This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.
Q: What is family discipleship?
A: In sometimes big and obvious, but more often in common and small ways, every parent is influencing their child. For Christian parents, we wield this influence intentionally to help our children know and follow our God. Family discipleship is the incredibly important—but mostly ordinary—spiritual leadership that parents give to their home.
It is critically important to give our lives in the service of leading our children to be followers and friends of Jesus. Firstly, it is central because the Lord deserves our worship. Any other person or thing that our family’s life revolves around will be found desperately wanting. Secondly, the Lord has asked it of us. Over and over again in the scriptures, there are explicit and implicit expectations that what we have received from the Lord we will communicate and impress on the next generation. If God has commanded it, then it must be a priority for his followers. Lastly, there is nothing better for the soul of a child than to be rescued and redeemed by Jesus. Because of that, there is no possible way that a parent can better spend their time than in the diligent effort of leading a young soul to know their Lord.
As important as family discipleship is, it is always best when it is mostly ordinary. Hopefully at times there will be superlative experiences that point a family toward Christ together, but more often and most effectively, family discipleship will be accomplished through the small incremental and mundanely normal everyday interactions between parents and their kids. Family discipleship is best when it is not unusual to read the Bible together, to pray together, or to have a theological conversation together. Those things become normal when they are woven into the everyday rhythm of the family’s life. The best version of spiritual leadership in the Christian home is one that is consistently natural, typical, and routine.
Q: Is God holding me accountable for my children’s salvation?
A: If the salvation of children depended on the quality of the parenting they received we would never see another kid saved. There is not one of us who can parent so superbly that our child will, through our efforts and works, find Jesus. The salvation of a child is by grace through faith alone and because of that, no mom or dad will get to boast in the parental works of their hands. All credit goes to Christ for every salvation we have the honor of seeing.
This truth both sets us free and puts us on mission. It sets us free because we can be sure that no child who lacks faith, despite a parent’s best efforts, is a reason for shame or self-harassment for any parent. Moms and dads should not beat themselves up for prodigal kids, but rather continue to hold out hope for redemption as there is no truly lost cause for the gospel. It also sets us free to worship God with and for our child when their heart does turn to him. Since we participate in the process but get no credit for the result, we can truly and freely worship our God who is worthy of praise for the salvation of our dearest loved ones.
The lack of parental ability to save our children does not, however, excuse us from efforts in that direction. It is truly an honor and a privilege that while God does the saving, he has invited imperfect moms and dads into the process by which he often accomplishes that. By making disciples in our own homes we are faithfully planting seeds of truth and watering them and acknowledging that, while only God can give it growth, we are participating in the great commission that Christ himself put to us to make disciples everywhere. This ‘everywhere’ includes around the kitchen table, in the car, playing outside, and every other place that you find your family.
Q: How do I get equipped enough to teach my family about God?
A: You do not need to be a theological wizard or a seminary-trained parent in order to teach your family about God. There is no educational prerequisite to becoming a godly mom or dad. Family discipleship can be difficult and intimidating for any parent let alone one who is struggling with their own personal knowledge, study, or doubts. If you are imagining a family sitting around a fire or a table together while you lecture prolifically about God in a manner that leaves your familial audience begging for more, it is time to reset your expectations.
Family discipleship should absolutely involve some form of getting into the Bible together, but your leadership through it need not be professorial. Not only are their plenty of resources out there to assist you in the devotional leadership of your home, but it can be as simple as reading a portion of Scripture and then simply asking, “If this is true, what does that change about us and our lives?”
Remember to engage your family in conversation. The best teaching is more than telling. Your family does not just need you to tell them what is true, they benefit from you asking them good questions about the implications of God’s truth on their lives as well as considering how their unique design will have implications for what God has called them to.
At the same time, if you desire to get mentored in teaching or in behavior management or some other aspect of parenting/discipling, it is never a bad idea to try to grow in those areas. Consider creating a mentoring relationship with a person whom you admire or reading some parenting resources.
Q: How do I create a plan for leading my family?
A: Instead of thinking about the entire daunting task of leading each child—birth to adulthood—all at once, it will help to create some categories that will build a framework for your household and break your plan down into more bite-sized pieces. Think about your family discipleship plan as breaking down into four main categories: modeling, time, moments, and milestones.
Your genuine walk with God is the most critical aspect of your family discipleship plan. Before you think about leading young boys and girls, think about being a child of the Heavenly Father yourself. What do your personal rhythms of spiritual disciplines look like? If you are married, what does pursuing the Lord together look like for you both together and separate? Of course, you will not be perfect and your kids don’t need you to be, so consider what repentance looks like for you. How can you specifically own your shortcomings with your family and strive to diligently pursue the care of your own soul?
It is truly an honor and a privilege that while God does the saving, he has invited imperfect moms and dads into the process.
If you are sincerely and personally following God, then it is time to think about what scheduled or blocked off times you will gather as a family to intentionally talk about and live out your gospel life. Family discipleship time is built into the rhythm of your family and set aside for this sole purpose. If you have younger kids it might be built around your bedtime routine or around meals. If your kids are older it might look like a weekly breakfast together. Your plan might be more individualized and will certainly need to be adjusted as kids grow and change. Each family, as well as each family member, is different so your scheduled times will need to be flexible to suit the family God gave you. But no matter what your family looks like, you should consider what daily, weekly, or monthly focused time together for discipleship could look like.
Once you have a plan for what the routine and dedicated family discipleship times will be, consider how you might take better advantage of the little moments that come your way in your regular family interactions. We call these family discipleship moments. They are more sporadic and unpredictable but no less important as contributions to your overall plan. You might consider looking for opportunities to disciple in different circumstances like discipline when your child is in trouble, celebration when your child has succeeded at something, or addressing specific emotional circumstances like fear, anxiety, anger, or joy.
Now that your plan has a regular and ongoing version of family discipleship, it will also be worth dedicating some time to thinking about how you’ll address the high and low points of your child’s life with the gospel of our faithful God. We call these family discipleship milestones. How will you create milestones to celebrate the greatest moments of your child’s faith life or help usher them into adulthood? What will you give them to remind them of all they have in God? In addition, the lowest points are significant opportunities for discipleship as well. Deaths, abuses, breakups, and other traumatic events are still milestones ripe with opportunity for you to remind your child of our steadfast and loving God.
Adam Griffin is the coauthor with Matt Chandler of Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones.
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