Being a part of a church family is part of growing as a follower of Jesus. But kids spend far more time in their homes. That’s why we want our families to go deeper together.
Discipleship at home is a critical endeavor. God made us for relationship, and those first relationships are in the home. Author Francis Chan says that a child’s view of God will largely be shaped by their view of their parents and their relationships with those parents. If the caretaker is weak, they will view God as weak. If they are distant, unforgiving, and unloving, that is the way they will view God.
That’s a lot of pressure on parents! Which is where we come in as ministry leaders. It’s our job to assist parents in the discipleship process, and to champion them in their God-given role. This is hard work, but it is vitally important. We should start by putting ourselves in the shoes of busy parents. Many didn’t have discipleship modeled to them growing up. Or they fear having difficult conversations with their children about spiritual matters.
Some have only seen biblical teaching used to control behavior, instead of a way of life. And if a caretaker is not engaging in personal study and reflection on Scripture, we can’t expect them to encourage and engage their children to do so.
The good news is there are solutions to all these issues. So, how do we help parents?
Prioritize the word
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is not a 100% guarantee that children will not turn from the truth later in life, but discipleship is the best foundation to prevent kids from straying from the truth of Scripture.
Lifeway Research reports that by far the most positive predictor of spiritual health in adults is if they read the Bible as a child. Training up children doesn’t mean creating compliant, rule-following children. We are training them to be followers of Jesus Christ. This happens when they are in the word.
As a church leader, you’re aware of many other resources that can be helpful to parents. But part of the problem is that there are so many available. Unless you are looking for a specific topic or story, it is a challenge to make a decision about which materials to use.
Know what is available and what you trust in terms of family devotionals, age-appropriate Bibles, online videos, blogs, and home curriculum. When I go to a conference or Christian bookstore, I spend a lot of time looking through materials. If I know what’s out there, parents don’t have to trudge through a massive amount of resources.
We’re also in a good position as leaders to provide resources, although we should note this takes time and will affect our budget line. When something is readily available and the caretaker doesn’t have to seek it out, that is one less thing on their plate. It is a gift and a blessing.
One Illinois Baptist leader made it a point at every church he served to put in place times for children and teens to receive specific types of Bibles and books to aid in their development. Giving all your new seventh graders a Teen Study Bible is an expense, but it shows students we believe they are capable of understanding God’s word and studying it on their own.
If I really like a book, I find extra copies wherever I can to be able to give out whenever the situation or conversation calls for it. I often check used bookstores and library book sales for books like “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis or “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper.
Model the behavior
As ministry leaders, we must be spending time with the Lord and learning from each other, and encouraging parents to do the same. Then, we have to reach in. To know the issues that are keeping families from engaging in discipleship at home, you have to know them. That means spending time and having intentional conversations.
Invite others to see how you disciple at home, or encourage families to share with one another what God has done through their family discipleship. Encourage parents that they are capable, and that they don’t need to have all of the answers. Some days family discipleship time may mean long conversations throughout the day, and others might be just a few minutes.
We know our time is limited at church, but that can compel us to make the most of our weekly interactions. Many churches provide parents with take-home pages about the week’s Sunday school or small group lesson. Even if the curriculum doesn’t come with it, they’re easy to create with the Scripture you studied and a few discussion questions. Our gatherings are also an opportunity to ask kids what God has been teaching them throughout the week. This helps set the expectation that God is always present and moving, not just in the walls of the church.
Discipleship is the most important calling of parenthood. Anything we can do to propel families to know and love Christ more is worth our time and energy.
Sarah Bordewick is director of family ministry at First Baptist Church, Mt. Zion. This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Resource magazine, online at Resource.IBSA.org.