People today don't want to watch life happen — they want to experience it. This hands-on trend can be seen in the fields of education and entertainment. Even in the church, people are looking for practical ways to experience authentic faith.
John Lewis, a forty-five-year-old lawyer and real estate investor from Jackson, Mississippi, says he wants to be among Christian families who are "raising a generation of people who know what it is to minister, to get up out of the pew and go meet people where they are."
For Lewis and a growing number of families, there's no better way to experience genuine — sometimes messy — Christianity than to get involved in missions as a family.
Looking for a family adventure that has eternal value? Instead of simply telling your kids about the Great Commission, why not experience it together on your next family outing or vacation?
What Does Missions Look Like?
Simply put, missions is living out your faith in obedience to what God has gifted and called you to do. It's fulfilling the God-given passions of your heart. Missions is Christianity — in action — where you live, work, and play.
So, what has God called you to do, you might ask?
The New Testament is replete with Christ's exhortations to "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations…" (Matthew 28:19); and "… be my witnesses … (everywhere you go)" (Acts 1:8); and "… go into all the world and preach the Gospel …" (Mark 16:15).
In Matthew 25:35-36, Jesus describes missions as a Christian's responsibility to care for those who are physically and spiritually needy.
In Genesis 12, of the Old Testament, we see a picture of missions as God blesses Abram and calls him and his family to leave their homeland and be a blessing to others.
Missions is more than serving in the church, it's about changing your world by helping meet the needs of others, all in an effort to introduce them to Jesus Christ — "the giver of every good and perfect gift" and the only One who can satisfy a person's most important spiritual need.
And families with toddlers to teenagers are answering God's call to serve in short-term mission projects. Some families help churches lead Vacation Bible School or canvass neighborhoods praying with residents and sharing how much Jesus loves them. Other families help refurbish dilapidated housing or volunteer in the inner cities, serving meals and distributing clothes to people in the throes of poverty.
What missions looks like for your family will depend on a number of factors including your family's spiritual gifts, talents, interests or passions, and availability.
What Difference Does Family Missions Make?
Most families who participate in missions agree that it's a life-changing experience for all involved. Families often say they come away from their experiences more connected emotionally and spiritually to each other even though the mission project focuses their attention on the needs of others instead of themselves. Lives are changed for eternity when people embrace Christ's love expressed through selfless acts of service coupled with a clear presentation of the gospel.
For Eric and Jenny Searcy of Andalusia, Alabama, the decision to include a family mission project in a recent vacation had a profound effect on the entire family. The Searcys, who are both school teachers, along with their ten-year-old daughter, Catherine Grace, helped lead a Vacation Bible School (VBS) at a small church about fifty miles north of Billings, Montana.
"Our family mission trip showed me how much fun it is to tell others about Jesus," says Catherine Grace. "I got to help my mom with preschoolers, and I helped my dad with recreation. I also got to help lead the music and show them the motions to the songs that I had learned in VBS in my home church. I learned that everyone needs to know about Jesus, and I learned how important VBS is to children."
Eric wrote in his journal during the trip how God used the mission project to help him refocus on his responsibilities as the spiritual leader of the home.
"I have purposes to teach my family," Eric wrote, "… to look for where God is at work; to focus each day on our relationship with Jesus; to know God speaks to us; to know we should be hearing God's voice; to know God's ways are to be our ways; to know God has a plan and purpose for every believer; and to know Jesus Christ supremely as Lord and Savior. … Thank you God! May this be something that causes the history of this family to be one that shows a desire to listen to the voice of God and obey what He tells us to do, to His glory and honor, Amen!"
Doug and Patsy Parkin of Madison, Mississippi, and their children, Laura, 17, and Robert, 12, say their recent family mission project to help with VBS on a Montana Indian reservation and build a local pastor's house helped strengthen their family spiritually.
"We worked side by side with our children," says Doug, 47, a pharmacy district manager. "They helped put in electrical outlets, put on vinyl siding, put down floor decking, rebuilt a doorway, pulled nails, cleaned, all with a willing heart.
