Planting a church meant pulling our children out of a network of relationships they loved into a church with few children of their age. It’s a common experience for church planters. New churches tend to attract newly-married couples or families with very young kids. As those couples have children they grow up together in natural friendship groups. But it’s more of challenge for older families. If your children are in an healthy church with healthy friendships then leaving those behind to plant will be difficult. How can we make this transition as smooth as possible for our kids?
For us it wasn’t the first major upheaval for our family. God blessed my wife and I with a child within the first year of our marriage. That was not something we had planned! For the first three months I was depressed at the prospect. For the second three months my wife was depressed. We felt our newly-married freedoms were being infringed and our vision for our lives overturned. Only in the final three months did we eventually get over it and accept it as God’s plan for our lives. We had an amazing daughter, followed by another, and then another over the first five years of marriage.
Then, when our oldest was around nine and our youngest was four, God began to awaken a calling on our lives to pursue church planting. It meant a challenging season for our kids. They were enjoying the stability of friendships in our local church. But now we moved to a new church in a new city so we could learn to be church planters. We had to trust God to provide, including for the needs of our children.
Five years on and it was time for another move. We had grown under the leadership of a church-planting church. But now it was time for us to plant. Meanwhile our kids had made new friends. And, as they all grew up together, their attachments grew stronger. So when God finally pushed us out to plant, our family faced another big challenge. Our kids were not thrilled at the prospect of leaving their gospel community!
We made that transition three years ago. Our kids are now 15, 12, and 10. As far as we can tell they’re happy. They certainly miss their old friends and we find ways for them to reconnect when possible. They have new friends, though most of them are not from our plant.
Here are some lessons we’ve learnt from making these two transitions.
1. Model God’s sovereignty through prayer
Pray with your kids. Let them see that God is the provider of all our needs, including their future friendships. Let them see that when things aren’t going the way we want, the answer is to turn to God in prayer. Let them learn through praying to trust that God is control and that his intentions are good.
2. Invite your children to faith
This type of transition may be one of the first moments when your kids have the opportunity to express real faith. In age appropriate ways, you can lead them through a process in which together you consider the nature of God and his ability to meet our needs. Talk about moments in your own life when you had to trust God and God proved to be faithful. Don’t burden them with expectations that are too heavy for them, but point them to a God who sees and cares.
3. Pursue peers for your children through recruitment
As you build your team, don’t be afraid to go after families who may provide relationships for your kids. Level with them and say, “I think our families would get along. You guys should come over!” If that’s not happening, look outside your church for children’s ministries in which your kids can make connections. And if that’s not missional enough for you, look for children’s programs in the neighborhood. These may prove a great context to meet new people to whom you can speak of Jesus.
4. Welcome the opportunity to grow in your faith
As parents we can make all the plans we want, but it is God who ultimately determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9). If God has called you to plant then he will provide for you and your family. And that includes the types of relationships your kids need. That may or may not fit your expectations. It may be stressful for you or for your wife. That’s all for a good reason! God is teaching us rely on him and not ourselves.