1 Timothy 5:7-8, “7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (ESV)
In this series we are investigating the different components of a successful missionary endeavor. In the development of a mission, there are not just missionaries. There are other missional entities, which partner in unison, to allow the body of Christ to thrive. God desires for all of them to work together. The important thing is to recognize these parts of the body and nurture working relationships with them as we live as missionaries.
I propose that the most fruitful path to embark on, as missionaries, is nurturing solid relationships with 10 missional entities (There used to be six, but I have extended them to ten.), all of which are part of the body of Christ, and finally with the Bible and Jesus himself. They must nurture relationships with…
- … a sending church
- … a mission agency
- … a receiving church
- … a missionary team
- … a “person of peace”
- … the family
- … the extended family
- … the secular community
- ….the Word of God
- …Jesus Christ, the living God.
This paper will define the then areas of relationship building. Our own family experience as a house church will be reflected upon. The things learned from the current mission to the Canada will added. There will also be some advice on how to nurture the relationships in these ten areas.
This part will deal with relationships seven, relationships with the extended family. The point of all this is to share about some ways that missionaries can be strengthened as they follow Jesus. Let’s see….
Part 1: The Benefits of Extended Family.
Talking about Christian mission and relationships with extended, non-believing family members is a very touchy subject. In our culture family is held up as of extreme importance, even more important than Jesus and the Gospel. To many, family can be an idol. Anything that even hints as placing something of greater importance than family is looked upon with suspicion.
But I wanted to approach this sensitive subject in order to encourage missionaries to never give up nurturing relationships with non-believing family members and to make nurturing these relationships a vital part of their mission.
All believers need family members in their lives. Nurturing these relationships will help to ensure longevity on the mission field and bring glory to Christ. It will foster joy and good fruit throughout our lifetime. I include my own mistakes as a new believer, in hopes that knowledge of my mistakes will help others to set out on their missionary lives on the right foot with extended family members.
God has put extended family into our lives, whether they are believers or not. There is an important purpose for them in God’s plan. They provide friendship, social support, financial support, identity, a sense of belonging and affirmation. Extended family provided recognition, praise and support for the adult choices we make in our lives. Christian or not, they are always there, at the end of phone line, or the end of a long road, or across town. Thirty years may pass, but the extended family is happy to have you visit. Some may even visit your home from time to time. When they do it is a great encouragement. They will always be your family.
I am very encouraged about the two young families that have gone on their mission to NW Ontario. It was not very easy for them to go. There will be 900 miles between them and their extended families. But they have tried their best to nurture relationships. They spent several months prior to their departure visiting friends and family. They asked for prayer support in the area of relationships. They included their families in the moving process. Two of their mothers even came with them on the move to the north. (Oct 2015) They are very conscious on how they are going to be able keep nurturing these relationships
It has been almost thirty years since I became a Christian. (1986) Over those years I remember how important relationships were, and still are, with my extended family. When the kids were young, we used to bring the three youngest to “Granny and Papa’s” house, sometimes for a month at a time, so that the grandparents and other extended family members could share life with the kids. Julie and I were freed up to do some other things, like having the next child, or going to a Christian conference. Of course it was hard to be apart from the kids, but it was important that the kids also had some relationship with their extended family.
Over the years our extended family has been a blessing and source of support for us as we live out our Christian lives. My parents babysat the kids. They provided monetary gifts. They were a comfort to us, in that they were always at the end of the phone to talk, and they still are. Though my mom is 84 and my dad is 80, they are still a great comfort in our family’s life.
Part 2: Initially, I Burnt Bridges With My Extended Family
When I became a Christian, I pretty well burnt bridges between me and my atomic family. We were all to blame because of our reactions to my conversion to Christianity. I remember when I became a believer at 22 years old. I plunged into a life filled with Christian worship and mission. Knowing and serving Jesus and dedication to my church become the top priority in my life. My parents began persecuting me because of my life choices. They were scared and defensive and worried about my, and their, future. They were furious with me and the Christians I was fellowshipping with, and started five years of opposition to my Christian life. They were hurt, and afraid and we were all defensive.
As a young man of twenty two years, I loved an argument and did not hesitate getting into one, mostly with my dad. He and I are very much alike in this way. Every time I visited home, my prayer was that I don’t get into an argument with my parents. But I did get into very heated arguments, every time. And the heated arguing continued on for five years and sporadically after that. I burnt bridges with my extended family members. This did not have to happen.
