Today I attended two soccer games at two different locations in the city. At the first one I got to see an eight year old boy from my church have fun playing the game. At the second I watched his ten year old sister do the same. During both, I spent time with their father (mom is away on a church women’s retreat) and their cousin, plus her father. A typical Saturday, doing life with others.
I try to go to as many kids activities as I can throughout the year. Several families are open to inviting me. I am not there to teach, or lead, or administrate, or perform any other official function. I simply want to enjoy their company and encourage the children who are doing their best in their sport, drama or musical event.
As I spend time with both the parents and their children in these neutral venues, opportunities arise to connect at a deeper level. People begin to drop their “church-centric” halos/shields/veneers/personnas and default to who they really are. Sometimes this brings to the surface beautiful expressions of God’s work in their lives. At other times, it opens my eyes to how I might be praying for them more specifically in regard to character, habits, and attitudes. To be fair, the same is true for them as they observe me outside the church campus.
It is one of the many aspects of missional living to participate with fellow church members in the larger cultural exercise of child activities such as soccer. It allows us to get to know other community members. When I see church parents volunteering as coaches and referees in city soccer leagues, I am pleased. They are being salt and light to both children and their parents. They are doing life with others as faithful followers of Jesus, not with an overt agenda to proseletyze, but simply to contribute to the local culture as witnessness to Christ’s love.
As a few of us have been discussing (Shauna Morgan, Henry Zonio, and Anthony Prince), missional living is an intentional posture of Christlikeness wherever God places us in the seasons of our lives. Work. School. Community neighborhood meetings. The specific block or apartment complex where we live. Sports. Restaurants. Grocery stores. Hair Salons. The list is endless. Those locations where we regularly gather or pass through comprise the geographical focal points for our life and witness. Sometimes we are challenged by God to move outside our comfort ones, as I have been in the past several years in S.E. Portland.
As I continue to wrestle with what it means to live missionally in my varied contexts (work/marketplace/church/apartment outreach/etc), I find myself recognizing a synthesis between the various life and ministry priorities I now variously embrace. Outreach, discipleship, parent coaching/encouragement, children’s ministry leadership, work, writing, friends, family…. They all are important; the silos which long have divided them are crumbling. In their place, I am discovering multiple platforms of opportunity so that the individual priorities compete less and cooperate more. The result is higher level fluidity so that I may adapt more readily to the unique individual needs of specific persons and families. While it goes against the institutional priority of centralized control, this decentralization actually inspires a higher level of engagement to the benefit of the larger church community.
For example, I have learned to approach the parent coaching on a customized adaptable basis for the families which participate. Why? Because each family is unique. What works for one does not work the same way for another.
Extrapolating on this example, ministry to families can coincide and indeed, is synergistic with the missional ethos. My goal in working with families is to have some part in their lives as a cheer leader and coach in order to encourage them to be intentionally faithful to Christ in the normal routines of their lives. This, in effect, has an influence in how they see their witness to the lost in their spheres of influence.
Pressing a bit farther, if our daily routines should be lived out faithfully as witnesses to Christ’s love to our families, our neighbors, even our enemies, then so too should it be lived out in like manner in those places beyond our normal daily influence. The apartment communities near my church are one such example. While I do not live there, nor am I there daily, I do drop by at least weekly to gather children for church. Plus, I intend to visit more frequently in the warmer months. My point? Doing life with others certainly includes our normal routines and spheres of influence, but it also means asking God where he might lead us to minister to those less fortunate and in the margins of society: the homeless; the beggar; the elderly widow in the rest home; the hospitalized child in urgent care; the middle-aged man with no family and shattered dreams; the single mom with four children, each from a different father; the prostitute who is addicted to drugs and desperate for deliverance, one way or the other; the wealthy family with few friends because people are too busy being jealous of the results of their hard work; the orphan; the foster child. Each of these people have names and stories.
Will you do life with them in a way that is redemptive, representing the character and love of Christ?