Family in Mission: Theology and PraxisWritten by Johannes Reimer Reviewed By Carrie Vaughn
“Most often we are told to simply tell people the truth about God; thus conventional churches focus on preaching and proclaiming the gospel, whereas missional churches seek to demonstrate the gospel and manifest God’s truth to the world” (p. 82). This dichotomy between proclamation versus incarnation forms the backbone of Johannes Reimer’s Family in Mission. Reimer is the Global Director of the Peace and Reconciliation Network of the World Evangelical Alliance. He unpacks this idea as it relates both to the church and families. Missional churches and families live out their faith with intentionality among the community. For churches to remain missional, they would need to train and engage families at a missional level as well, “proclaiming the gospel to, in, and through our families” (p. 172). He emphasizes the need for churches to come alongside families and minister with them, not just to them. And this type of fluidity should happen with both believing families within the church and non-believing families.
Born and raised in the Soviet Union, Reimer gives helpful insights into how to be missional in both church and family life. Few books on evangelism start with and include the family. Western forms of evangelism focus more on the individual than the family unit. For many non-Western contexts, this can actually be a barrier to belief because the family unit is what keeps that culture together. He includes voices from all over the world as they share how this plays out in their lives.
With America becoming increasingly fractured and independent, his ideas of communal synergy are timely. Moms sharing in childcare with their neighbors or doing taxes for a friend are kingdom tasks as we remain connected to one another. There’s a sense of serving with them (unbelievers) instead of just ministering to them. I appreciate this perspective of church ministry. Thinking this way helps us see the unbelieving world not as a project to complete but a community with whom to link arms. Families can lead the way in other areas, such as casual language concerning Jesus, contextualized gospel message, and providing a comfortable place for the nonbelieving friends to ask questions.
While his emphasis on missional family life and how to develop a church’s missional vision are insightful, Reimer belabors his points. He seemingly pulls together in all his thoughts about families and the church into one book. Certain sections feel more like fillers, an aside to his thesis that the family is at the center of mission. He tries to tie all of it together by saying that a family “is missional when it has these two factors: connected to God and reaching out to the world” (p. 72). He states this over and over again in previous chapters, so it seems unnecessary to take such a deep dive into the Beatitudes. The section probably fits better in a parenting book than this one. If his emphasis is truly on the family being a mode for evangelism, he goes off track several times.
He also dichotomizes the way a conventional church and missional churches approach new believers. The former has the goal of integrating them into their church; a missional congregation looks to bring people in and involved in God’s kingdom. While some find it helpful to break down churches a neat, two-party system. I think most churches would argue that they want to get people into their congregation and bring them into partnership with God’s kingdom work. While one church might emphasize church membership more than another, I’m not sure categorizing a church in this way is actually helpful. I concede that there are churches at the extreme ends of each spectrum. For them, it would be helpful for a church to have some self-reflection and evaluation to make sure they are balanced in serving their communities.
In striving to become a missional family and church, Reimer does talk through what this would look like on the ground level. He suggests mapping, recording the culture, environment, and resources available in varying sections of town. He also unpacks what it means reach out to people as they are. Knowing and growing in the Lord is slow. His emphasis on slow, deliberate, gracious, intentional living is helpful. In an age where ministry success is measured by one’s number of converts, I appreciate his slower, well-rounded approach to evangelism. He wants believers to be active in the community, not hiding from the non-believing world, even partnering up with another church family to volunteer or serve the community together. Such activities could include neighborhood parties, games, or life coaching. So often these times together lead to deep conversations about marriage, family, and Jesus.
Reimer concludes with suggestions for missional families. He gives advice for things to do before fulfilling the call to move overseas for missions. For example, find people in your community that are similar in culture to where you want to go. Likewise, do research on world issues and have discussions together.
Overall, he raises important concerns about the role of families in evangelism and how they can be missional. Unfortunately, his presentation feels unorganized and, at times, tangential. The book would have been better if it were trimmed into a mere primer. This would have kept the conversation more focused and better help families live more intentionally on mission.
Mesa, Arizona, USA
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