"As parents, our most rewarding moments came at night during our team meetings, when we were almost startled by the depth and sincerity of the heartfelt prayers that our children offered during our group prayer times. It was a busy week of hard work, but truly a rewarding one for our family."
Steve Stewart, a forty-four-year-old high school teacher and coach in Rex, Georgia, has participated in several summer World Changers construction projects with his wife and teenage son and daughter.
Stewart's wife, Margaret, and son, Steven, joined a group from their church who helped refurbish substandard housing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while enduring 100-degree temperatures and hungry mosquitoes. Steve, who served as the crew chief for a roofing project, worked alongside his sixteen-year-old son. Margaret was the crew chief on painting project.
"I've never been on a mission trip where it didn't touch me much more than I gave back," says Steve. "Our family mission trips have created a benevolent spirit with my children. The pronoun "I" is non-existent in that setting. The things that can happen in your family are unprecedented. Quite frankly, I don't think you would experience those in any other setting. The trip is not about putting a roof on someone's house; it's about the spiritual growth you experience, and it's about what transpires in your life and the lives of others. It's truly a remarkable experience. As a family, I think we believe we can tackle anything with God's help."
John and Anne Lewis and their two sons, David,12, and Michael, 9, spent two weeks of summer vacation helping lead VBS at a Haitian church in Homestead, Florida, as well as a Hispanic church in Key West, as part of a mission project sponsored by their church, First Baptist, Jackson, Mississippi. More than eighty professions of faith were recorded during VBS at the Haitian church.
"We're teaching our kids … that it's not about them," says John, who helped with crafts and recreation during VBS. "But it's about God and what He's got going on, and ministering to people who are in need that He gives us an opportunity to be a part of.
"They've experienced that excitement of seeing someone ask Jesus into their heart for the first time. I think it has given them a real heart for sharing Christ with other kids who have never heard of Jesus or never been to church."
Pam and Dean Rowell of Longview, Texas, believe whole-heartedly that missions provide the object lessons of the Christian faith for both the home and society-at-large.
They started early instilling a heart for missions in their children. Seventeen-year-old Eric and twelve-year-old Joy Anna have been on family mission trips to help build churches and lead VBS in places such as Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Colorado, Alaska, Louisiana, Mexico, Wyoming, and other parts of Texas.
"Mission trips are a way for parents to show children how they feel about being a servant, as well as allowing the children to be around the great influences of other servants," Pam says."
The lessons Eric Rowell has taken away from his family vacations each year have left an indelible impression on his life.
"I realize that my life is a mission to serve in all ways," says the seventeen-year-old. "It shouldn't just be the two or three weeks a year we leave town, but it's a full-time job. That's my purpose."
Experience the Adventure of Family Missions
One great aspect of family missions is, like with most family road trips, there is a sense of adventure or excited anticipation of the unknown or what might or could be. Consequently, a family mission project is an excellent way to unite a family in prayer.
Jesus states it best in Matthew 9:37-38: The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his Harvest (HCSB).
Prayer can unite a family with a common goal and purpose. Before setting off on a family mission project, it's essential that everyone believes in the purpose of the mission and understands their unique role in accomplishing the task.
Essential to enjoying the adventure of family missions is to remain flexible when things don't go exactly as planned.
Brian and Lynda Baltzell of Waynesville, North Carolina, have come to expect the unexpected since they began doing family mission projects several years ago with their sons John David, 14, and Nathan, 12. They say their family mission experiences have opened their eyes and hearts to the desperate needs people face throughout North America.
Some of the Baltzell mission projects have included serving meals at homeless shelters in high-crime areas of inner city Philadelphia; prayer-walking through neighborhoods in Montreal; and delivering meals to shut-ins and invalids in their own community.
One summer, the Baltzells conducted VBS at a Navajo Indian reservation about an hour south of Blanding, Utah, where families lived in houses without electricity, and the local church met in a goat shed. While there, the Baltzells had to deal with unpredictable weather and transportation.
"We encountered snow, we encountered a windstorm, and we encountered torrential rains going out to the reservation," says Lynda. "But in spite of all the inclement weather, the children were ready every day. One day it was snowing so hard we just had the Bible school on the bus. We prayed every morning that the bus would start."
