I recently wrote about what it means to disciple children and young people. I’ve been thinking a little further about what I would say from the front of church to encourage parents, particular fathers in their responsibility to teach and disciple their children. Here’s what I’d say:
Tomorrow is Monday. Here’s what I want you to do. When your shift finishes, make sure that you leave work on time unless there is a very specific crisis. It’s important to be on time for work, you have another job to do now and I want you to be on time for that. When you get home, I want you to tell your wife that you love her. Then I want you to hug your children close, tell them you love them and quietly pray for them. I’d like you to do this every evening over the next few weeks until it becomes habit Then come back and talk to me about what comes next.
When/if that dad comes and talks to me about what happens next, I’d say “keep doing those things.” I’d also talk about other opportunities that they have to spend with their children, doing stuff. Go out and kick a football with them, talk to them about their homework, help them fix their bike.
You see, part one of discipleship is about what they hear and see. What do they observe in terms of your daily life, how you act and how you speak to them and in front of them, how you treat your wife, what you prioritise?
Then we might talk about God’s Word. I’d encourage parents to read the Bible to and with their children. I’d encourage them to talk about who Jesus is and what he has done for them on the Cross. I’d encourage them to tell their children their own testimonies.
You see, the fundamental purpose here is that we want to see our children come to faith, to know Christ and from there to grow in Christ. We want them to know the fullness of the Holy Spirit in their lives and we want them to live this out by displaying the fruit of the Spirit and to discover their own gifts. They will do this as they see and hear you live for Christ and as they hear God’s Word from you. In that respect, how they disciple their children is no different to how we disciple anyone.
Now as they grow older, you’ll talk more with them about life, about the decisions they have to make and about what is happening in the world around them. They’ll talk to you about what they’ve learnt at school or some news they’ve seen on the internet. You’ll want to talk about those things, to show an interest in their views and no doubt to give your own opinion. But the best thing you can do at this stage is to show them how your opinions and decisions are shaped by what God’s Word says.
There are of course all sorts of things you can do as they grow older. You can give them books to readd, you can catechise them. Notice that “can” is not the same as “must”. Different children will respond to different things and we are not under compulsion to do something just because it worked for someone else. Some families will have devotions altogether, a Bible study after the evening meal, songs around the piano. Some families will pray together after breakfast before work and school. Some families will listen to Chris Tomlin downloads in the car. And some will do none of these things. Some kids will enjoy reading and devour Calvin and Bavinck when you leave those thick tomes lying around. Some might discover your pastor’s blog. Others will show little interest in reading and that’s okay.
All that matters is whether or not they’ve been given every opportunity to put their trust in Christ and then are being encouraged to grow in him and speak for him.