In 2003 my wife, Page, and I moved with our 18 month-old (the first of four daughters) to the other side of the world. Our family went as church planters through the IMB. While we did our due diligence praying, studying, and preparing for life overseas, we were not prepared for the lifelong impact this venture would have on us.
Sometimes when we tell people that we lived overseas as church planters, they think we must have deep wells of wisdom to share. They suppose that we have mastered the art of balancing marriage, family life, and ministry. In fact, we often feel just the opposite! We have so much still to learn.
Yet though we haven’t “arrived,” we have been changed by church planting in significant ways. And the impact of our time overseas continues as we strive to live in light of what we learned there. So, in the spirit of passing along what God has taught us, here are several things we learned through church planting that still shape our life today.
1. We learned that ministry is a whole family endeavor.
There are times when ministering in any context, especially with your family, is difficult (if not overwhelming). However, we developed a commitment to minister as a family and not compartmentalize our home life and ministry life. So we communicated to our girls that this was our family’s ministry, not just mom’s and dad’s. Of course, there are seasons of life that require more or less involvement from certain family members. But any type of ministry, including church planting, is always a family endeavor.
“Any type of ministry, including church planting, is always a family endeavor.”
A word of caution here about family life and ministry: No matter how “bought in” your children may be, no matter how good of a kid you have, they definitely will not understand all of the sacrifices that ministry requires. Nevertheless, they should never have to experience a lack of care and love within the home due to ministry busyness. Make sure to spend time as a family enjoying each other, celebrating milestones, discussing real life, and constantly communicating why you are ministering as a family.
2. We discovered the need for flexibility in family routines.
Since ministry is more about people than schedules or comfort, we had to build in flexibility to our family routines. In our context, this meant that if families were going to the park at 10:00pm at night—which was a regular occurrence due to the extreme desert heat where we lived—then we would go to the park at 10:00pm as well. We were mindful of our children’s needs, of course, but we wanted to be able to minister in a variety of seasons which required flexibility in our daily, weekly, and monthly family routines.
3. We had to parent out of trust and not fear.
From the early days of our marriage we determined to make it a priority to trust God. That might seem trivial, but sometimes when it comes to our family it can be hard to entrust them to his care. Even now, having two daughters in high school, one daughter in middle school, and the other one in elementary school, our “trust muscle” is continuously stretched. Living overseas as church planters, we continuously prayed for the courage not to shrink back from engaging our community just because it involved trusting God with our girls even when we were in difficult or uncertain places.
“Engaging our community… involved trusting God with our girls even when we were in difficult or uncertain places.”
4. We learned to pray without ceasing and live a life of evangelism.
The dinner table is central in our home. It is our hub for family meals as well as command central for all kinds of conversation. Page and I talk openly about present gospel conversations with neighbors. We also have our girls share prayer requests for their friends, and we challenge them to share their faith regularly and encourage those friends that are believers.
Beyond the dinner table, we spend time in our neighborhood and community. We know that we have to be around lost people in order to talk with them about the gospel. And we pray over all of this. Our family prays for little things, big things, and future things. We want our family to see that prayer changes hearts and opens doors.
5. We cultivated curiosity about other cultures.
Now that we’re back living in the United States, we strive to make sure our daughters are exposed to different cultures, places, and peoples. Some of this is simply for fun. But beyond entertainment, we have built in the expectation for our children to take part in an overseas mission trip once they turn 12. We hope that other simple things like engaging our servers at international restaurants or inviting internationals and missionaries into our home will encourage our girls to go minister among the nations one day. We truly want the world to be our family lens.
“No matter where you live or what stage of family life you currently find yourself in, God wants your family to impact your neighbors and the nations for Christ.”
6. We developed a posture of listening and learning.
We lived as minorities in a majority Muslim culture for a number of years. While there we had to learn a new language and a new way of life. All of these things instilled in us an understanding of the need to constantly be listening and learning. This is something that we can—and must—do wherever we live. Thus, Page and I have tried to teach our family to ask questions and listen to peoples’ stories. The goal is to connect with all sorts of people, both learning from them as well as creating opportunities to build bridges to the gospel.
Lessons for Every Family
The things God has taught us are no different than what he wants for you and your family. Our time living cross-culturally allowed us an extended season to begin learning these family lessons, but you do not necessarily need to spend years somewhere else as church planters to learn similar lessons. (Although everyone should prayerfully consider it!) No matter where you live or what stage of family life you currently find yourself in, God wants your family to impact your neighbors and the nations for Christ.