My Story of Struggle with Belonging
You may think it seems impertinent for a pastor’s wife to write about Cultivating a Mindset of Belonging, especially in the context of church family life. After all, to those who watch the life of a pastor’s family from afar, you may assume the pastor’s family naturally feels connected to covenant relationships simply because of the role they play in the life of the church. However, as a woman who encountered trauma during my teenage years and in my adult life has felt the impact of abandonment—Cultivating a Mindset of Belonging has not at all been a straight line on an easy path.
In my experience, Cultivating a Mindset of Belonging has been hard, heart-work of undoing lies and healing the wounds of my past while actively and obediently pursuing relationships within the church—not based on my feelings, but based on the biblical truth the God has redeemed my life in Christ and calls me into a people.
“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:6-7).
Biblically speaking, I am redeemed from my slavery to sin and brought into a family of God’s people. Redemption by the blood of Christ means I am no longer an individual, I am covenantally a part of a people, God’s people. My story is His story, and my struggles with belonging are being redeemed in Christ and His power redeeming every nook and cranny of my heart—including my struggle with belonging.
My Redeemed Calling to Cultivate a Mindset of Belonging
I have four children. Three sons and a daughter. My desire: with the help of the Holy Spirit, I desire to come alongside the Holy Spirit to help cultivate a mindset of belonging in the hearts of my children. The covenant promise of redemption is not just for me, it is for the generations. My children are included in this covenant promise.
I will either pass on my unredeemed mindset of belonging or I will pass on a biblical mindset of belonging to my children. My hope is that I can pass on the latter. The understanding of my personal woundedness in this area enables me to be intentional to guard against passing on a wounded mindset to my children.
So I have been asking myself . . . how can I, as a mother redeemed by a Great and Powerful God, be intentional to pass on a redeemed mindset of belonging to my children because of my new heritage in the gospel?
Me Mindset or Covenant Mindset
If we are thinking biblically, we will live covenantally.
As parents, we are responsible as to whether our children feel like they do or do not belong in the church. The truth is: our children do belong and the church desires for them to feel connected—children are included in God’s covenant promise to the generations and children matter to God. Our personal sin, emotions, and woundedness distort this biblical truth. Personal sin and blame shifting pushes this responsibility outside of us, cultivating a me mindset instead of a covenant mindset of belonging:
The youth group kids don’t make my kids feel welcome.
The programs are not engaging enough to cultivate relationships for my children.
Youth and children’s pastors didn’t do enough to connect my children.
All of the above are me mindsets, not covenant mindsets that desire to cultivate belonging for the next generation.
In the gospel, a redeemed calling invites us to cultivate a biblical mindset of belonging. We belong in the family of the church because of Christ—as redeemed sinners, all Christians have Christ in common, He is the cornerstone that holds us all together—Christ should be the foundational piece when it comes to our relationships in the body.
Practical Ways to Cultivate a Mindset of Belonging
Believers are responsible to pursue covenant connections within the body. The most practical way we can pursue covenant relationships is by showing up: show up to church, to women’s ministry events, to Sunday School, to Community Groups—whatever your church is offering as a way to connect people to people, show up—and not just once or twice, show up consistently with the biblical mindset that you belong at these events because of Christ. Show up even when you’d rather stay home.
I am an early to bed, early to rise kind of woman and I loathe evening events—but it is my responsibility to show up even when I feel tired because I have an individual responsibility to pursue connections and covenant relationships within the church.
We don’t just drift into relationships with other believers in the church, we have to pursue and cultivate covenant relationships.
This is the most practical way to cultivate a mindset of belonging in the hearts of our children: we have to show our children a mindset of belonging by modeling belonging and connection to the body in our own lives. As members of the family of God’s people, we have to act like members of the family.
Another way to cultivate a mindset of belonging for our children is to bring your children with you to church events. I bring my daughter to as many women’s ministry events as I possibly can—and I try to encourage her to pursue relationships with older women in our church. We review women’s names often, pray for these women, and serve the women in our church together. Whatever I am doing in the life of the body, she tags alongside me.
She is five and when I observe her playing with her Barbies and American Girl Dolls, the dolls are usually set up having Bible Study or a Women’s Ministry Meeting—I see her doing what I am doing as I observe her play.
Our children will mimic what they see us doing and how they see us responding to connections within the church.
I strongly believe children should be in corporate worship—they should be free to wiggle, play, draw, or write, but including children and youth in corporate worship on Sunday Mornings cultivates a covenant mindset of belonging. Our children belong in worship (or big church) with us.
We encourage our children to stay with us in church beginning at age four. My third son wanted to stay with us starting at age three! Our church has a developmentally appropriate option for children ages 3-Kindergarten called Wee Worship, but we always try to encourage our kids to start training for corporate worship at age four, one year before they age out of Wee Worship. They each have a notebook and a pen, and they sit a draw during the sermon.
This is not easy and some weeks are better than others. For the last five years my husband has been the lead pastor at our church and preaches most Sundays. My children are now ten, nine, seven, and five. For five years I have been pursuing my children’s involvement in corporate worship as a solo parent in the pew. But God has been so faithful and good, even when I have been at the end of myself wrangling and wrestling three boys and a girl in the front row of our church.
For my Wee Worship children, I have recently developed a pattern with my youngest to pick her up from Wee Worship directly after the sermon and bring her back into corporate worship for communion, the singing of the doxology, and the benediction. My heart swells to look down the row and see eight tiny hands reaching out towards my husband to receive the benediction each week.
My three sons just interviewed to be communing members of our church and it has been a joy to see God work in their hearts and lives.
Finally, my heart is to pursue church connections outside of the church. Our church family is always invited to our children’s special events: this includes birthdays, music programs, and special awards nights. We intentionally try to think of church members who have special connections to our children and invite them into the life of our family. My children have a strong covenantal web of connections because we have been intentional to help build their webs.
We also pursue specific connections with teenage girls by exclusively asking the members of our youth group to babysit our children, and because we don’t have family support nearby, many older couples in our church have stepped in to act as grandparents to our children.
In the book, Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids, Dr. Kara Powell and Dr. Chap Clark suggest each parent “needs to intentionally recruit and build a sticky web of relationships for their children. This sticky web should include five adults to invest in their kids in little, medium, and big ways. The intentionally built sticky webs of intergenerational ministry give the next generation the relationships they need to stick to the church.”
This is cultivating a mindset of belonging for our children and the next generation.
An Opportunity to Live Out Redemption with a Redeemed Mindset of Belonging
The struggle and fallen-ness of relationships and belonging is not the end of the story. In Christ, sin and woundedness no longer have power. It is Christ’s power that enables us to cultivate a mindset of belonging because we are redeemed by His blood and brought into God’s redeemed family of believers. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in the hearts of believers! We have the power to use our Christ-confidence as we pursue relationships within the church.
We belong because of Christ. This is the new heritage and redeemed mindset I want to pass on to the next generation of believers in my household.
God is making all things new in Christ and He uses His church. He is able to do abundantly more than all we can ask or think as we intentionally pursue cultivating a redeemed mindset of belonging.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
May he be glorified in the church as His redeemed people cultivate a redeemed mindset of belonging.