of the best Christian households, and by default it teaches what artists Shane and Shane have captured well:
Growing up I overheard all the grown ups saying / You better be praying and saying / All the right little things at the right little times / And I had it down / At least on the outside / I put my best side forward / I could smile with the best and dress like the rest / Of the messed up church folk singing a song…
Instead, a home environment of the gospel of grace—and the embarrassing honesty that it takes—is perhaps the best thing we can offer our children. We parents who are learning to give up our endless attempts at being law-keepers are parents who are awakening to the One who was cursed for our law-breaking (Galatians 3:10-14). And we parents who are coming alive to Jesus are parents who are following him into his mission to make disciples. Who, then, is first on our list to see transformed from unbelievers to missionaries?
Raising Children to Risk All for the Gospel Among the Nations
Yikes. There’s probably not much that repels the heart of a parent more than the thought of their child risking ebola to serve in West Africa or chancing capture by ISIS to be a faithful witness in the Middle East. But for we parents familiar with the grace that paid our debts, we are gently shepherded to the more striking thought of those who, without a Savior, will pay the price themselves.
One such couple was the parents of famous 19th century Scottish missionary, John G. Paton. The remarkable account of his life, Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals, is composed in a lost eloquence and worth a million bucks. Surprisingly, however, it’s actually a free Kindle download.
The autobiography frames Paton’s call to missions in the undeniable influence of his parents. Listen to Paton’s description of their piety and prayer:
Thither daily, and oftentimes a day, generally after each meal, we saw our father retire, and “shut to the door”; and we children got to understand by a sort of spiritual instinct (for the thing was too sacred to be talked about) that prayers were being poured out there for us…Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, or blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, “He walked with God, why may not I?” (Loc 172 Kindle)
Paton soon wrestled with a deep sense of burden for those who had never heard the gospel. Though chastised for trading in his ministry among countrymen to set sail for cannibals sure to cook him, his parents wrote to him:
Heretofore we feared to bias you, but now we must tell you why we praise God for the decision to which you have been led…your father and mother laid you upon the altar, their first-born, to be consecrated, if God saw fit, as a Missionary of the Cross; and it has been their constant prayer that you might be prepared, qualified, and led to this very decision (Loc 624 Kindle).
Fellow parents, what has God placed in our quivers? Are children not “like arrows in the hand of a warrior” (Psalm 127:4)? In this new season of adventure, let us reinforce God’s mission by sharpening and sending our arrows much further than we ourselves have gone.
Zach Bradley is the director of content strategy at The Upstream Collective, director of training and operations at Refuge Louisville, and a missions pastor at Sojourn Community Church. He also authored The Sending Church Defined and blogs at brokenmissiology.com. You can find him on Twitter @zachsbradley.
All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).