Whose responsibility is the spiritual formation of children? Some will say it’s the church’s job. Others will say it should happen at home. What happens when a child’s parents are outside of Christ and the church? While it would be nice if we could fit this dilemma into a custom-made box and put a pretty red bow on top, there are a few elements of discipling children that we all must be more intentional about.
First, it’s the job of every Christian to make disciples. We will get to some specifics later, but when it comes to evangelizing the lost and deepening every walk in Christ, the responsibility of growing in a daily relationship with Jesus is personal. What this means is that every individual is ultimately responsible for putting in the time and effort necessary to foster a healthy relationship with the Master.
Second, there are others who should come into view as we speak of making disciples. Consider the people closest to you—family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. These and more are my responsibility for helping them to be made into the image of God.
Third, there should be special emphasis given to the role of parents for spiritually forming their biological children into the likeness of Christ. Too many times parents think the church should be responsible for this. True, the church is a partner in this endeavor. Yet, as good or as lacking as the children’s ministry of a local church may or may not be, the ownership of rearing spiritually mature children belongs to parents. If anything, the church should come alongside parents and children who have no spiritual leadership at home. Nonetheless, the privilege of preparing successful individuals for Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness is something every Christian parent should cherish.
This being the case, what does a parent need to do to make disciples at home? It might be helpful to define what a disciple actually is. In simple terms, it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It means that a person has a life that looks like the life, character, and ministry of Jesus. It means that we would do the things like Jesus did and for all the reasons Jesus did them. And, a disciple is someone who learns or develops. In this case, it would be to learn from everything Jesus taught His first disciples and behave accordingly while living out daily lives.
Once there is a grip on what being a disciple of Jesus Christ means, one needs to understand that every child is different. Ask any parent. They know this fact. How can two or more kids reared in the same environment be so different? The Apostle Paul knew this well as he was dealing with individuals and specific churches in the New Testament. He was a spiritual father to so many in his day. He took their Christian formation into the image of Jesus seriously. Paul knew the dual role that while he was a child of Christ he also needed to help others know and follow Jesus themselves. We need to do the same. Live out the Great Commission at home everyday. Realize you need to keep growing deeper in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Take hold of the privilege of guiding your children to be more like Jesus all the while. Be a role model. Love like your loving Heavenly Father loves. Your techniques of spiritually parenting each child may need some adjustments over time, but look at the children in your own house and in your church as a gift from God who need Christ. Maybe this will help—see them as potential or current brothers and sisters in Christ. View your “job” of “… training them up in the way they should go” as a privilege to evangelize, train, disciple, help and guide them to become mature followers of Jesus.
How do parents do this? How do they take on the awesome task of doing their best to disciple their children? In my experience, this is the key question most Christian parents feel but have never asked. They know they need to do this, but don’t know what to do. If this is you, or if these are the parents in your ministry, find some key factors listed below to serve as a guide to your most important job in life.
- Love and be loved. God in heaven loves you and wants to help you. Stay encouraged in this reality. The same is true for your children. View them this way first and foremost.
- Pray. Pray for and with your children. My wife and I were introduced to a prayer notebook when our children were younger. It’s a 3-ring binder with categories to pray through for our children. We keep Post-It notes under each category or on each page as each child’s needs change with age or circumstances. The categories include: spirituality, character, friends, health, protection, problems, education, career, spouse, and praise.
- Make family devotions a priority. Your children will benefit from hearing and studying the Word of God. Get organized and create space for God to speak into the lives of your family. It might be that you will need to create a plan of action. What should we study? What scriptures should my children memorize? Which attributes of God would I like my kids to be familiar with? What doctrines should my children know? How can I practically teach my children things like the Lord’s Prayer and the Doxology? What does the Bible say about our need for Jesus? “Be attitudes” … why do I need them? How many fruit of the Spirit are there and should I be living those out? What about the Church? At an appropriate age, will you disciple your children with what the Bible says about real love and sex or will you let someone in the locker room teach it for you?
- Worship together. I’m a big believer in multi-generational worship. Keep in mind, I do believe the elements of worship need to be age-appropriate the majority of time. Parents and children do not always need to sit next to each other in order to truly worship as a family. The goal here is to develop the discipline and help of regular corporate worship. If this is not modeled for your children, what are the chances they will make it a part of their spiritual routine with Jesus when they are parents? Worship literally means “the work of the people of God.” So, serving together fits in this category of worship, too. And, service is the avenue God seems to use most in helping many grow in their relationship with Him. The young can learn from the old and visa versa.
- Consider what you do in your home routine. What takes priority when it comes to where your household invests time and money? Think about the music listened to, the media absorbed, and the reading material that enters your home. Make sure God is mentioned within the walls of your home far more than during a mealtime prayer or in the event His name is taken in vain.
Part of the issue with making disciples of our children at home is that some parents are either away from Christ and the church or they have never been intentionally discipled themselves. In other words, we have spiritual adolescents being asked to develop their own children into the likeness of Jesus. What do we who are involved in the ministry of the church do then? Allow me to offer a few suggestions:
- View non-believing parents as “not-yet Christ followers.” You have the privilege of ministering to children and may be the only Christ-like influence they have. Many parents have been led to Jesus and the church through their children.
- Consider a similar list or plan of action (as above) for your ministry to implement in order to get intentional about making disciples.
- Be willing to go through life together when someone who should be living for Christ in front of these children is absent or careless.
- Truly care for each child’s future in Christ. Someday, they will be leading the same age group to Christ, Lord willing. Even as a biological parent should view them, see these children as potential or current brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
- Ask the right questions of Christ’s ministry through you. Be a true spiritual parent to each person. Ask, “How can we prepare these children to pursue God’s Kingdom and His righteousness?”
The command of the Great Commission that Jesus gives us is to “make disciples of all nations.” It’s not to go, teach, or even baptize. These are all wonderful tools used in making disciples. And, it should be noted that Jesus did not leave us with the command to “make believers.” So, how will you become more intentional to do your job with your own children at home? What about through the ministry of the church and ministry you find yourself leading? As a reminder, go deep in Christ yourself and take your biological and spiritual kids along. And, always view what you do as a privilege “as unto Christ.”