Family: On Mission
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Jefferson BethkeJefferson Bethke is the New York Times bestselling author of Jesus > Religion and It’s Not What You Think. He and his wife, Alyssa, host The Real Life Podcast and run FamilyTeams.com, an online initiative equipping families to live as a multi-generational team on mission. They live in Maui with their daughters, Kinsley and Lucy, and son, Kannon. To say hi or to learn more, go to: jeffandalyssa.com.
What is the mission of your family? Jefferson Bethke helps listeners evaluate what guides their decisions and why it matters.
Family: On Mission
Jefferson: It’s necessary for a healthy family to have a mission; right? With young kids, we like to say, “Make that your neighborhood; be the person of peace in your neighborhood that Luke 10 talks about.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Okay, so you walk up to any family—at a park, at a church, in a neighborhood—and ask them: “Mom and Dad, what’s your mission for your family?
Ann: Oh, I’ve done that.
Dave: “What’s the goal?”
Ann: I have asked that to multiple moms.
Dave: You know what? I’ve seen you ask that; you walk around the park, just bugging people. [Laughter]
Ann: No, I don’t! [Laughter]
Dave: I’ve seen you do it. [Laughter]
Ann: I don’t; but I have asked that question to moms: “What do you hope/what do you dream for your kids? What is it?” Almost 95 percent of the time the response I hear is “I just want them to be happy,”—and I agree; don’t we all want that for our kids?—but how do you obtain happiness? I don’t want their lives to be happy; I want them to be on fire; I want them to change the world. Then you get into the reality—your kids are hitting each other and hate school—it’s like, “Oh wait, how do I do this again?”
Dave: Obviously, we’re bringing this up because families thrive when they have a mission. And most of the time—you said 95 percent—it’s probably, at least, 90 percent of moms and dads never thought that through: “Really what is our mission as a family and what is God’s mission for our family?”
Ann: I think that’s a good question.
Dave: Yes; and I tell you/we’ve got Jefferson Bethke in the studio with us today. I know, Jefferson—first of all, welcome back.
Jefferson: Thanks for having me back.
Dave: You’ve thought a lot about this.
Ann: We’re glad you’ve thought about it. [Laughter]
Jefferson: Yes, this is something I really care about. A couple of things you guys just sparked that I was thinking of is/one is: “It’s necessary for a healthy family to have a mission; right?” Another way to put it is: “If you don’t have a shared enemy, then you become the enemy.”
Jefferson: We always tell families: “If you can’t label or name a shared enemy—even as simple as saying ‘the forces of darkness or evil,’ like we know what those are—we can say, ‘This is in our city; it looks like “x,” “y,” “z,”’—or it’s something more specific. But if you don’t have that, which most families don’t, then you become each other’s enemy.” It’s kind of like, if you’re not facing a direction with your team, then your team starts to eat each other. It happens to families all the time. First of all, that one is true on the negative.
On the positive side of that: “How does our family find a mission?” In our work, we try to lead a lot of families through that question. The first thing I would say that we found out is that asking it that way, or thinking about it that way, tends to overwhelm people. They kind of start to sink, like, “Oh man, that feels big.”
Ann: Yes; they feel like, “I’m failing. Already, I’m failing.”
Jefferson: Yes, exactly.
We say: “There [are] two missions every family should have; there’s the general and the particular. The general is the Genesis one—Genesis 2:15—‘The Lord God put them in the Garden of Eden to work it and to keep it [Paraphrased].’ Your job is to find a garden, and to work it, and keep it.”
Now what’s a garden? A garden is any place where you are making order out of chaos; that’s what a gardener does. A gardener takes raw materials, and they make something beautiful; or they take raw materials, and they feed someone. Those are the only two possibilities of a garden. Where would that be, metaphorically?
That’s a first question I would ask a family is: “How is your team wired? How has your team been given certain resources?—whether financially, whether emotionally, whether personality—what are the resources of your team?” “How your kids are wired, the ages of them, the gifts, the talents, the wirings—as well as the two parents—and how can you start to nudge those giftings, and wirings, and talents towards a particular garden/towards a particular place of making order out of chaos?”
