Organic-Family Style Outreach (a book review)

by Kevin and Sherry Harney

As a Christian parent invested in the life of my children, I want my kids to know Jesus and have a robust faith of their own. I also want to live the sort of life which welcomes friends and neighbors and shares with them the good news about life in Christ. Unfortunately when you turn to Christian books about parenting or evangelism, you often get a barrage of heavy-handed advice or some pre-fab formula for success.

What I like about Organic Outreach For Families is that Kevin and Sherry Harney  have raised boys of their own and they offer sane advice about sharing your faith with your kids and neighborhood. Far from being a formulaic approach, the Harneys encourage parents to listen well and discover who our kids are so that we can share Jesus with our kids (and others) in ways that are non-manipulative.

In part one of this book the Harneys share how to talk to your kids about your faith journey and your relationship with God.  They encourage parents to share our own experience of God with our kids (in age appropriate ways),to study our child’s unique shape and learning style, to pray with our child and patiently wait for God’s timing in drawing them to Him. It isn’t up to us to manipulate our kids or force our faith on them. Instead patiently extend God’s grace to them and speak to them about the God we love. They also offer some tips for praying for and sharing your faith with extended family (patience being a key element here).

In part two the Harneys explore four characteristics of  a Christian home which help children grow in their faith. A safe haven home is a home which is a safe place for your children because you raise them in ways that are consistent with your belief system (i.e. you practicing what you preach, you are consistent with the loving discipline you provide. Home is an emergency room because as parents we cultivate health in our kids (and in our communities) by providing loving attention, being present and inviting and culturally aware. The home is a playground where parents provide fun and enjoyment for the kids and participate in activities that make each child feel loved (Know your kids’ love language).  And the home is also a place of prayer where parents teach their kids to pray and trust God with everything by praying with them for others, for important life events, for stressful situations. The bottom line for the Harneys is:

When prayer is natural, frequent, and normative in your home, God’s presence is seen and his power affirmed. At the same time, when life’s great moments and times of pain  come and go without prayers being lifted up to God, the message is just as loud and clear:  God isn’t interested in our lives (122).

The consistency, care, enjoyment and prayer are elements to help children grow up to love God and live for him.

In the final section of the book, the focus broadens to look at how families can partner together in mission to impact their neighborhoods.  Here the Harneys challenge families to keep a prayer list and prayerfully look for opportunities to be the light.  They challenge families to work together to make their home hospitable and inviting places (i.e. cleaning up the home together for the express purpose of inviting others over), and budgeting for entertaining.  They also encourage families to eat out  and shop at the same places so that you can build relationships with people.  Yet they also talk realistically about being able to set boundaries which protect everyone in the family.

I liked this book a lot. My wife is the children’s director at our church and several weeks ago she was looking for resources she could recommend to parents about talking to your children about your faith. We didn’t have this book at the time, but I think it is a great resource for this. I also appreciate that the Harneys offered advice about child rearing based in their own experience of raising their sons (their sons also share their side of the story in sidebars throughout the book).  This doesn’t mean that they think your family or mine will necessarily look the same as theirs. The ‘organic’ part about this book means that the Harneys want you to take the ideas they share here, about evangelism, hospitality and parenting and adjust them so that they can grow in the soil your family is planted in.

Likewise the sort of evangelism described here is rooted in the idea of ‘incarnating’ Christ in your home and in your ordinary life through practicing hospitality and  building friendships with your neighbors (and your kid’s friends).  This means that every family which follows the Harneys’ model of outreach will look different, and will reach different sorts of people because we are all different (and some of us more different than others). I am quite enamored by this approach but I don’t always know the best way to go about it. I have lived in the city in intentional community where I was involved in my neighbors on a number of levels. That was easier than raising three kids (toddler, preschooler and kindergartener  is sleepy suburbia where your neighbors don’t talk to you. The challenge for me is to figure out how to do the sorts of things that the Harneys suggest in my  current context. The Harneys are helpful to that end, offering suggestions at the end of each chapter on ‘making our house a lighthouse.’

I recommend this book for parents who are passionate about introducing their children to Jesus, helping them grow in their faith and partnering with them to reach their community. It is what I want for my kids and the Harneys have a lot of wisdom to share.

Thank you to Zondervan and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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