Should I Stay or Should I Go? - Family Friendly Ministry Events



By Jess Dager

Deuteronomy 11:18-19 says, 

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

And my heart always adds a little tag line,

“And when you bring them to Nav functions so they can see you and your husband partnering well together and so they can be positively influenced by the amazing students you are pouring your life into. Amen.”

In an ideal world, our children are right alongside us in our work on campus - observing, absorbing and learning. They never fuss or need snacks, and they don’t have irrational demands like needing to nap in the middle of workshops, or requiring extra long bedtime routines when we are trying to hurry back to evening meetings.

I can’t tell you how many meetings, retreats and STP’s I’ve gone into thinking - this will all be FINE! I’ve got the snacks, the baby monitors, the books, the DVD’s, and even a NANNY! I will be able to fully participate and my kids will hardly need me at all - only to have my first conversation cut short by a scraped knee or lost pacifier.

It’s tempting to stop making the attempt. The costs admittedly add up, but God has given me enough “Worth it!!” moments to continue to advocate for bringing kids along to ministry events. Along the way, I’ve given myself permission to ask a couple of questions before I say, “Yes.”

1) God, do you want me there?
I know that one seems obvious, but I almost always forget to start here. My default mode tends toward, “Seems stressful, I’ll just stay home,” so it’s important for me to allow God to answer this question. Often he brings a student to mind, and reminds me of how life-giving they are and suddenly the emotional energy needed to get there is available.

2) Can I leave early?
If I have a large role to play in an event like catering a conference or speaking at a retreat, it can be stressful to bring the kids along and be fully present. But, there are usually plenty of events where I am not needed to make the event go off well, and I can pop in and leave early depending on the needs of my kids.

3) Do the kids and I have enough energy to be flexible?
Student events are about the students and even though my kids are often very welcome, their needs have to take a backseat. I can’t ask the speaker at Fall Retreat to hurry it up because it’s getting close to bedtime. If the kids are tired, hungry, stressed, or disoriented, sometimes pushing them into situations where flexibility and patience are required is unwise.

We’ve been on staff for almost 15 years, and I can say that we’ve tried everything. We’ve been to several STP’s as a family. I’ve brought my kids to Nav Nights at different seasons. We’ve brought them on Spring Break trips, hosted tons in our home, and have had students live with us. From these experiences I’ve compiled a list for you of some family friendly ministry activities.

Here are a few of my top ideas:
  1. Irregular Fun Events on Campus - These are events like scavenger hunts, talent shows, cook outs, barn dances, frisbee games, or weekend hikes. These events are not only easy to come and go from but the students are usually in the mood to help wrangle the kids. 
  2. University sponsored events - Football, basketball, hockey games, and concerts put on by the University are great because our staff are free from responsibility. We are free to attend alongside our students. My husband is more available for the kids and we can often enjoy staying longer. 
  3. Events in my home that end at a specific time - When my kids were little, this was always a great opportunity to ask a student to help me wrangle while I set up. It’s also very positive for students to see us doing regular family life. My one caveat is to have a clear time to wrap up the event. My kids appreciate knowing how long students will be over and because we are juggling a full family schedule it’s helpful to know how much of the day I’ll need to play “host.” 
  4. Conferences and STP’s! - With realistic expectations and some forethought - these can be real win-win scenarios. Ben and I go over the schedule together and talk through what aspects the kids can naturally be a part of. We discuss which aspects will require us to have an alternative plan - usually meaning we rotate being with the kids, or find childcare. Honest communication regarding expectations is key to successfully navigating these high impact events! 
Finally, it’s honoring to God to be honest about our desire and capacity for these events. Some of us have huge capacities for coming and going and relating. Some of us have very flexible and high energy kids who can miss naps and be held by strangers - no problem. But others of us have children who don’t roll with irregularities in their schedules well. Some of us are struggling with fatigue.

Remember the verse I shared at the beginning of this blog? It says to “sit at home” with our children AND “walk on the road.” If you feel conflicted about whether to attend a student event, you are not alone!

I often feel conflicted about whether a not an event is a go or a no-go. I struggle with wanting to please the students, my husband, and The Navigators. That’s why that first question is so important.

“God, do you want me to be there?”

He’s the One who knows all the variables and can give us perspective and peace about these day-to-day decisions.

We all need the wisdom of the Lord to help us create a healthy relationship between our family and ministry lives. Whether it is by going as a family to that next Nav event or staying home, may we use every opportunity to teach our kids about the Lord as Deut. urges us to.

Jess Dager and her husband Ben have been on collegiate staff for 13 years and currently serve at the University of Illinois. They have kiddos ages 15, 14, and 12.  Jess enjoys reading, singing, and laughter. Her favorite part of working with students is watching God at work in their lives. 

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