A Review of The Disciple Making Parent by Chap Bettis

At The Gospel Coalition Conference in Indianapolis earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting Chap Bettis, a former lead pastor who now directs the Apollos Project. The Apollos Project is a ministry devoted to helping parents disciple their children. I picked up Chap’s book, The Disciple-Making Parent, and it is a valuable resource I highly recommend to any parent seeking God’s direction in raising a family.

Bettis is himself a dad who, along with his wife, raised four children to adulthood. He combines his experience as spiritual leader of a family with his experience as spiritual leader of a church. Bettis contends that the primary Scriptural directive for parents is the same mission that Jesus gave the church and every Christian:

“All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

With this in mind, Bettis defines parenting as a “commission to do all we can to raise our children to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ… For Christian parents, the Great Commission is our North Star. Obeying it should orient all we do as parents” (p.6).

Several basic principles then follow logically from his thesis.

First, the parent is the primary discipler of the child. Church is important – essential – but God designed families specifically for the discipling of children. God’s plan is not for spiritual training to be “outsourced” to Sunday school teachers and youth ministers; moms and dads are specifically equipped to shepherd the children God gave them.

Second, the process of making disciples prioritizes a heart that loves Jesus above outward good behavior and worldly success. This means that “The first battleground of family discipleship is not my child’s heart; it is my heart. Each parent must decide whether he is more concerned that his child is accepted into Heaven or ‘Harvard.’ We all have ‘Harvards’ – those worldly successes we desire for our children, but the question remains, ‘Which is more important to me?’“ (p.17)

The third basic principle is a particularly helpful distinction. Bettis quotes Paul, who is writing to Timothy: “…Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of…” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). This verse expresses perfectly the bridge between discipling young children – a time of teaching – and leading older children, who need their parents to train them to see how the Gospel they have been taught actually works in daily life. This means the teen years are not the time to either back off or tighten control, but rather to engage with the inevitable questions our kids will have.

Bettis does not lay a heavy burden on parents (which I appreciate) by implying we are responsible for convincing our kids of the truth of the Gospel. Rather, he offers several encouraging ways we can continue to disciple increasingly independent young people to take ownership of their faith.

The remainder of the book discusses the powerful tools God has given parents for their mission: godly example, God’s Word, Kingdom purpose, prayer, and apologetics are all covered in detail. Bettis demonstrates how these tools were effective in the life of Timothy, Paul’s “son” in the faith, as applied by Paul and Timothy’s own mother and grandmother.

The chapters I personally found most helpful at my particular stage of parenting (teens) were in the section called “The Power of the Heart: Connecting to the Most Important Part of Your Child.” Bettis goes in depth discussing what healthy communication looks like, and even includes a list of helpful questions designed to repair broken communication. As parents, we need to be aware how our questions can cause kids to shut down. The questions he offers are designed to help our kids open up. Bettis also discusses the importance of asking our kids for forgiveness, and leading them to practice sincere apology. Again, discipling takes place first and foremost in the home, and as parents we model both what it means to follow Jesus and what it means to love like Jesus.

As much as Bettis focuses on the heart, the book is full of practical application too. He covers everything from Scriptural principles that govern making friends and using social media, to age-appropriate ways to talk about the Holy Spirit. Each chapter concludes with several thought-provoking questions about the content, and as such the book would be an ideal text for a parenting class or small group. Ideally, I would recommend working through the book with your spouse when your kids are still young, and then reviewing again as the children change and grow. Don’t be discouraged if your kids are older – parents of teens have every bit as much to gain from a careful study of the ideas contained here. The Scriptural principles and the commission of Jesus to parents are timeless, applicable to kids (and adults) of all ages; The Disciple-Making Parent is a resource that will advise and encourage as you carry out God’s wonderful mission for you as a parent.