Involving Your Kids in Ministry: Part 1

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I think I dreamed of an idyllic life on the mission field— one where we’d be so deeply woven into the tapestry of a local community that my children would fluently and happily speak the local language and play outside in the street with neighbors until dark. We would see salvations immediately and plant a healthy and growing church among the people we came to serve. My kids would not understand fear, would only know stability, and would be little Gospel lights wherever they went.

But life has a funny way of being not exactly as we imagined it. And God has a way of showing that His ways are not our ways. Our time on the field has been nothing less than sanctifying as we have learned to be a family on mission pursuing His will and not our own.

God calls and equips the whole family to serve, but ministry life extends beyond the things we do to reach our neighbors.

Much research has been done on TCKs or third-culture kids. In our situation, this means our children, who live outside of their passport country and have taken bits of culture from other places we’ve lived, are developing their own unique “third culture.” What I know of TCKs is anecdotal— my research mainly exists within the walls of my own home. With many years of study still ahead, I know this now: my children are not “little missionaries,” yet they are vital to our work.

God calls and equips the whole family to serve, but ministry life extends beyond the things we do to reach our neighbors. It’s also fixing lunch, doing homework, picking up toys, washing laundry, and running errands with grateful and intentional hearts. We all have roles to play, work to do, and lessons to learn. Most importantly for me, until all my kids confess faith in Jesus, they are my closest unreached people group, not full-fledged partners in ministry. Every day is full of opportunities in and out of our home to both serve and bring our children along in ministry to fulfill the call of the Great Commission.

As much as we are able, we let our kids choose their level of involvement in our ministry work. Constantly engaging with people whom they do not know well can be emotionally taxing. We protect their mental and bodily autonomy, even at the expense of committing cultural faux pas. As babies, it was easy to let a local grandma hold and snuggle them, but now, unsolicited touching by locals can be traumatic for older kids. They get to choose their level of comfort of interaction, whether it’s a handshake, a hug, or simply a smile. To honor their choices, we never call them “shy”—we defend them by explaining that they are establishing their own boundaries.

The most fruitful way we have found to engage our children in our ministry is to focus on discipleship within the walls of our own home.

We, as parents, are their biggest advocates. The uprooting, constant transition, and cultural adaptation are difficult. As Christ himself does for us, our job is to walk beside our children, empathize with their feelings, share in their experiences, and be their voice when necessary. We find the balance between teaching independence and being their defender as they learn to thrive in the place where God has planted us.

Sometimes we may need to gently push them out of their comfort zone, but we try to do it in a controlled environment. When my son wanted to join a football club, we found one among our people being coached in our target language. He was nervous and very hesitant, but we stayed with him during practice for months until he was confident to be there alone. Now, he’s learning the language through a common interest, making friends, and growing in a new skill. As a family, we have made more contacts and deepened our roots in this community thanks to this team.

Lastly, the most fruitful way we have found to engage our children in our ministry is to focus on discipleship within the walls of our own home. It is possible a child of “M” parents may just assume their own salvation. Thanks to the constant talk of ministry strategies, team goals, prayer supporters, and gospel conversations in their presence, making the distinction between head and heart knowledge in our children is vital. We talk about lostness among our people often, but our kids also must understand that they are lost without Christ. Until they grasp the truth of the Gospel and God’s great love for them, it may be hard for them to grasp the ethos of a ministry family. But we’ve seen that, as our kids’ faith has matured. Their desire to share with their classmates, participate in projects, and seek to make more local friends has grown exponentially.

No matter where in the world the Father leads, the task is the same— make disciples. May we all start with those closest to us and move forward together, all for the sake of the gospel.

  • Calling
  • Discipleship
  • Women
Allison Karel

Allison and her family will always call Mississippi home but have had the privilege of serving with the IMB among Muslim peoples since 2014. Currently living in Europe, she spends her days drinking strong coffee with friends, using healthcare strategies to engage women with the Gospel, teaching college students, and chauffeuring her kids around town. When she\'s not studying yet another language, she is probably reading or crocheting.

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