Brian, a group home supervisor with the Baptist Children's Home of North Carolina, was also surprised to realize that as part of the Indian culture, the children were reluctant to tell him and Lynda their names. "I was shocked the first day when no one would give me their names," says Brian. "John David was my way of finding out the names of the boys because they would tell him."
In the fall of 2001, the Baltzells went to West Virginia to help prepare meals for volunteers who were helping residents clean up after devastating floods damaged their homes. When they got there, however, most of the volunteers had moved on to help with cleanup and recovery efforts following the terrorist attacks on New York City.
"They didn't have anyone to do anything with gutting the houses, so we did that instead of cook," says Brian. "That flexibility has to be there, and God always has a purpose and a plan."
The Sadlers of Richmond, Virginia, shared their own adventure recently when they traveled to Kenya in Eastern Africa to support and encourage International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries on the field and help lead a Bible club for ninety Kenyan children.
Wayne, 53, is a pilot, while Rhonda, 48, serves as special assistant to IMB president Jerry Rankin. Their daughter, Kendal, 11, helped her dad teach the younger kids.
"Many friends have said that they want to do missions as a family when their children get older," says Rhonda. "We realize that the time is now for forming our daughter's perspective about life, about the needs of the world, and about the world's need for Christ. Waiting until Kendal is a teenager to expose her to the world and to missions is too late for us."
So what are you waiting for?
God designed the family for an adventure of a lifetime — to be on mission with Him sharing the life-changing message of hope found only in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Your family's mission awaits you, if you choose to accept. Opportunities to be "on mission" as a family exist everywhere — beginning with your community, across the country, and throughout the world.
Lee Weeks is Interagency Communication Specialist with the SBC North American Mission Board.
Looking for an Adventure?
Here's how your family can prepare for the mission:
1 Pray as a family and individually about God's direction for a specific family mission project.
2 Reconcile any strained relationships within the family.
3 Adopt a family mission statement that outlines the goals and objectives of your mission trip.
4 Take a spiritual gifts inventory or test to help determine how God has gifted each family member with specific skills and passions for serving Him.
5 Research short-term mission opportunities available through your church, local association, Baptist state convention, North American Mission Board, or International Mission Board.
6 Talk with other families who have participated in family mission projects.
7 Practice sharing your own story or testimony about how you became a Christian and the difference it's made in your life.
8 Plan and prepare physically, spiritually, and financially.
9 Be flexible and be ready to encounter the unexpected.
10 Make sure to include time for rest and relaxation.
Missions Projects for Families
North American Mission Board
To learn more about family mission project opportunities throughout North America visit the North American Mission Board's (NAMB) volunteer mobilization web site at http://thebridge.namb.net. Complete a user profile, then search for projects involving needs such as: Construction, VBS/Bible Clubs, Evangelistic surveys, Sports/Recreation, Performing Arts/Creative Arts, Campgrounds, General Maintenance, Church Planting/Strengthening, Medical/Dental, and Administrative.
For other family missions opportunities, contact the NAMB at 1-800-462-8657, Ext. 6132, or email [email protected].
For information about World Changers projects call 1-800-462-VOLS, or go online at www.studentz.com/wc.
International Mission Board
You and your family can make an eternal difference in families worldwide by participating in international missions projects selected specifically for families. Visit http://going.imb.org/vim/main/family/default.asp for a listing of current projects.
For other family missions opportunities, contact the International Mission Board at (800) 999-3113. The team there will connect you with staff working with the region that interests you.
For information about International World Changers call 1-800-999-2889, Ext. 1355, or visit www.thetask.org.
Discover God's Mission for Your Family!
Ready for a God-sized family mission? Kingdom Families: Discovering God's Mission for Your Family emphasizes that being "on mission" is more than a one-time event during the summer. Twenty-one devotionals include Scripture references, activities, and discussion questions to help your family recognize and respond to the mission fields surrounding you. This valuable resource is available for $5.00 from the International Mission Board at http://resources.imb.org or by calling (800) 999-3113.