Discipling Our Children: What I Wish I Had Done

grandpa and granddaughter

Check out Rooted’s new Family Discipleship Curriculum. Among the eight new course offerings you will find “Discipleship Practices with Young Children and “Discipleship Practices with Teenagers.” Designed for churches to offer their small groups and Sunday school classes, these courses offer video training and inductive Bible study for parents. 

Every September, the Sunday after Labor Day, my church ushers in a new year of children’s Sunday School. The kids are promoted to their class for the upcoming year, and the men and women who have volunteered to teach are commissioned during the worship service. Our Rector begins by reading from Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 7:

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.

I wish I had been in the crowd that day when Moses handed down this commandment from God. In all my good intentions as an earnest, Christ-following parent, I must acknowledge that I was not inclined to talk of loving God and his Word with my children when we were sitting in our home, or walking to school, or right before bed, or first thing in the morning.

I was committed to my children’s growing knowledge and love for Jesus and the Holy Scripture. The obvious avenues towards that growth, in my mind, were through other adults. My kids went to weekday Bible studies taught by leaders with a reputation for biblically faithful teaching. I poured a tremendous amount of time and energy into making our church’s Sunday school program a gospel-literate, welcoming experience for all children at all developmental stages. I was passionate about our choices of curriculum, assuring the materials were written and published by experts in the field.

When our children were teenagers, my favorite people in the world were our church’s youth ministers. I prayed for them, I looked for ways to support them in their work, and I made sure my kids signed up and showed up. We were blessed, by the way, with exceptional men and women who walked with our kids and literally showed them the grace found in Jesus Christ.

When it came to my children’s developing faith, I had their bases covered.

My own continuing faith walk was important. Like my kids, I attended Bible studies, and I was in an adult Sunday school class every week. I read C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller. I listened to countless sermons. The Lord was being made known in a daily, regular way, as best I could engineer, for all of us.

What I was not doing was making faith in Christ a part of our family experience. We did not talk about Jesus when we gathered together. It was as if I had fashioned five silos for each of us so that individually we might come to know and love Jesus Christ.

I missed an obvious opportunity to make Jesus and his word a part of our regular family conversations, in ways that perhaps would have brought Jesus to our dining room table at mealtime or have Jesus riding along with us in our minivan.

I was raised in a family that made church a priority, but we never discussed at home what we believed, or even why it mattered. In truth, we talked about everything BUT our faith. It was somehow understood that besides asking a blessing every night before dinner, our relationship to God was a completely private matter. It seems I parented my children with that sensibility.

I wish I had done things differently, but in God’s abundant graciousness, I am forgiven, and I am free to enjoy who my adult children are today. If, however, I get another chance with a grandchild or two, I hope to do a few new things with them.

Tell my little ones about my relationship with Jesus.

I want to tell them about the good and loving things he has done in my life. Children have such keen imaginations, so this is a perfect time to introduce Jesus to them as a very best friend. Reading books together is a wonderful way to show the truth of the Gospel to children, and even better when followed up by a parent or grandparent’s own story of coming to know the Lord. The earlier we start talking about Jesus as a normal part of our shared life with our children or grandchildren, the more likely it will always be a natural topic of conversation.

Ask them regularly who they think Jesus is.

Asking them what they know about the Lord suggests to them that they have their own relationship with him, and I am eager to hear about it.

Tell my grandkids what I am struggling with in my life in Christ.

I think it is important for children, especially teenagers, to know that we adults don’t have it all figured out. Our prayer life can feel like auto pilot sometimes, or simply cease. We can feel like God is distant, even at our later stages in life. We can tell them how often we sin and fall short of God’s commands, but in those struggles we have an amazing savior who forgives us.

Tell my grandkids what I am learning as I read the Bible.

Looking back during the years my kids were growing up, I was always in a Bible study. Why did it not occur to me to tell them what I was learning? I talked to them about current events and celebrity hijinks, why not about Israel’s great exodus out of Egypt? Conversely, even if I knew the book or the topic my kids might be covering in one of their studies, I rarely asked them to tell me what they were learning, and what they thought about it.

Read Scripture together.

I’m sure if someone had suggested that to me 15 years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea, but know I know that reading Scripture is a really good thing to do as a family. There is power in God’s word, and when we read our Bibles with other people, that power can be infectious. As your kids get old enough, have them take turns leading the reading and the discussion. This also would be a natural opportunity to pray together.

I have no doubt that I will fail to master all these good intentions towards my unborn grandchildren. I do pray that if I become a grandmother, I will be open and generous in sharing my faith with them. I pray that as we talk about the everyday and mundane things, like why we brush our teeth and why we eat our vegetables before dessert, that nothing will come more naturally than our ongoing conversation about our life in Jesus.


About The Author

Carolyn Lankford lives in Birmingham, Alabama and shares three grown children with her husband Frank. Formerly a co-director of Christian Education at the Church of the Advent, Carolyn served as the Advancement Officer at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University before transitioning back to the Advent to work as Interim Director of Women's Ministry.

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