I was also very “mission minded”. This means that I was always focused on my Christian mission. Engaging in small talk or visiting simply to visit, seemed like an incredible waste of time to me. I was always anxious, wanting to cut the visit short and get back to my mission field so I wouldn’t miss Sunday Worship at my church. But I was so “off” in this matter. Nurturing relationships with extended family members is part of the mission. I was trivializing it and even ignoring it.
Part 3: Jesus Is Into Building, Repairing And Maintaining Bridges
I did learn, through Bible study, that there will be persecution and what the character that the persecution would take. These warnings from the Bible served to solidify my faith in Jesus and his word, for the Bible was telling me exactly how it was going to unfold…and it was enfolding that way. But let me say, before reading the verses, persecution, is no excuse for not keeping nurturing relationships with extended family on your radar, though persecution will make this a heavy cross to bear.
In the Bible Jesus warns believers about this in Matthew 10:34-37,
“34 Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (ESV)
Christians have had to deal with persecution from family members since the beginning of the church. Even today, if a person converts from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity the family has a funeral for them and ignores them for the rest of their lives. If the children of Muslim families convert, they are in danger of being beaten or even killed by a member of their family, to bring honor back to the family. In some Communist countries, family members are encouraged to turn their Christian family members in to the authorities. The Christians are then executed, imprisoned or send to labor camps. In the West, secular family members may mock, criticize or ostracize a family member for years if they become a Christian. Even Christian relatives may persecute believers if they switch family denominations or become too sincere in their devotion to Christ. Such persecution is the most painful, because these are the people who are your own people. They are the ones whom you have formed emotional bonds with. They are ones that God has brought into our lives for affirmation, love, caring and support. And yet, they stand at odds with you. That hurts.
But, the fact that family members may persecute us, does not mean that we have the right to ignore them and burn bridges. It may be one of the hardest things to do, to stand your ground in faith and love and nurture relationships as a mother, father, son or daughter, brother, sister. It is not easy to do this while facing judgment and criticism. But in doing so you will be demonstrating Christian love.
It is not in Jesus’ character to burn bridges. God is a God of relationships. We can see this in the nature of the Trinity. We can see the struggle that Jesus made to establish relationships with fallen mankind. Psalm 41:7-9 reads, “All who hate me whisper together about me they imagine the worst for me. 8 They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him; he will not rise again from where he lies.” 9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” The psalmist talks about people persecuting him. We know that this is a prophecy about Jesus. The close friend is Judas Iscariot. Jesus trusted Judas and yet Judas betrayed him to the religious leaders for thirty pieces of silver. In John Michael Talbot’s song, “Why?” the topic of Judas’ betrayal is touched upon. The lyric goes, “Why did it have to be a friend who chose to betray the Lord? Why did he use a kiss to show them, that’s not what a kiss is for? Only a friend can betray a friend. A stranger has nothing to gain. And only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.” (Metro lyrics) It was all according the Father’s will. Jesus took all the suffering and pain to the max, even the pain of betrayal by a close friend, so that we can be forgiven. Jesus knew that Judas was going to carry through with his plans. But how did Jesus respond to Judas in light of this?
Even when Judas was planning to betrayed Jesus to death, Jesus tried to build bridges with him. John 13:26-28 reads, “26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.” (ESV) Jesus warned Judas. Jesus gave him a peace of bread, symbolic of Jesus offering himself to him. (John 6:35) Jesus would soon suffer and died on the cross for the likes of Judas. But Judas never accepted Jesus’ love. He rejected it. The Bible says that Satan entered into him. Judas’ rejection had nothing to do with Jesus attempt to build bridges and restore relationships. Even though Judas’ example is extreme, it is a good example to see how important relationship building and maintaining is to Jesus. His overtures to Judas reveals God’s love, and grace and his glory.
Jesus makes the same overtures to a sinful humanity. John 1:10-11 reads, “10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John 1:14 reads “14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (ESV) Jesus tried his best to nurture relationships with us. It cost him his very life. But it did not dissuade him from doing so. The same priorities must be in our own hearts.
Part 3: Avoid Broken Relationships While Serving Your Mission.
