What Family Discipleship Is (and Is Not)
What Is It?
Family discipleship is the important and mostly ordinary spiritual leadership of your home. Put simply, family discipleship is leading your home by doing whatever you can whenever you can to help your family become friends and followers of Jesus Christ. Christians not only ought to disciple, but they must disciple if they are to truly follow Christ. This is the quintessential role of every Christian parent. You cannot be a Christian family if you are not a disciple-making family, because your family can’t truly follow Christ if you are not doing what Christ commanded—trying to become more and more like him and leading others to do the same.
Discipleship is both what we heard Jesus command and what we saw Jesus doing. Discipleship is essential to both the message and the method of following Christ. Jesus’s method of discipleship was not intended to be unique; it was prototypical. He invited people to follow and live alongside him so they might lead others in like manner. He could have started a formal training school. But instead he built his training around time in his presence as he exercised his trust in the Father, practiced relentless love for all people, and carried out his mission with his disciples. The Great Commission is for you to similarly make disciples of those who do not follow Christ, including those born or brought into your home.
To disciple your family as Jesus discipled his twelve, think less of your children as students in your home-university and more as apprentices invited to study and exercise the way of God they see in and hear about from you. When your kids ask questions, think of ways that you might give them an invitation for an answer just like Christ did: “Come and you will see” (John 1:39).
Willfully or not, all parents are perpetually discipling the children around them. Children are watching and listening to you as they form their impressions of the world, of faith, and of what it means to be an adult. As a Christian parent, wield that influence to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Good family discipleship is both intentional and consistent with a clear goal to see your kids conformed to the image of Christ.
Matt Chandler, Adam Griffin
Here is a book written for parents that focuses not on their inability, but on God’s ability to help raise their children in the faith through a guided framework focusing on time, moments, and milestones.
Because it takes intentionality and consistency, it requires a plan. Christian parents should have a strategy. Every household should regularly be designing, adjusting, and reforming a plan for family discipleship. The family discipleship framework this book proposes, presented at the end of this chapter, is a trellis for that plan to grow on. It takes advantage of the many small and large interactions a family has in order to impart the gospel of Jesus Christ and hopefully see the next generation be “born again to a living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3).
Family discipleship assumes two essential truths that undergird this entire resource. First, parents have the potential to be the most influential person in a child’s life. Second, God has clearly commanded that the highest priority of parenting is helping children know, follow, and trust him.
What Is It Not?
Family discipleship is not free-form spiritual exploration. Family discipleship is indoctrination, teaching the doctrines and worldview of God as laid out in his word without yielding to the contrary opinions of the world or apologizing for the potential offensiveness of that truth. Indoctrination has become a bad word in our culture that loves the idea of letting children choose for themselves what they think is true. What a disastrous deception! To not tell your kids what is true is the opposite of loving. We are helping the next generation navigate a perilous journey of life through temptations and malicious misinformation. Do not set your children adrift in the desert of this world and cross your fingers that they find the narrow path to the sole oasis.
Family discipleship is not using the word of God in order to get your way. It is not using the threat of God’s displeasure in order to get your kids to be quiet or sit still or stop bothering each other. Behavior manipulation is driven by fear, but obedience to God is driven by sincere love and gratitude. A well-behaved child is not the same thing as a discipled child. While the Bible has a lot to say about godly behavior, and obedience is an important aspect of discipleship, behavioral modification is not our main goal. It is far too easy to raise a Pharisee, a child who knows and follows the rules of God but whose heart is far from him. We want our kids to be obedient to God not because they are intimidated by him (or by us) but because they genuinely love obedience and they trust God’s love and care for them. Family discipleship pursues sincere heart change in kids, true Christian transformation.
Being in a position of authority, it is easy to twist the word of God in order to serve your purposes. It is easy to create a home where it seems like God loves us when we are good and is angry when we are bad. The truth of the gospel is that God always loves us infinitely better than we deserve. We obey because he loves us. He does not love us because and only when we obey. Our kids need to be taught that God loves them beyond their deserving and that obedience breeds joy. Likewise, familial love should also be love without petty conditions. Your kids will not always meet your expectations. It is essential that you love the kids you have and not some version of them you wish you had. We want you to have a family that never doubts just how much you love them because in your relationship your affection and commitment are blatantly obvious.
The Great Commission is for you to make disciples of those who do not follow Christ, including those born or brought into your home.
Family discipleship is not a way to raise popular kids. Raising kids who follow Christ means you are preparing a generation ready to be comfortable being different and even looked down upon by a culture that thinks they know better. While it is certainly not the goal to raise kids to be deliberately irritating to the world, it should absolutely be your hope to have children who will not shy away from what is true just because it does, in fact, irritate someone. What you believe as a Christian is offensive to modern sensibilities. Let this sink in: if God graciously saves your child, many in the culture will be repulsed by your child. At the very least, discipled kids will be considered “weird.” Your son or daughter’s faith will not impress the world. Your children will be hated because of who your God is and what he is like (Mark 13:13; John 15:19).
We need to raise up a generation who is ready to be distinctly different from their peers, righteously abnormal. In a lot of ways, that’s the opposite of our natural inclination in how to raise our children. Raising kids who are ready to be hated means raising kids who unashamedly love God even in the face of loathing and alienation. Regardless if the insults of the world are naive or legitimate, we pray your children will be ready to stand firm in the midst of a world that despises them. You will need to put in substantial effort to nurture kids who are ready for that. You are raising kids who will hopefully pursue generosity over comfort, righteousness over acceptance, and selflessness over self-esteem for Christ’s sake.
Family discipleship is not a strategy to become an admired parent. Fight the temptation to lead in order to become an impressive mom or dad and instead impress upon your kids their desperate need for a heavenly Father. Your identity is rooted in being a child of God not a parent of your child. This is not about you finding affirmation in the affection or admiration of others. This is not about building your personal legacy or making junior versions of yourself. Family discipleship shapes children into the image of Christ, not the image of their mom or dad. You are not crafting a child to fit a mold of perfection for human admiration and parental pride. This training in righteousness is not a competition or an avenue for egotistic displays of family superiority. Will you get something out of it? Absolutely. It is incredibly rewarding. But that is not why you do it. We do it for the love of our kids and the love of our God.
Family discipleship is not always the most appealing path. Family discipleship is not the path of least resistance. For kids, authority, training, and regulations seem like adversaries to freedom and pleasure. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). The unpruned vineyard does not yield the best fruit. You don’t disciple because it is painless. You disciple because you believe it is best to serve and obey the God who knows what is best and is what is best.
This article is adapted from Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones by Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin.
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