Loving Your Family While Living on Mission

By Shane Crister with Chloe Crister

Following your calling and caring for your family are not mutually exclusive. Here are 5 ways to love them as you lead them on mission.

Equipped for the Calling

When it comes to church life, my wife Jenn and I often say things like, “I wish our kids could have what we had.” And by that, we mean a big youth group with all the fun activities, intentional discipleship, and mentors that stay with them from middle school through high school graduation. Our children have always attended church plants or replants where there is either no youth group or a smaller “startup” youth ministry. But in these conversations, Jenn always speaks up, saying, “Even though that’s what God had in store for us, it may not be what He has for them. What if what He has in store for them is even better?!”

Chase, our now 21-year-old son, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, while we were at Southern Seminary. Two weeks later, he was on a plane moving to NYC. Jenn and I were in our late twenties, first-time parents, and recent seminary grads about to join a team taking on one of the largest, most complicated cities in the world! On the flight from Louisville to NYC, we thought, What have we just done? No grandma, no grandpa, no car, no backyard?! We had no clue. But we had a calling. And that calling was to live on mission whenever, wherever, as a familyThrough 25 years of marriage, three kids, and in six different cities, we’ve learned much about the journey of following God’s call to live on mission.

1. Listen to Him, not them

“It could have been Poland!” That’s what Jenn and I said as we told our moms that we were moving their brand-new grandson to New York City. They couldn’t grasp why we would drive away from them to a place like NYC. “Babies can’t live there, right?!” People make comments like that in times of frustration and grief. In these decisions to move to major cities in obedience to our calling, our family and friends have called us crazy, irresponsible, and selfish. Yet at other times, those same people have called us brave, wise, and godly, which was a huge encouragement to press forward. We thank God for both kinds of responses from people because both have ways of fueling you to do what God has called you to do.

More often than not, we can’t listen to them; we must listen to Him instead.  We must listen to the God who calls us to His mission, even when family and friends don’t quite understand what we are hearing.  Luke 14:26 came to mind in these times for our family: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”  Being willing to say no to what extended family and friends want and to say yes to what God wants is not easy, but it is worth it in the end.

2. Adopt an “As You Go” Mentality

I am reminded about the passage of Matthew 28, which we know as the Great Commission. Some scholars say we should interpret, “Go and make disciples,” as “As you go, make disciples.” There is a grammatical argument here, but at the end of the day, many agree that we should make disciples wherever we are, locally or globally.

For my family, thinking of this verse in terms of “as you go” is helpful. One of the ways we have not only survived but thrived as a family on mission has been to raise our family as we go on mission. Just as it is foolish to divide sacred from secular in terms of our faith, so, too, is it unwise to separate raising a family from one’s mission or ministry. When we separate our family from our mission, we lose the opportunity for our household to see God at work and the purpose behind the difficult shifts they have had to make.

So, when it came time to paint the public school in New Jersey where our church plant met, guess who helped our team? Our three-year-old son Chase. When it came time to serve the homeless on the strip in Las Vegas, guess who handed out food with me? Chase and our daughter Chloe. When it came time for Jenn and our other church planting spouses to serve trafficked women and children in downtown Los Angeles, guess who also went? Sixteen-year-old Chloe. And when it came time to place Easter eggs in neighbors’ yards during the pandemic, guess who put those eggs out? Chase, Chloe, and our youngest daughter Charley. As we go, we take our kids and live on mission, together as a family.

3. Make decisions together

Loving your family means involving them in the decision-making process. And not just the little decisions like where we are going to eat dinner, but the big ones also. Once our kids got past age five and could sit and have a conversation, we started involving them in making big decisions, like moving to a new place. We have felt that involving them in the hard decision from early on has done a few things. It has showed them we love them by valuing their input and allowed them to experience God providing for us emotionally, spiritually, and physically as the decision unfolds. We decided that the experience of joy at watching God work out the call He has for us was well worth the pain it may have caused when they initially heard of a change.

