Moving from family vs. mission to family on mission

By February 27, 2012Faith, Mission

By Dave Rhodes

Following Christ and raising a family can be difficult. It is the battle of good loves. So how does our relationship with Christ affect our most central relationships?

This battle of priorities is usually answered in one of two ways. Some people neglect their families in the name of Christ. Other people neglect the hard calls of Christ in the name of their families. As you look around the Christian world today, you see byproducts both of these divergent ways of seeing Christ and family.

In the generation before mine, family was too often treated as an obstacle to ladder climbing. Many fathers sacrificed their wives and kids not to spread the gospel but to further their careers. Some misused the gospel to cover over their own ambitions. It was ladder climbing with a Christian excuse.

I think my generation has made the opposite error. In the name of protecting our families, we have created a system that sounds right at first but ends up in a ditch on the other side of the road. Our generation’s error is putting our sense of calling after our sense of family. So we have preached family as our first calling. The mantra is to choose to cheat your call before you cheat your family.

The problem with this perspective is that it is hard to be honest and still align it to the lives of Jesus, Peter, Paul, and just about everyone in the New Testament. Jesus, Peter, Paul, and others had a different perspective.

In Mark 3, Jesus’ mother and brothers are outside a house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus heard that they are waiting for him outside. Most scholars think they had come to commit him to an insane asylum. When Jesus heard that they were there, he addressed the crowd: “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated around the circle with him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:33-35)

In Matthew, Jesus says more shocking words:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a  man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-37)

Paul encouraged the Corinthians in much the same tone:

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-35)

What was Jesus saying? Was Jesus encouraging people to neglect their families? Was Paul against the family structure? Personally, I think both Jesus and Paul were advocating something entirely different. Family and mission are not supposed to be in dichotomy with each other. Choosing a priority between the two results from a fallen system of a broken world. Instead, we are called to imagine something different. I think this means developing a family on mission.

The family unit of the New Testament is united not by blood but by mission. If I am leading my family well, we should all be on mission together.

This definition of family, then, goes beyond bloodlines. As a father and husband, I should do everything in my power to instill this in my own family dynamic. Creating an extended family means inviting those close in mission into my home. Together we raise our kids, work out our callings, pay our bills, and enjoy the life God gives us. It is not communism, but it is communal. This creates an atmosphere where family and calling can live together.

I have seen this work out in my own life in a couple of ways. First, when I was dating, I dated intentionally and had this in mind. I knew that if my relationship with God didn’t determine my relationships, then my relationships would soon determine my relationship with God. I had seen too many people sacrifice calling in the name of love, and so I determined to find someone who would work out the call of Christ with me instead of holding this call against me.

Second, Kim and I make a concerted effort to not talk of my work as work. We use words like calling and mission in our family. So when I travel to speak, or when our sense of calling asks us to do hard things, it is not because of dad’s ambition to climb a ladder but because of God’s call on our family. We also encourage all of our family to be part of the mission. It is not my calling. It is our calling, and each of us has a role to play. Mission is the family business.

The extended family network was the dynamic that changed the world. It was a family on a mission. Some of this family was blood, and some of it was not. But this group of people acted as a family that was united by mission.

In case you are wondering, this is not just a way of life for those of us in professional ministry. It is a way of life for all of us. Our kids need to know that there is more to life than being a successful businessman or a famous actress. The pursuit of money cannot carry the weight of family. But mission can.

Sometimes our jobs are our mission. If you are a teacher or doctor or lawyer or maintenance man, it should be easy to see your job in this vein. Sometimes our jobs finance our mission.

Either way, our families should be on mission, not in tension with it. And when our family is on mission, it is the most powerful force in all the world.

This is adapted from Dave Rhodes’ book Redefining Normal. You can read more excerpts and purchase it by visiting

The 3DM family has written a lot about this issue over the last couple of weeks. Here are a few posts that are worth checking out on the subject of having a family on mission…

Mike Breen :: Sacrificing Mission on the Altar of Family (and how to avoid this problem)

Sally Breen :: How to Prevent Parenting Alone

Elizabeth Paul :: Partnering in mission when you have small children Part 1 // Part 2'

About Dave Rhodes


  •' Erin Moon says:

    This is SUCH a convicting post. I had to take a few deep breaths. It is easy for people (read: me) to hide behind family when it comes to difficult calls, especially when we have young children. Even small things, like signing up for a ministry team at church, or something like that. They need people, but they need other people, not the ones with the 2 year old. “On mission, not in tension with.” I’m tattooing it to my forehead. Thanks, Dave!

  •' paul says:

    love it my brother. I think the “verses” part also comes simply in the typical church going family’s commitment to sooooooo many other things…
    When everything is sacrificed on the altar of traveling sports or dance lessons, or whatever extra curricular, any kind of mission feels like competition for the “distraction” of the extra-curricular. The rampant sports idolatry sucks the life out of any missiology in the American Christian family.

  •' Jim Danner says:

    Dave – spot on…this needs to be addressed and I think you nailed it. As a church planter in the 90’s, I saw this first hand. I even preached a sermon “Burn Your Minivan” (would not do the same today, btw). With the Promise Keeper focus in the mid-90’s, there seemed to be an abandonment of mission in favor of family, as you described. I have lived what you are writing about and am looking forward to getting your book in April.

  •' Andy Milligan says:

    As a family on mission (literally – now living and working in Africa) we can say that this has been a key truth in our life. When we went for pre-marital counseling, our counselor told us that one of the challenges of marrying young (we got engaged at 20 & married 2 months after turning 21) is that we were not fully formed as individuals. The concrete (as it were) was not yet set. The challenge was that there was the very real potential to unintentionally “set” as separate individuals rather than intentionally “set” together as one flesh. We could find ourselves waking up one morning and asking about each other “who in the world is that?” over the last 16 years we’ve intentionally grown alongside each other: “on mission” together. It’s seen us through moves from Florida, to New York City, to Las Vegas, and now to Africa. In each place our extended family has included those we share life with: “on mission” together. Now with our girls (9 & 5), we understand that God didn’t call dad to Africa and we’re tagging along, but rather, God Is calling our family to Him and for now that means we live in Africa and share life with others (friends/partners) “on mission” together.

  •' Mrs. Erven says:

    Wow, this is very challenging to me. Thanks for writing! 🙂

  •' Robert Neely says:

    Some great comments also from Facebook:

  •' Robert Neely says:

    Here’s a blog post that considers the same things. Great thoughts here:

  •' Dave Rhodes says:

    Love hearing everyone’s stories and struggles. Fun to be on the journey with you guys. I would love to hear more…

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