With young kids, we like to say, “Make that your neighborhood.” That’s a really easy one, where it’s not overwhelming; it’s not crazy. You don’t feel like you’re—because the one thing, too, is sometimes people take this and they go and start serving in church like crazy—which I love the church; we serve in our church, etc.—but there’s also, like you can burn yourself out there real fast, especially with little kids. I think that’s a short play.
I think the long play is: “How about you/maybe you don’t serve in the church for the first ten years of your family? How about you train your team so that, then, they’re strong enough, after ten years, to actually go serve the whole world or serve the church in a better capacity?”
But the neighborhood is a good one with little kids. We tell people: “Make where you live a place of—be the person of peace in your neighborhood that Luke 10 talks about—whether that’s dinners; whether that’s a card for the neighbors. It could—actually, we lived in a neighborhood, where we were the only Christians for five to six years, this last house we lived in. It was so fun to see—I was just reflecting on it the other day of: “When we started in the neighborhood, we didn’t know anyone; and we ended in that neighborhood of like everyone”—I don’t want to be prideful—“everyone loved us”; you know what I mean? [Laughter] We were just—
Dave: “I don’t want to be prideful; everybody loved us.”
Jefferson: You know, everyone loved us. [Laughter]
First of all, we were the only family; it was a benching neighborhood, where we were the only family in that neighborhood; everyone else was older. It was fascinating how we just leaned into it. A couple of them—one guy was a paraplegic in a wheelchair, so we would help with stuff in his house, where the kids would come over and pick his vegetable garden; because he couldn’t do it—all this stuff; right?—making meals for people, helping people when they had friends visit, and unlocking door, and getting mail. What that did is it’s crazy how people enjoyed us being around; the kids loved it. You know what I mean?
That’s a small one; I would say that’s easy in the small season.
Ann: I’ll add to that; because sometimes, with little kids, you can just feel like, “I have little kids; we’re not doing anything.”
Jefferson: “I can’t do anything meaningful.” That’s what I’m trying to say.
Ann: Exactly; Dave and I did the same thing, where Dave—
Dave: Yes, our neighbors loved us. [Laughter]
Ann: But honestly, we were both outside with so many neighbor kids.
Jefferson: Yes; that’s a better way to put it, too; is our commitment was like—we had a funny commitment in our house—our backyard was off limits: “We only hang out in the front yard,”—for that exact reason.
Ann: Yes, these kids were over constantly; they would knock on the front door. This was when our kids were like three, five, eight. They would be like, “Can Mr. Wilson come out and play?” They seriously would. [Laughter]
Jefferson: I love that.
Ann: And we saw that as: “Oh, this is our ministry at this time.”
Jefferson: Your neighbors definitely loved us/loved you I mean.
Ann: They did love him; we played every sport.
Jefferson: That’s the word for it though, “the ministry.” Your neighborhood is your ministry.
Dave: Yes, and your book, Take Back Your Family, which we’re talking about, you’re also/your mission of the Bethke family was: “Take back you neighborhood,” “Take back your city,”—not in a bad way—
Dave: —but in a beautiful way,—
Jefferson: It’s compelling love/serve.
Dave: —because God loves the family to look out.
Ann: —bring the love of Jesus; yes.
Jefferson: Exactly. There’s two stages we say—that’s the young stage—because I feel like you nailed it; because a lot of people with young kids think: “I can’t do anything meaningful,” “I can’t do anything.” It’s like, “No; it’s actually the most meaningful thing, hospitality. Jesus, almost His entire ministry, is hospitality. Yes, you can be hospitable; you can love your neighbors; you can serve them; you can honor them; you can be a person of peace in your neighborhood.
Then I think, when kids get older, we say: “That’s when you can maybe start starting businesses together,” “You can start serving together in the church,” “You can find out what your kids are really are passionate about.” When your kids are teenagers, by the way, one of the big things that I think a lot of families don’t do, that should be, is those kids should be being able to be speaking into the family. They should be having a say in where the money goes; they should be having a say on where the resources go. That doesn’t mean they have the authority on those things. But back in the day, 13-year-olds were adults; right?
