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Building a Sense of Mission in Your Children

By Barbara Rainey

First posted on

One of our highest goals for our children was for them to experience Christianity in at least one other culture, preferably a third-world country. Because it was a priority, we made it happen.

Three of our girls–then ages 12, 13, and 15–traveled with me to Russia in January of 1999. For three weeks we visited orphanages and held children, carried boxes of food and 20-pound bags of flour and rice to shelters, and shared the story of Jesus in schools, orphanages, and churches.

A translator, Anastasia, accompanied us each day, and one night she invited six of us to her apartment for dinner. Anastasia met us at our hotel in the afternoon twilight. From there we walked, then rode the subway, and finally followed her down a maze of streets until we stopped at a neighborhood outdoor market where she purchased a can of meat and a few potatoes. Then we continued walking to her apartment building.

Once inside, we climbed the stairs to her tiny little residence, shed our multiple outer layers, and began helping her prepare dinner. Several of us peeled potatoes while Anastasia handed out simple plates and cups. She moved her small table away from the wall to make room for our group of six and pushed the other sparse furniture back against the walls. Then she opened the can of meat and poured it into the pot of potatoes to complete our meal.

As we sat crowded around her small table, I was grateful for this sweet young woman who so patiently guided us each day on our journeys and translated for us. I was thankful for our fellowship as believers which tasted a bit like I imagined heaven. But mostly I was thankful that my girls were experiencing what it looked like to be a Christian in another country. It was much more difficult than in America.

In later years Haiti, China, and Estonia also welcomed our children, one for two months in very primitive conditions and another in communist-block housing for a year. American Christianity is often not the purest form of our faith … it’s clouded and often compromised by our nation’s prosperity and love of comfort. Opening our children’s eyes to other cultures and to a global vision of God’s love for all gave them a greater understanding of God and His work throughout the world.

The concept of mission means “being sent” on an important task or assignment. Training your children to be purposeful about life, to evaluate how they are stewarding their talents, gifts, abilities, experiences, and passion is one of your most important tasks.

Mission is all about purpose, significance, and meaning in life. The opposite is futility, emptiness, and eventual despair. All children, by middle school, begin to ask questions like “Why am I here?” and “How can my life matter?” Even if they aren’t asking you, they are wondering about their value in this big world.

Building a sense of mission in your children means teaching and modeling two key concepts:

First, we are created to be ambassadors for Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” Just as ambassadors represent their homeland in another country, we represent Christ to a world full of people who need Him.

Being an ambassador means standing for Him, speaking for Him, and representing Him wherever we go. It’s about loving people with the love of Christ, sharing the good news, and explaining how they can be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him.

Even your young children can begin to understand this concept as you talk about showing Jesus to others every day by our words and our actions. We talked often about representing Jesus at school, in their jobs, and with our neighbors. Having a mission doesn’t mean your children have to move to Africa and start an orphanage, but it could.

Second, we are designed by design by God for a mission. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The word workmanship literally means a “work of art.” Each child’s life is a one-of-a-kind, exquisite masterpiece, divinely handcrafted with heavenly fingerprints and eternal ingenuity. Their lives are hard wired with a spiritual DNA, made in His image, to ignite good works God prepared beforehand uniquely for them to execute.

Just as we did with our children by taking them on mission trips, so it is your job as a parent to guide your children in understanding more of what God is doing worldwide, which broadens their concept of purpose and mission in life. As teens near the last two years of high school, you can start helping them dream big and find ways to develop specific talents and skills through classes, vocational school, or the best college for their interests.

You know better than anyone how your children work, what they like and don’t like, what their strengths and weaknesses are. You are an important stakeholder in their mission decisions.

God has made each of your children in specific ways for His specific plans. Maybe your son will be a teacher, a banker, a pastor, and a husband. Maybe your daughter will be a doctor, a retail store manager, or a wife and mom. But it’s your responsibility to remind each child that they should steward the gifts and desires that God has put inside them for God’s already-determined purposes.

If all this feels a tad overwhelming that’s okay! It’s a big faith adventure. Here are a few starters on helping your children discover a God-given mission.

1. Evaluate your own life. Are you a person on mission? How would you describe the mission God has given you? In a world where few people consider their spiritual mission, your children need to see how this works out in your life.

2. Pray for discernment to see and identify each child’s gifts, abilities, passions, and burdens … their “missional DNA” ... as they begin to emerge. Ask the Creator for insight into His creation.

3. Start a diary or a note on your phone for you to enter ideas and observations. Jot down little notes here and there as you see strengths and interests blossom in your children.     

4. Affirm and encourage them often when you see your children operating in the sweet spot of their gifts and wiring. Applaud them when they take initiative. Positive affirmation is especially important in the awkward years of adolescence when your teens need an outsider to speak truth to them. Don’t be surprised if they have difficulty believing it.

5. Take advantage of aptitude testing services as children move into their middle teens and beyond. Your child’s school guidance counselor might even have access free options. And you can find a multitude of testing options online.

6. Invite your child to dream. Ask her this question: If you could do anything in the world and couldn’t fail, what would you do and why? Keep this a regular point of conversation. At the appropriate time read her this quote from A.W. Tozer: “God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity we plan only things that we can do by ourselves.”

7. Encourage and affirm every step of faith, large or small. 

8. Teach your children how to process failures. Don’t be too quick to rescue them either. Failure is often one of the best tutors in each of our lives.

9. Don’t let their dreams scare you! Our oldest son is our child who spent a year in Estonia. When he came home from college during his junior year to tell us he wanted to go introduce Estonian students to Jesus Christ, we had to get a map out to see where it was on the planet! Many conversations and months later, we found ourselves at the airport as he and five other friends boarded a flight across the globe without a return ticket. It was a life-changing experience for everyone, including his parents and siblings left behind who watched and prayed and were challenged by his experience.

10. Pray with and for your child that he will fulfill God’s mission for his life.

11. Read Matthew 28:19-20—the “Great Commission” of Christ—and discuss what it means for our lives. Note the context of this passage. Jesus gave this commission as He spoke His last words to His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

12. Assign one of your children to read and give a book report to the family on Katie Davis Majors’ book, Daring to Hope. Our son who spent a year in Estonia later took his 14-year-old daughter to Uganda with Compassion International and visited Katie’s ministry and school. He is requiring all four of his daughters to read Katie’s books, including her first, Kisses for Katie. Mom and dad, tighten your seat belts ... this is quite a story by a remarkable young lady.


Plan a date with your spouse to talk for 30 minutes about how you can help identify and define God’s mission for each of your kids:

1. Discuss this Ethiopian proverb: “The feet take a person where one’s heart is.”

2. Do any of your children have any dreams that scare you? If so, talk about why. Pray that your children would always hear God’s voice above any other and have the courage to follow it. Pray that you would be willing to accept and encourage the mission that God is calling them to.

3. If your children are too young to read Katie Davis Majors’ books, use your evening date with your husband to read one of her books together. Take turns reading aloud perhaps.

4. Begin naming specific strengths, preferences, and likes in each of your children.

5. Schedule a regular date night with your spouse to sharpen your inventory of your child’s life. Discuss how you can better develop your child’s gifts, talents, and passions as her parents.

Parenting is full of twists and turns and hard challenges we can’t begin to imagine when our first child arrives in our arms. But God is always ahead in your future and in your child’s. Focus on building strong relationships, character, a secure identity, and a sense of mission and purpose. That’s your assignment. God will guide you and your children every time you ask Him.

Remember He loves your kids more than you do!

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