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Joyful Mission in a Christian Household

By Kristine Blaess

As our eldest child is preparing to leave home for college this fall, I have been reflecting on these precious years with our children at home. We have had good seasons and challenging seasons. We are grateful for all of it. But the seasons with the most joyful memories are those when we have been intentional about mission together as a family.

When the kids were small, we invited my husband’s whole congregation to do life with us. We adopted a rhythm of a weekly potluck meal and worship, along with monthly outreach to our neighborhood.

Every week we opened our home for Sunday Supper. Our mantra was “Lightweight, Low Maintenance.” We became adept at sweeping craft projects and papers into a laundry basket, pushing the toys into a bucket, and giving the bathroom a quick once-over. We also grew in the spiritual grace and discipline of opening our home.

As we prepared each week, we pulled out our stack of plates and plastic cups, a basket of plastic cutlery (plastic because the stainless steel sometimes ended up in the trash), put a frozen lasagna in the oven, and prayed together that people would experience God’s kingdom in our home. Sometimes 40 people came, and sometimes we had just one or two.

After dinner, someone would share a Scripture passage that had spoken to them that week and we sang camp songs. We learned to give the kids small boxes of Nerds candy to use as percussion to accompany the singing and as a sweet going-home snack. After 75 minutes of meal, conversation, singing, and prayer, everyone went home. These evenings strengthened us because they were predictable, short, easy, and joyfully social.

Every fourth week, our group found a way to bless our neighbors. We sorted food at the local food bank. We went on prayer walks. We set up a caramel apple-making station in our garage one Halloween. We opened our home to the kids of the neighborhood, especially the kids whose home lives were unstable.

Later, when we moved to Nashville, we invited church members for Monday Supper and to befriend artists struggling with homelessness. We connected with a local non-profit that provided studio space for the artists. Monthly we shared a potluck meal at the studio, where we admired the art our friends were creating and spent time in their space. At times our members invited an artist friend to stay in their home for respite. During that season, most Monday nights saw the kids bouncing on the trampoline and playing four square while the adults chatted on the patio.

This pattern of living life and sharing a mission together is based on the New Testament concept of oikos: the ancient Greek household, the basic unit of society. It also is the root for economy (oikonomos). The oikos was the extended family that lived and worked together, with mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, servants, and apprentices all sharing life in the family compound, where they lived and practiced their trade. This model of life together includes all those single and married, young and old.

Rodney Stark posits in The Rise of Christianity that, during the early centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, Christianity grew exponentially because it spread from household to household, with one oikos evangelizing and baptizing a neighboring oikos. This is the story of the early church in Philippi, for example. Lydia and her household were converted and baptized, followed quickly by others, including the jailer and his entire household (Acts 16).

According to Stark’s research, in the three centuries between Jesus’ resurrection and Constantine’s conversion, the Church expanded from perhaps 1,000 Christians in A.D. 40 (.0017% of the Roman Empire) to nearly 34 million Christians in A.D. 350 (more than half of the Roman Empire). While preaching campaigns like St. Peter’s and missionary tours like St. Paul’s certainly built the church and produced its theological underpinnings, the evangelization of entire households, oikos to oikos, fueled the 40 percent growth per decade. This exponential growth is close to the average growth rate the Latter-day Saints Church maintained during the 20th century (43% per decade).

In the years since we began experimenting with oikos, our family has treasured our friends who include us in their households. Friends in Arizona moved into neighboring houses and, as they shared their lives and faith, discovered a gift for healing prayer. My husband, Michael, was healed of his headaches during one visit with them.

Friends in South Africa have gathered community around themselves as they seek justice and reconciliation for their city that suffers from some of the greatest economic disparity in the world. We are always hungry to spend more time with them.

Where we live right now, the children of the neighborhood have established themselves as the Cul-de-Sac Kids. The children pray for our neighborhood, serve neighbors by watering flowers and taking care of pets, and reach out to us with cookies, Scripture verses printed on cards, and other handmade gifts. We are amazed how they will come to our house with just the right encouragement for the day.

These households share common practices: (1) regular rhythms of simple meal fellowship, (2) household prayer and worship, (3) a common mission to a neighborhood, community in need, or relational network, and (4) dependence on the Holy Spirit. These households imitate the common life of the early Church, when Jesus’ disciples “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47).

This is a profoundly countercultural way to organize our life together, and at the same time, it is immensely attractive to people in our lonely generation. These patterns can be challenging to live long-term, precisely because our culture resists people living connected, missionary lives in a Christian household. Despite the challenges, the years my family have committed to these patterns have been the most satisfying and most fulfilling. We take inspiration and gain endurance from friends around us who share this vision for life together.

The writer of Hebrews urges us on: “Since, therefore, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses … let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith . . . Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Heb. 12:1-2, 28-13:2).

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