Ann: Yes, their voices should be heard.
Jefferson: Yes, let them speak into the mission. I think that’s one reason why kids actually leave the faith, or just go in a really dark season around teenage years and after, is because we didn’t give them anything meaningful. It’s kind of just like: “We’ll keep you safe, and secure, and entertained,”—rather than, around 12,13,14—“Here’s our money situation, and we have this much to give this year. What would you give it to?” “Who would you give it to?” “How would you give it? Okay, well we can’t do that; but you want to do…sure, go ahead.”
We actually have something like that with our kids, where we have a giving fund, we call it, where we put aside money every month. Then basically, the kids get to contribute to that. They’ll be: “Hey,”—there was one time the kids brought some need of some girl, who like with school supplies, that they heard about at the playground. It was like, “That’s perfect. There you go. Let’s go do that.”
But I think you can do that in really large ways once your kids are older, because they’re thriving almost mini adults; like integrate them into projects, missions, businesses—whatever—and it’s really powerful.
Ann: As you said earlier, each of our kids brings a different part, different gifts, different insights. I remember, when our kids were teenagers or even younger, I was, “That is fascinating; our family needs to hear that,”—that you’re giving them—like, “Oh, I’m necessary?” “My thoughts are necessary?” “My gifts are necessary?”
Jefferson: Yes, I think that’s the best way to put it.
Ann: I think that’s important for us, as parents, to recognize it and, then, to speak it.
Dave: One of the questions would be: “Okay; so often, the family has become inward—protect, take care of us—almost consumeristic; it’s almost reinforced by the culture. How do you break out of that?”
Jefferson: I think constantly trying to look outside/constantly ask the Lord to lead. One practical way is: we have team meetings every week. Obviously, we have little kids; so the littlest ones are not really a part of it. If you have a weekly thing on the calendar, of like: “We are a team. Here’s our mission; here’s why we exist. Here’s the list of things we’re trying to decide this week…” It’s crazy how that keeps you oriented.
Dave: Another thing that I found fascinating were the “Bethke Eight Guiding Principles,” I guess?—yes, guiding principles/pillars.
Jefferson: We call them pillars; yes. What we encourage families—because, again, we try to work backwards, not making anyone feel overwhelmed—so one thing I say is: “Okay, think about your family like a house”—right?—“or more of like a Roman colonial house with pillars. [Laughter] What are the things that hold your family up?” and “What are the things that define your family?”
We kind of make it like a stream of consciousness exercise, by just start naming one word [answers]: “What are the things that are important to you?” “What are the things that are valuable to you?” and start writing those down. Come up with a list of 20 or 30—just put whatever, like—“This kid likes…”; “This kid likes…”; “This kid likes…”; “This parent likes…”; “This person’s wired like…”—whatever, etc.—and then just go through the exercise of eliminating them based on: “How passionate are we really about that one?” “How much does everyone care about that one?”—stuff like that.
What it does is, then, it gives us these words to hold onto that don’t just become these cute Etsy thing on the wall but, actually, become a filter. For Alyssa and me, whenever we’re having a hard time with a really big decision of someone’s either asking us to do something or commitment, we actually put it through the pillars. That almost becomes our third person in the marriage that helps us decide things.
Jefferson: I know that’s a weird way to put it.
Jefferson: Another, too, by the way—a total bonus for married people—what it does, too, is it takes the problem from outside of preference and puts it to an agreed external; right? Sometimes, in an argument, you can always be like: “Well, you just want to do that; because it’s your personality,” and “I just want to do that…” and “I don’t want to do it, because it’s mine,” or whatever.
But when a marriage has agreed on a set of principles that are going to guide the team, then what it does is it takes the deciding thing outside of personality preference and puts it into an external reality that both people are submitting to.
Dave: Yes, that’s good.
Jefferson: Stuff like that is really helpful.
