A New Mission for the Burnt-Out MomIn The Missional Mom, Helen Lee says women should expand their ministry focus to beyond the home front. In a recent "Stuff Christian Culture Likes" post at Beliefnet, humorist Stephanie Drury poked fun at signs — positioned so that they can be read only when people are leaving a church building or parking lot — that read, “You Are Now Entering the Mission Field.” They remind churchgoers to share God’s love with the people they encounter “out in the world.” In the act of leaving the property, Christians are being sent out, as it were, on a mission.
Irian Jaya” as a kid?) Missionaries sent annual prayer letters to supporters, cards which pictured large “quivers” of children whose names were taken from the Old Testament, never shortened into nicknames and often began with the same letter of the alphabet. “Christmas Greetings from Daniel and Esther . . . and Jacob, Jonathan, Jesse, Judith and Jemima — on the Mission Field in Konang!”
But times have changed. Now instead of being “called to the mission field,” all Christians are urged to “live missionally.” But what, for the love of Jacob, Jonathan, and Judith, does that mean? In a climate in which we throw around terms such as emergent, organic, and Church 2.0 with such frequency that they lose whatever meaning they might have begun with, is missional another trendy, soon-to-be ignored modifier?
Not if Helen Lee can help it. Lee is a journalist, home-schooling mom and is author of The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World. Since her book’s publication, Lee has engaged others in the work of nailing down what “missional” really means. In a recent interview with author and New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, posted on her website, Lee asked McKnight what “this new buzzword” means and whether its “popularity [is] matched by its practice.”
“Being missional comes down to answering a simple question: ‘How can I help you?’ ” McKnight said. “Pastors are using the word, but I don’t know that they understand it. Defining the word has become a game. In missional churches, people’s ears are open, their eyes are open, and they are asking, ‘What does our community need?’ A pastor friend of mine wrote to the local police department and asked, ‘What are the biggest problems you deal with in this community?’ The police said, ‘Drugs and alcohol.’ . . . if that’s the answer your church hears, what are you going to do about it?”
Missional living, then, is no longer reserved for the Jim Elliots of the world, but for soccer moms, men and women in business, and other regular people. Lee’s passion is to help restore “missional urgency” — something she believes existed in the early church but has fizzled out in recent generations — in Christians today. Early on in her book, Lee quotes prominent missional pastor Dave Ferguson, who has written that “the last thing the mission of Jesus Christ needs is more Christians.”
The Big Idea is highlighted in Lee's, states that American Christians are no more likely to help homeless people, keep their marriage vows or correct a cashier when they are given too much change as those who don’t identify as believers. Ferguson asks whether to be a Christian in our culture means to be “no different than anyone else.”
Lee recognizes the same malady in Christian mothers. Many of us, Lee writes, describe ourselves as burned out. We feel boredom and even despair in our parenting. We are spiritually parched and, after a grueling week of work and parenting, we engage in activities our “comfort-craving culture” provides for escape.
“God had strong words for his people when they spend too much effort building their own households at the expense of his house,” Lee writes. “The missional mom . . . acts as God’s warrior of light and love to those who most need it.”
Lee encourages women to step out of prescribed roles and look further than their own homes and Sunday School classrooms for places to serve. Women can live missionally by using their gifts, caring for the poor and otherwise living lives fueled with intention. Instead of feeling more depleted, Lee avows, mothers who live missionally find new purpose and energy.
“Motherhood is critically important, but even the role of being a mother cannot come before our commitment to God and the particular mission he has designed for each and every one of us,” Lee said. “And more often than not, that mission includes—but also goes beyond—the walls of our homes to the greater world around us.”
When we are aware that we are on a “mission from God,” serving on “the mission field” or “living missionally,” what we’re not doing is living by chance. Lee’s book details the ways in which to live missionally, is to live deliberately as we seek to serve Christ in everyone we meet — whether or not we are standing inside the doors of our churches.
Jennifer Grant is a journalist and columnist for the Chicago Tribune. She has written for Her.meneutics about the sexualization of young girls, girls in sports, mid-life callings, multitasking, and Lady Gaga. Her memoir, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, will be published this summer.