The Gospel Coalition

 

Helen Lee. The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World. Chicago: Moody, 2011. 224 pp. $13.99.



In her book The Missional Mom, author Helen Lee addresses the question, "Why aren't today's women, Christian or otherwise, discovering more joy and fulfillment in their journey as mothers?" (p. 19). Her stated purpose for writing was "to shed light on some of the reasons today's Christian moms encounter despair and difficulty in parenting and provide ideas for positive change" (p. 12).

Lee's central thesis is that a woman will resolve the ambivalence she feels toward motherhood by becoming more "missional." Moms need to "explore the idea of calling and understand both the specific part God has given them and also how the melody of motherhood fits into the grand symphony of God's work" (p. 19). Lee insists that women need to use all their God-given gifts and seek to place God first and foremost, even if it comes at a cost to their families. She suggests that living "missionally" is the answer to the conundrum of motherhood. Missional motherhood will bring conflicted moms a profound sense of heavenly affirmation and peace.

So how does a mom become missional? In the opening chapter of the book, Lee points out that missional motherhood starts with fulfilling the first part of the Great Commandment—to be "with" God and love Him with all one's heart, soul, and mind. This is the call a mom must embrace first and foremost. The remainder of the book deals with how a mom can be missional by embracing the second part of the Commandment: loving others. In ten chapters, Lee outlines that being missional means rejecting consumerism, living sacrificially, engaging in the needs of the world, practicing lifestyle evangelism, loving the unlovable, crossing racial boundaries, upholding missional values at home, promoting cultural change, engaging with a missional community, and keeping a mission-minded focus.

Throughout the book Lee promotes general biblical values such as stewardship, contentment, generosity, volunteering, reaching out across cultural and economic boundaries, adoption, and selflessness. She encourages moms to live with God-directed intentionality and purpose. I appreciate that Lee challenges women to consider how their primary mission intersects with motherhood. In my mind, the call to be aware and attentive to the Great Commandment and to make her home a "missional outpost" is the book's greatest strength. But I do have a few reservations.

To begin, the word "missional" is extremely fuzzy and ill-defined. Lee seems to use it as a buzz word to mean virtually anything—from living with intentionality and purpose, to making disciples, to targeting consumerism, to avoiding helicopter parenting, to shaping and changing culture. While reading, I found myself continually muttering, "Yes, I think I agree. . . . It depends what you mean." Mostly, Lee appears to use the word "missional" to refer to a social-justice type of approach that seeks to bring economic, social, and political change to the world. While likely not her intent, I got the feeling that being "missional" involves a mom engaging with outsiders far more than it involves her engaging her own children. And this is the book's greatest weakness.

The Missional Mom emphasizes the "missional" part and neglects the "mom" part. To be fair, I don't think this was Lee's intent. But I had the uneasy feeling that a mom who picks up the book because she's experiencing difficulty in parenting might get the message that she just isn't doing enough: she needs to add "social activism" to the top of her staggering "to-do" list, even if that means bumping the needs of her children down a couple notches.

One story in particular made me feel uneasy and wonder exactly what Lee was encouraging moms to do. She shares the story of a female physician who left her nursing baby for three weeks, went on a work/missions trip to Africa, and had the opportunity to nurse an infant there. Lee concluded that God brought this lactating mom "to the right place at the right time" because a white woman nursing a black child "demonstrated a profound expression of racial harmony." Lee assured readers that this story would certainly inspire the physician's daughter someday, "even as it encourages those of us who also long to spread the fragrance of Christ in the world" (p. 148).

I'm not convinced.

I don't see how leaving your nursing baby to travel half way around the world to nurse someone else's baby is somehow more "missional" than staying home to nurse your own. Admittedly, there may be details of the story of which I'm unaware, but to uphold this as a model of a missional mom is questionable. It implies that a mom ought to put the needs of others (or her desire to self-actualize/exercise her gifts) before the needs of her children. It also implies that looking after our own children isn't nearly as "missional" as looking after other people's children.

I'm all for women living out their motherhood in light of the Great Commission, being intentional about ministry, and engaging in the lives of others in appropriate ways in the various seasons of life. Lee's book challenges moms to be missional. I just wish it had affirmed that when a woman has young children, they are an important part of her mission—and that sometimes, the most missional thing a mom can do is to say "no" to outside opportunities and focus on being a mom.


Mary A. Kassian
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky, USA



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