One of my favorite aspects of being a middle school youth director is the opportunity to disciple girls in their walks with the Lord. However, I believe that parents are the primary tools that the Lord uses to disciple children. Let’s discuss what relational discipleship is, why it is important, and how parents can better disciple their children.
What is relational discipleship?
Our youth ministry defines relational discipleship as helping students connect the truths of the gospel into the reality of their life through our relationships. This process occurs by the work of the Holy Spirit in the context of relationships, conversations, and care.
Relational discipleship is not you being your child’s best friend. It is not you being the perfect parent – your child already has the perfect parent in God our heavenly Father and the perfect example in our elder brother, Jesus Christ our Savior. Relational discipleship is about Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Your child’s sanctification is not up to you. God is using you as a parent to be a tool and vessel in cultivating followers of Jesus.
In Paul David Tripp’s book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, he writes, “God hasn’t made a mistake in tasking you with being his tool for the forming of the souls of your children. You see, he has opened the eyes of your heart to his existence, presence, and rule so that you could be a tool of the same in your children. He has revealed himself to you not just for you but for your children. But there’s something else he’s done. He’s bestowed upon you his forgiving, rescuing, transforming, and delivering grace so that you could be his tool of the same in the lives of each of your children. His gift of grace is not just so that you would be a recipient of grace but also a daily instrument of that every same grace in the lives of those he has placed in your care. In his grace you find everything that you need to be what God wants you to be in the lives of your children and to do what he has called you to do with them.”
Through the Lord’s transforming grace you are an instrument of grace in molding your children’s lives.
Why is relational discipleship important?
Relational discipleship is important because it is important to the heart of God. Matthew 28:19 states “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus calls all of his followers to make disciples by baptizing them into a community of believers and teaching them to walk in obedience. These verses are sandwiched between two promises of Jesus –first, all authority has been given to him and second, he is with us always. Wherever he calls you as a parent, he will equip you and be with you every step of the way.
Jesus not only commands all His followers to make disciples, but the Bible specifically calls parents to disciple their children. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 states, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Teaching truth to your children is all about praying to be ready at all times to teach the gospel faithfully time and time again. When siblings bicker for the tenth time in a morning and all you want is to throw them in a cage and leave them there, you as the parent can stop what you are doing and graciously explain what it means to love the Lord with all your heart and then pray with your children.
Ephesians 6:4 says “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In thinking about discipleship through discipline I think of my younger self. The talks that my parents had with me as a child were so helpful. Instead of just spanking me and being done with it all, my parents sat down and we talked through why I was being disciplined. This helped me understand that they still loved me and helped foster a heart change.
I frequently feel unqualified to disciple students and I can imagine that some parents might feel similarly in discipling their children. Often I have to remind myself of 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s power is made perfect in my weakness when I meet with students, share the gospel, teach them how to read the Bible and how to pray. The same goes for parenting – the Lord uses broken, weak, and unqualified people to parent.
When I was growing up, seeing my parents fail, mess up, and show weakness revealed the gospel so much more clearly than them being perfect. I got to see the Father’s love through my earthly father when he said to me, “Sweetie, Daddy messed up. That was wrong of me to say. Will you please forgive me?” Through my Dad saying sorry I was able to see the gospel of grace and also see that it is okay to be imperfect and mess up. In his devotional, New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp states, “You can face your weakness with joy because you know that you have been given grace for that weakness; grace that is not a thing, but a person –the Holy Spirit, who makes you the place where he dwells in power.” Relational discipleship is important because God calls weak and broken parents to be the primary disciples to their children.
Parents, I pray over you Ephesians 3:20, “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.”