Dave: Here’s one of them that I’d love you to talk about. You say, “We center the table in everything.”
Jefferson: Yes; we care about hospitality even to the point, now, where we’ve almost started to transition with some of our business things into more real estate, and creating all this stuff; because we just care so deeply for us about creating spaces of hospitality—welcoming people, serving pastors and people in ministry—all of these different types of layers. Yes, there’s that part of it. I would say that is the outward focus of us/of our family: very much cares about inviting people to our house and our table and creating spaces for that.
But then internally, as a family, we think the table’s everything; because I think there’s just statistics. Here’s a crazy statistic, by the way—I won’t even be able to think of all the benefits, because it’s like 30 benefits—but it’s like higher SAT scores, less likely of being thrown in prison, blah, blah, blah; every successful thing basically happens if you only eat dinner together, as a family, a certain amount. Now, guess what? If you’re above that threshold, all these things are true. What would you guys guess that number is?
Dave: I know what it is. [Laughter]
Jefferson: Yes, because I think I said it before; I think I’ve said it before. [Laughter]
Ann: We’ve used it before too.
Jefferson: But it’s like three or four—right?—which is crazy.
Jefferson: Twenty-something meals are possible [available in a week]. I love that statistic, because most people guess high, like: “Ten,” “Fifteen,”—like it’s impossible.
Jefferson: —“Three?!” That’s like a breakfast, a Saturday dinner, and something to snack; right?
Ann: It’s doable.
Jefferson: It’s very doable. It’s crazy how it centers identity, family story, comradery, connection in a rhythmic way over years; and then, also, I think it’s where a lot of biblical formation happens at the table. It’s kind of like you have a captured audience; right?
Ann and Dave: Yes.
Jefferson: It’s like: “Man, that’s where we do…” “Anytime we talk about the Lord or open up the Scriptures, it’s always while we’re eating.” It’s such a powerful mechanism. We just see Jesus always inviting people to tables. When He’s trying to explain the kingdom, He’s using the metaphor of feasts and tables. It’s something that is very powerful.
Dave: One of my thoughts is a lot of families don’t do that;—
Dave: —because their kids are so involved in so many other things, it pulls them away. Some of those things are good. But talk about that a little bit: “How do you decide, as a mom and dad, with your kids?” I mean, you’ve got three kids—
Jefferson: —100 percent.
Ann: —are they each going to be in three sports?
Jefferson: No; yes. And when they get older, it’s tougher. We’re not saying: “Just go doomsday and have all the kids inside all the time,” “You can’t do anything,”—whatever—no, we’re not saying that.
But what I challenge most parents with is: “How come you’re willing to sacrifice in all the other domains of your life but never for your family?”; right? What I mean by that is people almost feel guilty of saying, “No, we cannot go to that; because tonight’s family night.” People don’t do that, or they feel really weird or guilty. There’s no other domain of life where you do that. Your boss can’t just be like, “Hey, I need you to work tomorrow,” and you go, “Uh, someone just invited me to something else.” No one does that; you can’t do that; you’d get fired.
The same with school: you can’t just not show up to school and be like, “Well, I got invited to a birthday party that day,” or “Well, actually, I just signed up for sports; sorry.” Just no other domain of our life—it’s just expected—like, “No; you are in school, so you’ll be here this time of day”; “You have this job; you will be here this time of day.” “You are in a family; you will be here these times of the day.” I don’t know why we think that’s weird. I don’t know why we think we can’t do that.
Ann: I think we’re so pressured in our culture. I remember when one of our—I think it was our oldest—and we were talking about: “Are they going to do baseball?” This mom is like, “Your son hasn’t signed up for baseball?! [Laughter] You’ll never get on the right team; and if he doesn’t get on the right team…” I had this panic feeling, like, “Oh, no; my son’s going to be the loser and the worst.”
Jefferson: Yes, totally;—
Dave: I do remember, for one of our sons,—
Jefferson: —and sports keep getting more and more—
Dave: —summer baseball.
Ann: It’s an idol.
