As parents (if we grew up in the church), when we think of discipleship, we often think of a 10 step plan to lead our kids to Christ, including (but not limited to). . .
- daily family Bible study
- being at church whenever the doors are open
- long and meaningful prayers at the dinner table and bedtime
- worship music playing at all times throughout the house and in the car
- the perfect Advent countdown complete with Bible reading and memorization
- praying the prayer of salvation around age 5 (because 4 is too young and what would they think if he waited until he was 8?!)
- baptism by age 10 (unless of course you took care of that when she was an infant)
- first communion by age. . .(well this all depends on the church – do they use real wine or the fake stuff?)
- a mission trip when they are old enough to travel internationally
- discovery of his/her divine calling before the end of high school (one can’t go to college without a clear ministry path)
Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it. And I don’t know about you. . .but my spiritual journey didn’t really look like all that. Sure, I loosely followed the normal progression of Christianity but it wasn’t that simple. . .or should I say, complicated?!
Parents who grew up in the church are so tired of the laundry list of requirements for following Jesus that many are giving up on faith altogether. But Jesus never meant for our relationship with him to be so conditional. . .so calculated. Jesus actually asks us to adopt his “unforced rhythms of grace” so we can live freely and lightly.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
Now that’s a relationship I can get excited about for my children. That’s an authentic faith that I believe will be attractive to them for the long run.
But how do we lead them? How then do we disciple our children differently and genuinely?
3 Keys to Simple (and effective) Family Discipleship
1. Be authentic.
It dawned on me not too long ago that my parents accepted Jesus right before they got married. They became husband and wife and had children right away. So they walked their own path of discipleship while simultaneously teaching us how to follow Jesus. This realization explains so much, now that I think about it. My parents stumbled a lot in those early days but my siblings and I had the privilege of observing their authentic transformation and because their hearts were changed through honesty and humility, the result was attractive to us. We, of course, stumbled ourselves as we journied through adolesence as baby Christians. But in the end, and even to this day, we are all following Jesus, not perfectly, but with an authentic passion to grow in him and see our children follow him as well.
Authenticity will often re-write the script of Christianity that we’ve been following for years. We don’t need to be afraid of this adaptation as long as it’s Holy Spirit led and Bible-based. This flexibility allows us to be authentic even when we feel unqualified. Just the other day, I wrote. . .
“My most effective parenting moments are the messiest. When I get real and raw with my kids and they see me living out the gospel in my humility and brokenness, this is when they begin to connect the dots. The parent who isn’t afraid to ask questions and wrestle through the hard stuff is a leader they can confidently follow. The God who loves mommy even after she’s raised her voice is a God they can safely surrender their lives to.” (read the rest of this post here)
Authenticity leads to trust. And following Jesus is all about trust.
2. Cultivate a culture of faith at home.
When I think back to my own childhood, I don’t remember all of the ways my parents tried to teach us about faith. But I do remember the love and spirit of God I felt in our home. I remember my parents’ humility and feeling an open invitation, at all times, to ask questions and have conversations surrounding life and faith. Those two things were beautifully intertwined in our home. Life was faith. Faith was life. It all blended together so that our growth came naturally in the midst of ordinary days.
A home culture that is centered around faith does not necessarily mean that you spend an hour in Bible study together daily. That discipline, while good, is not realistic in today’s society. I don’t believe in conforming to cultural norms, especially at the cost of discipleship, but I do believe that we can adapt and get creative given our family dynamics and schedules (using simple Bible study methods like this one, for example). I believe the more authentic we are about where we are, the stronger our family faith culture will be and the more it will seep into the hearts of our children without fabricated efforts that often fall flat.
3. Keep the door open.
Authentic communication is imperative if we’re going to successfully lead our children into adulthood. If we want them to have a real relationship with Jesus, we must be willing to talk it out or not talk it out, depending on the season they are in. Let me explain. . .
I could have made point #3, “Talk it Out.” But I’m not naive to think my kids are going to be as chatty in a few years as they are now. Preschool and elementary age kids love to talk. They love to ask questions. Discipleship in those early years is somewhat easy because they are interested in soaking up as much informaton as possible. Their hearts are soft and ready to absorb the truth.
A few years later and kids begin to close themselves off. They don’t want to talk because they think we don’t understand or what we have to say isn’t as important as whatever it is they have going on. I remember feeling this way. But my parents kept the doors and the lines of communication always open. There were times when I ignored their invitation but many times, I was glad to know I could come when I was ready.
When our family culture includes an open door from day one, children grow up feeling safe. . .feeling heard and understood. Those small seeds, planted in faith and watered with authenticity and prayer, will reap the closeness that kids need.
When discipleship is based on the heart and culture of a family rather than rules and to-dos, faith-building is simple and long lasting. We’re not so inclined to give up or stop trying when our efforts are more organic and less calculated. I’m not saying discipleship should be a cake walk. That 10 step “plan” I laid out up there? Those steps will always be important and a Christ-follower will take them at some point in his or her life. But when we focus on authenticity, culture and connection, our children will be drawn to a Savior who looks, feels and sounds like someone they want to follow.
One of the most life-changing things we’ve done as a family to cultivate faith at home was to walk through the Bible together using What’s In The Bible. You can follow along our journey on the Minno blog this year. I’ll share about our experience and offer conversation starters for your family.