Last week, I wrote an introductory post to a series on how to involve children in Missional Communities. In that post, I said that my church, The Austin Stone, encourages Missional Communities to pursue three main practices:
- To gather as a community in a Family Meal
- To gather as disciples in Life Transformation Groups, or LTGs
- To gather as missionaries in a Third Place
While I know not every Missional Community follows this model, my hope is that you will be able to take some of the principles in each of these types of gatherings and apply them to your Missional Community rhythms.
We’ll take each of these practices one at a time, starting today with the Family Meal.
What Is A Family Meal?
In short, a Family Meal is an opportunity for the community to gather together around a meal to eat, talk, share life, rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and mourn with those who are mourning (Romans 12:15). It’s less like a Sunday School class that happens to meet in a home and more like a gathering of extended family over food. The Bible certainly is a frequent topic of conversation, but it’s less like “Everyone open your Bibles to Philippians 3,” and more like “Earlier this week, I read this passage of Philippians that I wanted to share with you.”
To learn more about the Family Meal gathering, check out Todd Engstrom’s post here.
Here are a few best practices for gathering with children in a Family Meal setting:
Make It A True Family Affair
If we wanted to hold a Bible study, we would probably need to arrange childcare. But the purpose of this gathering is not Bible study, but for believers to connect as a family! Let go of a vision of a quiet, orderly, calm dinner and embrace a warm, lively, and sometimes loud dinner where the kids are a part of the community. You wouldn’t hire childcare for Thanksgiving dinner – you don’t need to do it for your Family Meal, either.
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Earlier Is Better
If you don’t start your Family Meal until 7pm, then everyone is probably checking their watch often to see bedtimes creep up and then pass by. Start as early as possible! If a few people can’t arrive until a bit later, that’s ok.
Click to tweet: You wouldn’t hire childcare for Thanksgiving dinner – you don’t need to do it for your Family Meal, either. @johnmurk
Don’t Count Out Sunday Afternoon / Evening
Sometimes families feel like they shouldn’t hold their Family Meal on Sundays, since we’ve already done one church event that day. But there’s no such thing as too much church family on one day, and many of our Missional Communities have found great success with a Family Meal that starts at 5pm on Sundays.
Share The Parenting Load
One of the signs of a healthy Christian community is a shift from seeing the children in the community not as “their kids” or “my kids” but as “our kids.” Don’t just engage with your own children, but with others in the community, too! Ask the tired mother of a newborn if you can feed the baby her bottle instead.
Volunteer to get down on the ground and play trains with the toddlers while the other parents get a breather. And graciously receive help from others when it comes time for you to sit and talk with the other adults in your community while someone else is helping with your kids.
Click to tweet: One of the signs of a healthy Christian community is a shift toward seeing the children as “our kids.” @johnmurk
Next week, I’ll share some thoughts on the second Missional Community practice, Life Transformation Groups.