Dave: It was a high-level baseball team. The coach told me: “First of all,” he said, “be my assistant coach.” I’m like, “Okay, let me think about it; what’s it look like?”
He said, “Eighty games this summer.” I said, “Eighty games?”
Jefferson: “Eighty games in a summer!”
Dave: “How do you play 80 games?”
Ann: They’re ten.
Dave: He goes—yes, ten years old.
Jefferson: He’s ten years old?
Dave: I remember saying, “We’re not doing it.” He said, “Your son will never play at the next level. Do you realize the decision you’re making?”
I’m like, “We’ll see.” He did play at the next level. But that decision, I was the only parent that made that decision. Everybody else said, “Yes, yes, yes.” Plus, I’ve been the coach of many of those teams; you’re like, “You shouldn’t have your kid here. He’s never going to play at the next level [even] if he plays a thousand games.”
Jefferson: Oh, yes; exactly. I do think that sports are an absolute idol in the West. I think it’s where most parents live, vicariously, through them. There’s weird identity things. That’s why you see more signs at sports parks, by the way, that are instructing the parents how to talk than the kids, [Laughter] like: “Stop yelling”; “Don’t get in a fight with the umpire/the ref.”
Jefferson: That’s not talking to the kids; it’s talking to the parents, because we have weird idolatry/identity issues with sports. Yes; of course, don’t just be like this little hover of: “Your kids can’t do anything”; but be strategic. Your family is important, so let that reflect in your values.
I grew up playing baseball my whole life, competitively, so I actually resonate with everything you’re saying—all the way through college—just the intensity got insane. But I remember one kid—there was/it was a family value of theirs that they were going to go to church every Sunday—so every single tournament we played, he only played Friday and Saturday; and he never showed up on Sunday. He did fine. I think he even played all the way through college, too, as well. It’s one of those things where: “Let your values be your values; and either people will bend to it, or you just move on.” It’s like you just let it be; you know what I mean?
Ann: It’s a great family discussion, as a team, “Let’s talk about our values, as a team, and what sports should look like,”—so that we’re hearing our kids and what they want—but: “How does that fit along with who we are as the Bethke [family]” or “…the Wilson family?”
Jefferson: Yes; one thing we talk about, in the book and in family teams a lot, is most teams have really high-identity moments: these moments of like ritual, and moments of storytelling, and these moments of bonding; right? One way we say that’s really easy to capture that, is: “Create a family dinner night.” And I don’t just mean that you eat together—I mean like capitol “F”/Family; capitol “D”/Dinner—like create a weekly holiday a little bit; right?
For us, that’s like our Shabbat; it goes 24 hours. You don’t have to do that, but just create one night—one time in the week, where you’re showing, by how you show up at the table—“We are important to each other.” Everything gets a “No,” that night; it doesn’t matter—if Dad gets invited, the kids get invited—whatever. By the way, that sounds really intense; like, “Are we really that busy, where we can’t just say, ‘No’ to”—you know what I mean—“one night?”—not even the day. It’s like, “Can you give me an hour-and-a-half block?” That shouldn’t be tough for all of us, who just, “We can commit to this, and this is what it’s going to be.”
Then make it special; make it something that the kids want to come to.
Ann: Yes; take us into your house and show us what it looks like.
Jefferson: For us, Friday night, it’s a basically—we always invite Alyssa’s parents over; so that’s fun, too. Make it a party in some sense, unless you get overwhelmed by the hospitality side, then maybe don’t.
Ann: —or order in.
Jefferson: Yes, exactly; pizza, paper plates, whatever it is. Your job is basically just make a night feel so fun and special that they want to be there; right?
Jefferson: That’s all it is. If you have grandparents, they definitely should be there. Put them on the seat of honor, and just ask them a ton of questions. Every Friday night, we basically have a dinner; we do light a candle; we do blessings, etc. But one of my favorite parts of that dinner is Alyssa’s parents come over for that dinner, because they live by us; my parents live in Washington. And we just ask them questions, or the kids ask them questions.