I always thought that in response to family opposition, I should continue to fix my eyes in Jesus, study the Bible, continue on with the mission and trust Jesus. There was no teaching about the importance of nurturing relationships with extended family members and the importance of this for the future of the mission. There was no formal instruction on how to avoid arguments and to rebuild relationships that were torn apart because of misunderstandings and persecution.
Some churches may avoid teaching about nurturing relationships with extended family members. Looking back on previous Bible studies and messages on the Book of 1 Timothy, I noticed that 1 Timothy 5:7-8 are largely passed over. The emphasis has to do with taking care of widows in the church (and only the widows that are serving the mission of the church well) Little to no mention is made of a person’s atomic family. Why is this? It is because some Christians think that spending time and resources to care for someone outside of the ministry appears to be a waste time and resources. They may think, “What good does it serve the mission, if someone spends time and money and energy caring for their extended family members?…Devote yourself to the mission and God will take care of the rest.” There may be a fear, that if a young believer draws too close to opposing family members, they may succumb to their opposition. There may even be a temptation for a church to rejoice in familial opposition to a young Christian’s life of faith. They could view the persecution as God flinging the young Christian into the arms of the church to serve the church’s mission more fully.
But Paul warns believers about ignoring extended family members. Look at verse again, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8.) But the church must grieve that relationships are being broken and work to mend them, and not wait until more damage is done.
There are some verses in the Bible that seem to support pulling away from non-believing family members. Though some of these verses may seem shocking and very absolute, they do not advocate burning bridges and relationships. They simply mean to remain true to your calling in the Lord. Let nothing dissuade you from the path on which God has called you to follow. If family relationships are kept strong…great. But if there is strife a believer must fix their eyes on Jesus and while trying to build bridges as they serve the Lord. Never give up trying. That would be a great epitaph, “He/She never gave up trying to nurture relationships and build bridges.”
Here are the verses that may shock any family members of a convert to Christianity. Think about Abram in Genesis 12:1-3,
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)
There is a very hard verse in Luke 14:25-27,
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (ESV)
These verses seem very absolute. Look at Luke 9:57-62,
“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (ESV)
Paul seems to warn believers not to get too tangled up with relationships in the world. Look at verses 2 Timothy 2:3-4,
“3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” (ESV)
We can’t neglect nurturing relationships with family. Our extended family members are our mission field. God has established a believer, within their extended family members, to minister the Gospel to them. Missionaries must show them the love of Christ. They must take care of their needs, within reason. 1 Timothy 5:7-8, “7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (ESV) It may be a very difficult mission field. But one that all believers are called to embrace.
Part 4: Some Practical Things To Do
In retrospect, I wish that I could have had some formal training on how to react to extended family members, upon my conversion to Christianity. A church should be training new Christians on how to build bridges and strengthen relationships, even with extended family members that are not Christian, even with those who oppose our lives of faith.
Yes, family may persecute us and try to stop us from living according to our calling. On the other hand there may not even be any persecution. They may actually be supportive of our calling. We may think that our mission gives us a right to pull away, even when there is no push back against our mission. Maintaining and building bridges with extended family is a great testimony to the power of the Gospel.
Here are some practical examples on how missionaries could nurture relations with non-believing extended family members. Pray before visiting and talking. Always remember what the Bible says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (James 1:19, NIV) and “3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Php 2:3-4, NIV) A very important verse reads, “12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12; ESV)
Some more practical advice is the following: Make time for small talk? Don’t have an agenda with them? Make time to visit. Make frequent phone calls. Send letters, pictures and newspaper clippings. Remember important dates, like birthdays and anniversaries. Try to Skype. Invite family to visit you. Consider meeting half way to spend a vacation together. Maybe the kids could spend a few weeks at “Gramma and Grampa’s” house? Share in some common interests, like fishing or genealogy, etc? Keep interested in things that interest them. When visiting always ask to see the old family slides or pictures? And include them in the planning of important life events, like weddings.
Never be too “mission minded” that you neglect nurturing relationships with extended family. It is not a waste of time. It is not a deviation from your Christian mission. These relationships will very much enhance and extend the mission. And even if your extended family do not share your sentiments, and even oppose your mission in life, that is ok. At least it is known by all, that you have kept trying. At least they know you care. They will see Christ in you, through your persistent efforts to nurture relationships and build bridges.