Although my parents are American, I was born in Mexico and spent the majority of my first decade of childhood in Central America. This experience became a powerful, shaping influence in my life. As a matter of fact, it is probably the foundation for the last decade of my life, which has largely been spent focused on the mission of the church. I have passionately, and often painstakingly, developed curriculum in order to teach my own kids, as well as kids anywhere that would give me audience, about this joy-filled calling.
No guilt. No glory.
My children are nearly grown now: three are in college and one is in high school. Much of my parenting work is finished. As a result, the temptation to wallow in the guilt or revel in the glory is strong. But by God’s grace, I will not live in the guilt of the shortcomings, and likewise, I will not boast in the glories either. Our kids are the Lord’s and He is sovereign over their hearts and lives. We, as parents, are tools to be used in the molding of their souls. The fruit is His alone.
So “no guilt, no glory” is an excellent springboard off of which to leap into sharing with you ways we have sought to cultivate enlarged hearts for the nations in the lives of our kids.
Educate: Learn Together
The bottom line is this: kids can’t care about what they don’t know about. So if you want your kids to care about the spiritual needs of the nations, you must invest time together learning about them. A few tips:
Be intentional. Like anything, if you don’t prioritize, it just won’t happen. This sounds simple, but it may be a painful process. Most of us overfill our lives with good activities. Evaluate and make needful decisions to help your family prioritize a lifestyle that is more intentionally missional. There is not a prescriptive process. Instead, it is a Spirit-led process. Wrestle with the Lord over changes that need to be made in your family.
Be organic. Encourage kids to learn about missions the way the learn about anything else. Specifically, read books about other countries, about kids from other countries, and about missionaries; play geography games on the computer; use geography apps; watch movies about missionaries or movies that are set in other countries; participate in kid-sized versions of mission projects such as sponsoring a child, adopting a missionary family, earning money for a cause, etc.
Be progressive. See missions education as a progressive endeavor. Like most other things in life, we tend to start out learning the disciplines and mechanics of a new skill before fanning out in the freedoms of this new-found endeavor. So start at home, at church, or in the classroom . . . but eventually move your kids out of these safe environments and into real world situations.
Imitate: Sacrifice and Serve Together
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, it’s clear he took seriously his role in discipling a generation of new believers: “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:15–16). In other words, Paul is saying, “Look to me and I will show you how to live.” What a beautiful but weighty example for us to follow. There is so much truth in the adage that values are caught, not merely taught.
So how did we move beyond simply saying “no” to certain things in order to encourage our kids to act on the truth? Ephesians 4:22-24 was a passage we often quoted when they were young:
[You were taught] . . . to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (emphasis added)
When we were addressing behavior we wanted corrected, we would give our children both the “no” and the “yes.” In other words, “You may not do this, but you may do this.” While we wanted them to understand limits and boundaries, we also desired to fill their lives with freedoms and callings.
So what are our kids to “put off” in regards to the mission of the church? They are to put off being self-centered, which often means sacrifice. What are they to “put on”? They are to put on being others-centered, which often means service. Both of these traits–sacrifice and service–are important.
Sacrifice. It has been said that you cannot lead your children where you have not gone. So if you want your kids to catch a lifestyle of sacrifice for others . . . well, they’re going to have to see that modeled. And that is modeled primarily with dollars and minutes.
Service. Self is a hungry beast and must be starved, not fed. We starve self when we feed a focus on others by serving them.
With all of our shortcomings, our kids have definitely seen sacrifice and service for others modeled. They have seen their mom sacrifice her career (and therefore many dollars!) to give herself to her family and the mission of the church. They have seen their dad sacrifice and work tirelessly for the good of others. They have seen our family prioritize dollars for mission trips over dollars for vacations. And now, with nearly twenty mission trips between them––and personal and career skills leveraged for the good of the gospel––each of our kids has learned to sacrifice and serve others as God directs.
So pray and ask God to help your family find ways to learn together, sacrifice together, serve together, and ultimately to live more intentionally on mission together.
–– Find more on Tamarah Horton’s missions curriculum for kids and her writings at www.passporttothenations.com.