Busy families might find it hard to dedicate time and energy to mission projects or serving others, but it doesn’t have to feel that way. Reconsider what this type of work looks like and build a missional lifestyle that will nurture and strengthen lifelong faith.
“Serving and seeking ways to incorporate mercy and justice into our everyday life is a component of discipleship. To offer that to children at a young age helps them incorporate it into their lives in a way that doesn’t make it feel separate,” says the Rev. Melissa Collier Gepford, Intergenerational Discipleship Coordinator for the Great Plains Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Build a missional lifestyle
Embrace a mindful, faith-filled approach to your day-to-day routine. Rev. Gepford encourages, “Equipping ourselves and our kids with the tools to be loving and produce the fruit of the spirit – listening, caring for others, how we engage with folks who are different than us, our online presences…all of that is a mission field in and of itself. It's a posture rather than a checklist.
“John Wesley said, ‘The world is my parish.’ The world is our parish, too. … It’s a more holistic vision for what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus served people. Jesus sought justice. We can do the missional work of Jesus Christ right here in our communities. [Kids] are missionaries in their schools every day.”
8 ways families can engage in missions
Rev. Gepford offers these ideas:
- Love your literal neighbors – Connect with your eight nearest neighbors. Get to know them, spend time outside with them, go to their soccer games and offer to help them when needs arise. Make them feel loved and welcome.
- Perform random acts of kindness – Pay for someone’s groceries, pick up trash at a park, bake cookies and deliver them to first responders or call people who you haven’t seen at church in a while.
- Serve a nearby school – Clean up the playground, collect food for a backpack meals program, donate supplies or create artwork and thank you cards for teachers and administrators.
- Volunteer at your church – Be a part of the prayer team and pray as a family, welcome people to worship, help with the food pantry or visit church members who are unable to attend in person.
- Solve a problem – Find a need in your community and figure out what factors are causing that problem. Brainstorm a solution and work together to put it into place.
- Raise funds – Host a lemonade stand, sell holiday treats, rake leaves, mow lawns or shovel snow. Donate the proceeds to a missionary, a local nonprofit or your church’s mission fund. This will also offer a bonus lesson on generosity!
- Learn about other cultures – Research diverse cultures and identify what makes them unique and beautiful. Learn about how other kids live, learn and grow. If you find needs you can help fulfill, do so.
- Find a local shelter – Whether it’s a homeless shelter, animal shelter or food distribution program, there are likely to be several local nonprofit organizations that need volunteers.
Audit your time, town and passions
In addition to daily missional living, it can be helpful for families to focus on a mission area or project. Find space for this by auditing your time. Maybe you’ll find a free Saturday afternoon or a less-busy season of the year, such as Lent, Advent or summertime. Gepford mentions, “It doesn’t have to be adding something. Take inventory of your structure and build within that.”
Once you find time, pray about the kind of project(s) or work you might do. Is your family passionate about an issue facing your community? Is there a global issue that you can be a part of solving? Reach out to your United Methodist district or conference office to learn more about ministries in your area. Once you choose a focus area, begin to research, discover, listen and respond.
Make it an adventure
If you have time available but you don’t have specific mission work in mind, Gepford suggests “gamifying” the decision. This could be a monthly activity or something done randomly as schedules allow.
“There’s something to be said for predictability, but there’s also something about mixing it up,” she says. “You could create a spinner, you could roll a dice – if it hits a five, go out and do something, if it hits a two, stay in and do something. You have a bank of ideas, but you don’t know what the adventure is going to be. There’s a building of expectation.”
Invite others to participate
Involving family members and friends from different generations and backgrounds is also worth considering. “Part of being the Body of Christ means being able to do different things, being able to be with other people who are in different life stages than us,” shares Gepford.
Depending on the project, even babies can get involved. Gepford continues, “For infants to see helping, serving, missions... that’s exposure at an early age, which is absolutely developmentally appropriate.
“And then the next piece I think about is, as we are serving, what does it look like to serve alongside those we are serving, to be neighbors with them rather than ‘othering’ them and creating that separate identity.”
Missional efforts, whether project-based or opportunities found in daily living, help us grow.
“Spark curiosity,” says Rev. Gepford. “Rather than just saying, ‘Jesus did this so we do it, too.’ Also ask, ‘I wonder why Jesus did this? I wonder why it’s still important for us to do this today? What did you see when we were serving together? What questions do you have?’ The experience itself is formative. And helping [kids] make those [faith] connections through questions is key.”
Laura Buchanan works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email.
This story was published on September 26, 2022.