Below is the third part of a three part interview with Matt Pamplin of St. Clair Community Church. In the previous two installments, we explored various issues of discipleship and evangelism in connection with “missional families”. In this final one, we talk about the important place of children in the mission and ministry of the church.
Sean: You’ve mentioned a few times that children have an important place in “missional families” at St. Clair Community Church. That sounds really interesting – and maybe a bit crazy for those of us who haven’t tried it. What led you to believe it’s important to include kids in small group?
Matt: I mentioned earlier that we called our groups missional families intentionally as they are families trying to live on mission together. We felt strongly that if we are families we need to model that. We wanted our children to grow up assuming that following Jesus in family was part of our week not just Sunday mornings. At times in the western church we have siloed ministry to specific age groups. We want our children to participate in ministry with their parents.
An older mentor and wise friend a few years ago challenged me with a statement that has shaped this vision. He said, “If you stick to your values or principles, in twenty year’s time your children will think this is normal for following Jesus.” We are often impatient and short sighted in our churches. Psalm 145 says “one generation will commend your works to another”. If something doesn’t work initially we assume God’s not in it and scrap it. Patience has to be a key virtue in the life of the church.
Sean: That’s a super helpful perspective. I guess I’m wondering what it looks like in practice. How do you keep everyone together and moving in the same direction with kids in the mix? Do you have some house rules? Or is it more free flowing?
Matt: Well, first off let me say it’s not easy. But it’s so worthwhile. We are looking to our children’s long term formation and discipleship. The two biggest criticisms we get regarding children are that it’s messy and sometimes hard to have “good discussions”. We also have missional families that meet at different times during the week to accommodate children. Most meet early evening (midweek) 5:30-7ish or on Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons. Being structured or free flowing can depend on who’s leading the missional family. We also encourage our missional families to “check in” a few times a year to see what is working or what’s not going so well. They do that by evaluating how each of the core practices are going. Each missional family is based around our core practices, but is free to figure out how to incorporate those with their children.
Sean: OK, that’s a really important. I’m remembering back to your 5 core practices: 1) Eating together; 2) Prayer; 3) Engagement with scripture; 4) Caring for each other; and 5) Serving the wider community. How do you engage these practices with kids involved?
Matt: Most groups include children with their meal and prayer time at the end. Also, a few groups involved kids in “serving” in the community, though this can be more of a challenge. Some groups have included a children’s teaching time in their group, led by different families, or they take the children for a time to do teaching by themselves. We send out children’s questions each week to missional family leaders along with adult questions. They involve reading scripture together and trying to ask what is Jesus saying through this scripture and what is he asking us to do.
Sean: One thing I’ve noticed in intergenerational settings is that the learning can go both ways. Do you have a story or two about learning together in missional families? What are your kids teaching you about following Jesus and sharing the gospel with others?
Matt: Our children teach us regularly about following Jesus. One area is prayer. When we have something that we need to ask God for in faith our children lead the way. Our children have prayed for healing and also financial situations and we have seen answers to prayer.
One young girl said she was praying for a local building that we could meet in and two months later we rented the shut-down church building for our new church plant. This is where she and her family are now rooted.
We also find that our unchurched children are much bolder in inviting friends to missional family and to church more generally. One young girl whose family was new to St. Clair and hadn’t grow up going to church, invited her friend who was her neighbor to come to missional family. She said it was “because this is our family”. These are some of the surprising ways that we’ve been learning with and from our kids. I think it’s really important to join together across the generations. It takes lots of patience and some hard, but the benefits for the whole community are incredible.