It’s so fun; because, you know, kids are naturally curious; so it’s not hard to lead that. It’s not hard to—me and Alyssa stand back almost every night; we almost barely talk in those dinners—because it quickly wants/the kids quickly want to ask and, then, it’s always just ridiculous fun stuff. But it is so fun, of like: “What was the first bike you ever had?” “Do you remember the first person you dated?” “What was the first job?”—all these questions. And the grandparents light up, by the way; because they get put on the seat of honor that our culture never does. We tend to put grandparents more on the fringes, which I don’t love.
Jefferson: Put them on the seat of honor; ask them questions so they light up, and then it almost starts creating a family mythology. You start to realize how these tribal languages and cultures, sitting around a fire, or you even start to understand Deuteronomy a little bit better: “Don’t forget to tell your kids ‘x’, ‘y’, ‘z’; and then, your kids’ kids,” and “Make sure you do this monument so any time your kids ask…”—I mean, it’s just constant story telling. I think that’s really, really important.
That’s actually pretty easy: right? Have a dinner; make it as fun and easy as possible: “So what would be fun for the kids; would be easy for you?” And just start practicing it, because you’re not going to get it right, right away. Invite people into it and tell stories. It’s crazy how, sooner or later, it becomes a really fun, enjoyable night; and then, actually, goes way deeper than that on like gluing the family together.
Ann: That’s beautiful.
Dave: You know, if we did anything right—you know, we have three sons now; grown; married; grandkids—that’s one thing we did right.
Jefferson: I love that.
Dave: We called it a Wilson Family Night/Friday nights.
Jefferson: That’s cool; I love that.
Dave: I don’t think we missed.
Ann: We hardly ever missed.
Jefferson: That’s amazing.
Dave: —hardly ever missed. It was this thing.
Jefferson: When you think about that—20-something years of Fam Friday night—that’s huge.
Ann: Our kids are now doing it with their kids. I can remember my favorite part of being a kid—and this isn’t even a family of faith, but good people; my parents were amazing—but sitting around the table with grandparents, hearing my parents, my siblings, and family members sharing stories.
Jefferson: Yes, you just want to stay; yes.
Ann: I couldn’t wait to get home. I didn’t want to go to parties when I was a teenager, because I knew that they were having so much fun at home; and I didn’t want to miss that.
Dave: By the way, what you said about creating this place of joy. When I was a teenager, the Baron family was known in our city as where you want to hang out. It became a magnet.
Jefferson: That’s cool; yes, exactly: created space, where people want to be.
Ann: There was great food/great stories; and people were seen, heard and loved.
Jefferson: Yes; I love that.
Dave: One of the reasons you wanted to hang out there is because it wasn’t happening in your home.
Bob: I think it’s easy for us to remember and recognize how important and how powerful family is for the members of the family—how important it is for our family to be strong—and for each of us to be able to depend on one another.
I think, sometimes, we forget what Dave and Ann Wilson were just talking with Jefferson Bethke about; and that is, that other people are watching. Our family has a reputation in the community. We are, as a family, representing Jesus to our community. I think a good question for us is: “How are we doing with that? What kind of a statement are we making?”
Jefferson Bethke’s book, Take Back Your Family deals with the importance of family structure, not just for our own spiritual and emotional health, but for our witness to the world. And we’ve got copies of his book available. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to order a copy; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book is Take Back Your Family by Jefferson Bethke. Order your copy online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I have never forgotten something that I heard Dr. Bill Bright say once. He was the president and founder of Campus Crusade for Christ®, now known as Cru®; FamilyLife is a part of Cru. Dr. Bright said, “If we can win the family, we can win the world.” He recognized how significant marriage and family is in God’s plan for the church, God’s plan for the world, God’s plan for culture and society.
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Now, we want to say thanks to our friends at Venture X coworking space in downtown Orlando. Today’s program was recorded there. Tomorrow, we’re going to hear about how important it is for us to be intentional about pointing our kids in the right direction/to be intentionally discipling them. Terence Chatmon joins us tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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