When we told them of our latest move to Los Angeles over a blooming onion at Outback, we planned a vision trip to the city where we would make the decision together. We did not make the final decision until we had finished the vision trip as a family and reached a consensus. On that vision trip, our kids will tell you that they couldn’t deny God was leading us to LA when they saw Him provide miraculous things like an 80% scholarship to one of the best schools in the area. At the end of the day, yes, Jenn and I know we as the parents are the spiritual leaders in our home and that the ultimate decision lies with us. But as the spiritual leaders, we think God has given us our kids to not only disciple them, but also to listen to them. Including them and making these big decisions together as we live on mission shows them you value their opinions and emotional well-being.

4. Protect your quality time

When we found out we had a third kid coming, Jenn and I first realized we were now going to be playing zone defense—three against two. I also realized that if I were going to be a good father and husband while working a time-consuming ministry job and dealing with the pressures of living in some hard cultures, I was going to have to be intentional. That year in Las Vegas, I started doing father-son and daddy-daughter dates. To keep it a consistent priority, we determined that on the corresponding day of their birthday each month, they would each have a date with Dad. Sixteen years have passed, and we still continue that tradition. Those dates have done a few things for us. First, if it is on your calendar, then it’s seen as important. So, it lets our kids know that time with them is important. Also, by being on the calendar, it has kept quality time as a priority for me and enables me to schedule around it. It provides alone time to have intentional conversations we may not have otherwise.

I remember when we moved from Vegas to Atlanta, and Chase and I went for our “manly hangout” time. During the previews before Iron Man, we had a conversation about how he felt in the new house and the friends that he made at his new school. Recently, the discussions have been about college applications while working out at the gym with Chloe or “What’s your greatest fear?” with Charley over Handel’s ice cream. These dates have gone a long way to love my kids well and ensure they know they are encouraged, prioritized, and vital in living out the mission we’ve been called to.

5. Celebrate the wins

Jennifer is mine and our family’s hero in so many ways. God knitted both of our hearts together through our desire to live on mission whenever and wherever He calls us. I admire her love for God and her willingness to live so missionally. One reason our family appreciates her so much is her ability to recall God’s faithfulness in our lives. In fact, it’s why our family has lived together so well on mission! Each year on New Year’s, we sit down over a meal while Jenn reads a summary of the year she has put together from her journal, and one of the most amazing parts is being reminded of the “wins” God has given us on our mission.

Living on mission is hard. If it requires a move, like in our family journey, then there’s so much newness to deal with in addition to the cultural pressures, gospel resistance, or lack of Zaxby’s for Charley! But what has helped our family fight against these difficulties is looking back and celebrating those wins each year, whether small or big. When Jenn reads from her journal on the first of January and reminds us of how God provided for us back in March, we think, Wow, I totally forgot that! How cool of God to provide that?! I can remember her recounting the fear of leaving our friends each time we moved, but then following those fears is her list of new relationships God provided to encourage us with. It’s so easy to focus on the difficulties that we forget the wins. The list of God’s faithfulness goes on and on each year. Celebrating those wins, along with being specifically reminded of how He called us to our specific missions along the way, is part of how our family keeps living on mission together, year after year.

Called for His Purpose

Whatever and whenever God takes your family on mission, find joy in the journey. Reminding our kids—and ourselves—to take joy in something so unique and so difficult is essential to our callings. Following God’s call to live on mission may be hard, but “hard” does not always equate to wrong or sad. It can instill excitement and joy as we experience God at work within our lives.

Just because our family’s life on mission involved moving around the country doesn’t mean that God has called your family in the same way. You can live on mission and love your family in the same town your whole life or in different places around the world. What God has in store for our families is as unique as the mission He calls each of us to… and as Ephesians 3:20 reminds us, it’s even better than what we could hope or imagine for ourselves.

Published April 17, 2024

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Shane Crister with Chloe Crister

Shane Crister is the Coastal West Region Director for the Send Network of the North American Mission Board. His role is to oversee and implement the team and church planting strategy for the 5 states in the Coastal West Shane, his wife Jennifer, and three children Chase(20), Chloe(17), and Charley(14) are members of Redeemer Church SCV. They have been active in leading Leadership Pipeline in their churches as well as assisting other churches in developing their pipeline for developing leaders and planting churches. Shane and his family moved in August 2018 to LA from Atlanta where we was the Church Mobilization Director at the headquarters for the Send Network. Previous to Atlanta, Shane and his family have served in partner development, church planting, and missions roles in Las Vegas and New York City.