This article is part of the Open Letters series.
Let me begin with where you are—actually where we all are.
You feel unequipped because you are unequipped. So am I. So is everyone else. Discipleship isn’t easy. It isn’t something we just do naturally because the whole concept of discipleship centers on the supernatural.
That’s why discipleship isn’t something that we master; it's about the Master mastering us. It is a unique call from a supernatural source to do what we would never naturally do on our own. Discipleship is an imperative; it comes from Jesus’s command, “Follow me.”
That is why none of us—not even the first disciples themselves—felt perfectly equipped to be disciples. Because discipleship, is not just something we do, it’s something that is done to us.
So though it may not feel this way, this insecurity is actually good news. It puts the hope and power of discipleship not on the disciples, but on the Master. It says our actions are only good as the One we choose to follow.
Who is Our Master?
That, I think, is where our struggle with discipling our kids begins. We forget the purpose behind our discipleship—to help them see their King. Instead of bringing them into a relationship with Jesus we settle for something (or someone) less. We often shape our children by our moral requirements and substitute our kingdom for God’s kingdom.
So instead of looking like Jesus, our children begin to look, sound, and act more like us.
Here is the great corrective: God doesn’t call us to disciple our children into our dreams and aspirations for them. God calls us to disciple our children into him—to walk with them into his kingdom and help them be conformed to the image of the one, true King.
As parents, we will always be tempted to be Jesus to our kids rather than to point our kids to Jesus.
But there are ways to overcome this.
Be a Disciple
Probably the most common reason we don’t feel equipped to disciple our children is that we ourselves don’t know what it means to be a disciple or we struggle to live day in and day out as a follower of Jesus.
Now there are a couple of really simple solution to this. The first is to watch Jesus disciple his disciples. Read the gospels. Live the gospels. Follow Paul as he disciples Timothy too. Familiarize yourself with the way Jesus instructs the mind and the heart of those who are his.
The second solution follows from the first. Discipleship is never a monologue. We need others, just as our kids need us to help them live the truth of the gospel. This is where the church comes in. We need to help build a culture of discipleship in our churches, not just in our homes. We need this because we need one another. We don’t know discipleship often because we’ve never been discipled ourselves. But it’s never too late to experience discipleship ourselves. And when we do, we know what it’s like receive help in following Christ, so that we how to give help to our kids as they seek to follow Christ.
We also need to stop compartmentalizing discipleship. Often times we put too much pressure on ourselves, our children, and our processes. Now, there are a lot of good resources on family worship and training kids in righteousness and we should pursue these and do these well.
But we miss out if this is the only time discipleship happens at specific times in our homes. The danger of formalizing discipleship so tightly is that we can easily start to see our kids as projects rather than souls and gifts from the Lord.
Which is why we need to transition from seeing discipleship as something we only do once a day with our kids, to seeing it as a lifestyle. As parents, there is no discipleship “off season.” We can’t punch the clock when we are done with family devotions.
We need to tell our kids consistently and clearly about God’s goodness and the beauty of the gospel.
Instead, discipleship should be happening all the time. It’s what we do while we wrestle with our sons. We do it when our daughters ask massive theological questions right before bed to avoid having to go to sleep. Discipleship should happen after our kids win their soccer game and right after they lose the championship. To be sure, we need time set aside as a family to think about Jesus and to learn to love him, but we want all of this to permeate every area of our life and our children’s. When we do, we give all of our life to the Lord, and we show our kids that everything, everyone, and every second belongs to God.
Keep Grace at the Center
Not only do we need to break down the walls between life and discipleship, we also need to break down the walls between obedience and grace. If you’re like me, discipleship can very easily turn into a to-do list, and even worse, a ladder of works we try to use to climb our way into heaven. That is why the grace at the center of the gospel has to be the center of our kid’s discipleship.
One practical way to do this is to be honest about your own Christian life with your children. That means the good and the bad. With wisdom and discretion, tell your kids where you fall short. We need to be able to tell them that Jesus has saved us from our sins—just as he offers to save them from their sin too. If they never see our need for Jesus, they will have a tough time discerning their own.
But don’t stop there. We need to tell our kids consistently and clearly about God’s goodness and the beauty of the gospel. We want Jesus’s good news to be near to our children and what better way than through the life and testimony of their parents.
In simplest terms, if you want to show your kids how to follow Jesus just follow Jesus with your kids. That means make the gospel the climate of your own life and the life of your family. Show them how you fight sin and how you deal with suffering through Jesus. Invite them into your devotional time. Talk about what they learned in Scripture too. Let them watch you pray. Ask them what their biggest prayer concerns are and ask them to pray with you. Talk about the sermon on Sunday and how it could change them.
And finally when you feel overwhelmed, underprepared, and insecure, utilize the church. That is one reason why Jesus created it—to help those who feel unequipped to disciple others, including our kids, find help keeping their eyes, and their children’s eyes, on the Master.
Laboring beside you,
Ryan Lister is the author of Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God.