Discipleship should not be something scary or time consuming. In fact, when we consider Deuteronomy 6, much of discipleship is “as you go,” or as you do life together. Deuteronomy 6:7-9 says, “Impress [the commandments of God in his Word] on your children. Talk about [his Word] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie [God’s commandments] as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Notice that each of these verses imply an “as you go” way of discipleship with your children. Further, these guiding statements are both for the home and the community, as indicated by the doorframes and gates.
Discipleship and theology are simply speaking about the things of God and how his Word applies to our lives. Don’t worry about your kids knowing more than you do or asking hard questions. Discovering answers together are, in and of itself, discipleship.
It is also important to remember to do things that are simple, functional and sustainable. Here are some ideas:
- Read through the Psalms – My son and I drive together to his school and my work. We work our way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm each morning. He will read the Psalm out loud and then we discuss what he thinks about what is written and how we can apply it to our lives. The Psalms allow us to find our comfort in God, but they also allow us to see that it is okay to have a whole range of emotions we can express toward God. As we finish, either he or I pray. You could mix it up by doing the same thing with Proverbs or the Gospel of John.
- Develop a Family Mission Statement. For instance, my family’s Mission Statement is to “Love God, Love each other, Love others and relieve suffering whenever and wherever possible in the name of Jesus.” We then try to go out several times a year and join in some sort of local community mission work.
- Learn about spiritual disciplines and put them into practice. Solitude, fasting, giving, prayer, being present, and study are all useful disciplines, even for teenagers. For instance, when children are older, teach them to fast from electronics or even food for a short period of time. Talk to them about the discipline of giving and use periods of the year (Christmas, birthdays, Thanksgiving, etc.) and encourage them to think about how the family can give to others.
- Practice active listening. As parents, we spend a lot of time teaching, correcting, and disciplining. It comes with the job. However, we need to set a time apart, at least one time a week, to just listen to our kids. This means no distractions. Put the phone away. Listen to listen, not answer. Look your child in their eyes. Lean forward. Really LISTEN. Repeat back what they are saying. “I think what I hear you saying is ________, Is that correct?” This lets your child know that you are listening. Ask simple questions like: “How do you see God at work in your life?” or “…through this tough time?”
- Pray with intention. Find a time each day where intentional prayer (not the rote meal time prayers) can be expressed together.
- Do a family video prayer journal – Sort of like Tik Tok, record your challenges (prayers) and hope (praises). Keep these in a video file. Save them to the Cloud (or have individual flash drives for each month) and after 6-months or so, go back and review your videos and see how God has moved. Do this as a family so that, as your kids get older, they will remember, and have access to, the legacy of valuing prayer in your family.
- Have each family member choose a life verse. Discuss and memorize these verses together.
- Look for teachable moments. The best ones occur naturally. Whether it come from a movie, a song, or seeing somebody do something, use those as times to engage in conversation and ask your child, “What do you think about that?” “What do you think God would say about it?”
- Do a regular family game night or something else special. You can have great conversations as you play a game or just go out for ice cream. Take time to be present with your children intentionally, and have fun.
In Church and in Your Community
- Attend worship together. This sounds simple, but the modern Western church is too segregated by ages. Children from at least 4th grade up can learn to worship. Prior to the service, challenge your child to listen for at least one thing they can learn. After the service, compare what you and your child learned and talk about it. Research shows that many young people leave the faith in the later teens because there is not enough intergenerational interaction.
- Form family connections groups. Be intentional about creating and connecting with church family affinity groups. It is amazing the amount of support you get from each other! Be intentional about planning a quarterly get together. Maybe it is a picnic, a cookout or meeting at Dairy Queen. A game night also works really well! Invite “adopted” singles, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. These groups can be seasonal, something that happens during the summer or a couple of weeks during the school year.
- Serve in a ministry area together at your church. Whether it is singing, running AV, greeting, taking up the offering, serving in children’s ministry… whatever it is, this is how you train up the next generation of leaders by teaching them to serve alongside adults. Youth are the church now, not just of the future and if we do not engage them now through owning ministry, they will not be around to be “the Church of the future.”
- Find a spiritual mentor for your child outside the home. The earlier you do this, the better because your child will come to a point in their lives where they will have situations they do not want to talk to you about, either because they are embarrassed or they do not want to disappoint you.
- Surround your child with other godly adults. This can be your youth leader, a coach, a teacher, “adoptive” grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. The fact is that the more Christian, caring adults you have involved in different capacities, your child will be surrounded by Christian nurture. People often freak out if you ask them to mentor a child because they think they are not equipped, so I use the term “spiritual encourager”. My son Jamie has a spiritual encourager named Mrs. Harriett. Jamie will go over and help with yard work or other tasks and Mrs. Harriett takes time to play games, teach Jamie how to cook or bake, and most importantly, to listen to him. God intends for the entire community to nurture and spiritually guide our young people.
As you can see, discipleship does not have to be difficult. You don’t need to be a Bible scholar to disciple your children. My sons and I have often learned deeper spiritual concepts together. By listening to them process God’s Word as we go, I learn a great deal from my kids, making me makes me a better parent, pastor and professor.
Having more natural spiritual conversations with my sons allows me to point them to Jesus Christ every day. In Him we are free to do the things that work for our family. We don’t have to do them perfectly, because His righteousness covers our sins and shortcomings. Following the guidance of his Spirit, you will establish rhythms that work for your family.