One of the questions I am often asked of people interested in joining a Missional Community at New City is, "What do we do with our kids?" It is often asked as if a family had attended a small group before coming to New City, but there was some resistance for children to attend.
At New City, children are a blessing and most of our Missional Communities are filled with 'challenging' blessings. As I have trained new MC Leaders, this is also a common question, "What do we do with kids?" Jayne Vanderstelt unpacks this common question like this:
Keep in mind, when we think about children and our missional community, we ask: How can our children join us in the overall mission? How do we disciple them all week long? How do we make sure the mission is accessible for them? How do we ensure they can participate? How do we help them reach their peers as well?
When we think about our gathering on Tuesday nights, we don’t feel like we have to address all of these in our 2–3-hour time together. We address these through the whole-week approach.
Stepping back from the once a week, 2-hour Family Gathering, the question really needs to be asked from an all of life perspective in order to help us understand how to handle kids during the weekly event. If an MC is intentionally doing life together in community, children will be discipled during the normal course of the week. This could include family devotional times, meeting with other families at the park, enjoying meals together, and even recreational sports.
Our children also should be included in our monthly Third Place activities as well as the Missional Focus that the MC is engaging. This gives parents an opportunity to not only talk about their lives as a family of missionary servants, but to show them that their daily lives are fully engaged in practical life practice. Most children, like many adults, learn best by combining action and words. Incorporating our children into regular rhythms of loving and serving others allows them to grow up in community and increases their value of it.
When we look at the specific Family Gathering, we need to be very intentional with our time. We are intentional about meal planning, finding childcare, crafting questions and inviting, so we need to be intentional with our children. Here are a few ways that will help in blending children into the MC Family Gathering.
- Time – Start and stop on time. Not only does this respect the time of your MC, but it also helps to clarify the time frame that the children’s time needs to be planned. Typically, the MC conversation lasts 45 min. to an hour long, so that is about how long kids will be separate from the adults.
- Variety – Normally we have children of a variety of age groups, so planning one activity to engage every age is difficult. Also, if the kids do the same thing every week, boredom will quickly set in and intentional discipleship time could be wasted. I have found that coming up with a rotation (stations) is extremely helpful in keeping kids engaged, and providing a structure for the childcare worker to work from. A rotation doesn’t have to be super complicated and can include a bible story, watching a short video, coloring, free play, outside games, a craft, etc.
- Place – While we encourage our MC’s to keep their kids with them during the meal time and some can even enjoy the other activities that MC’s often incorporate into their Gathering such as prayer time, music and even hearing someone’s Story, it’s important to for them to have a space of their own. This could be an extra bedroom, a separate living room, or even a tent in the backyard where kid's can play, watch, read or work on crafts.
Children can be an important part of a Missional Community, not a hindrance that must be endured. Children in community have the unique opportunity to see their parents living out their faith, so clear pathways for them to engage is important. Having someone who can spend time with the kids instead of a parent, allows parents to fully engage in the conversation and for some, give a much needed break from a difficult week.
Remember that you are not being stuck back with the kids, that your discussions are NOT superior and more important than your interactions with these young ones. You can’t look at these kids as a hindrance or interruption. They need to be taught and guided, and sometimes, depending on their ages, this needs to be done in a separate area of the house so they can best learn and engage. It is an honor and privilege to pray for, prepare lessons for, and to hang out with them.
Most of the obstacles in our own group have been not logistics but a heart issue. I have totally struggled with this in the past, which is why I feel I can speak into it. My heart in the past has looked down on this task and looked at it as overwhelming and “not fair” that I am always “stuck” with figuring it out. I am ashamed of that—but thank you, Jesus, for interrupting my thoughts and forgiving this sin, revealing to me this is a situation to embrace, not “solve.” Hopefully, by the grace of God after a little teaching to your adults, you will have people arguing about who gets to be with the kids next. I will pray you will see that happen.
If you are new to New City and considering joining a Missional Community, know that your children are welcome, planned for, and engaged with. If you would like help in getting plugged in, contact Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(adapted from Jayne Vanderstelt’s article posted at saturatetheworld.com)