The Untaming

Learning to build missional community in secular France

Review of “Family On Mission” by Mike Breen and Sally Breen

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family on mission review breenAs I said in my last post, I recently read two new books by the 3DMovements team.  I have reviewed Oikonomics and now turn my attention to Family On Mission (which you can buy on Amazon here), written by Mike Breen and Sally Breen.

The book comes out of the couple’s experience of leading churches and watching other pastors try to juggle family live with their ministry and mission.  Their conclusion: Family or mission is an impossible choice. Family and mission is unsustainably exhausting. Family ON mission – moving as a pack, inviting people into our lives and living an integrated life – made things manageable, fun and fruitful.

Content

The book is trying to correct the tendency to put all the “bones” of missionary discipleship in place (missional communities, huddles, etc.) in place without the texture (“skin”) of family on mission, because one without the other doesn’t work.  I agree with this – we often focus on the structure because it seems simpler to figure out, to our loss.

The book covers why the idea of “(extended) family on mission” is so important:  because God as Trinity is a family on mission, because we were created to be, because Jesus created a family on mission as his approach, and because our culture is longing for this mix of intimacy and purpose.  The book unpacks all of this in quite some depth, with the highlight being a fascinating exploration of Jesus’s rejection by his own family and his constitution of a new family on mission with the disciples and women followers.

The second part of the book provides a framework for understanding how a family on mission can work.  As anyone familiar with Mike Breen will expect, it involves lots of triangles!  Firstly,the “up, in and out” aspects: spiritual parents, predictable patterns and missional purpose. Then each of these get their own three points (and hence a triangle).

A few quotes to give you a feel of this section:

“Am I called to be a spiritual parent in this season, leading a family on mission? Or am I called in this season to be part of someone else’s family on mission?”

“Try making a list of people who seem to be orienting themselves toward you, and then rank them in how “close” they are. Are they functioning as friends? Are they followers? Are they family?”

“Predictable patterns are a way to show love to family”

“Missional Purpose is always multiplying the life of Jesus into that neighbourhood or network. Our missional purpose is to reproduce Jesus by making disciples who make disciples.”

Assessment

I enjoyed the book and will return to it.  Mike provides his usual structure and clarity of thought, and Sally brings a personal touch and perspective.  It does a good job in setting out a theological rationale for functioning as extended families on mission.  It also provides some good frameworks to assess where we are in that process. As someone who is trying to live on a family on mission, it also provided some good challenges in certain areas.

Some unanswered practical questions

I did also have some unanswered questions and some frustrations with the book.  Whilst making the point that “family on mission is for everyone, not just nuclear families” it often DOES conflate the two, with many of the examples being around what seems very much like nuclear family life.  Also, how does “oikos” (family on mission) relate to “missional communities”?  Breen has said that the latter are a waypost towards the former.  What are the differences between the two and how do we move from A to B?

It would have been helpful to understand how families on mission can be formed.  It seems the Breens figured it out in Sheffield, a large university town, where there are presumably plenty of (hungry!) students willing to attach themselves to the family life (and dinner table!) of a high-profile church leader!  From what I can understand (I may be wrong) they are now building a “family on mission” at 3DM of super-committed missional types who also happen to be their employees!  That is great, and very inspirational, but as someone living in suburbia without the status of “church leader”, with a young family, with only a couple of students in the entire church, it all seems much easier said than done.  Asking a student or young professional to join you as you live your life, go shopping, grab a coffee and so forth is one thing – asking another young family, or mother with young kids, or senior executive to do the same is another.  Inviting another family to join you in your daily rhythms is well integrated into your life but not theirs!

Another example: community prayer.  The 3DM “family on mission” gather for daily devotions Monday to Friday every week, and this is held up as a good example of a predictable prayer pattern.  But that’s the 3DM “family on mission” are all employees and work in the same building! I could start daily prayer in my kitchen at 7:30am which would be very “integrated” for me but unimaginable for the other people in my missional community to attend.

Summary

So, “Family On Mission” (buy on Amazon here) paints a desirable vision, but could have gone further in how “regular ol’ missional community leaders” can realistically make this happen. Or is the vision as painted really only achievable by church leaders in a context with plenty of single people or couples without children who can ‘attach’ themselves to your family and mission in this way?  I yearn for the vision and it has been a driving force in our experiments with missional community, but the practical constraints I’ve mentioned above do get in the way and the book didn’t really address these.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and I would recommend it to those who are super-focused on nuclear family to the detriment of ministry and mission, and vice versa.  It is also a great reminder for missional community leaders about the “family feel” we would like to create, and to avoid missional communities being a set of events or ministry program. I would love some more of these practical questions to be addressed in a second edition or on the 3DM blog.

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