Family discipleship is the incredibly 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. There are certainly occasional highlights and low points in life that create great opportunities for parents to point to God’s faithfulness, but most spiritual leadership happens in the everyday routine interactions of your family.
As you think about what family discipleship is for your household, here are five critical reminders—five lies we’re tempted to believe—about what family discipleship is not.
1. Family discipleship isn’t 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 a 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 love. We’re helping the next generation navigate a perilous journey of life through temptations and malicious misinformation.
Don’t set your children adrift in the desert of this world and cross your fingers that they find the narrow path to the sole oasis.
2. Family discipleship isn’t using God’s Word to get your way.
It’s 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 gratitude and love. A well-behaved child isn’t the same thing as a discipled child.
A well-behaved child isn’t 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 isn’t our main goal. It’s far too easy to raise a Pharisee, a child who knows and follows God’s rules but whose heart is far from him. We want our kids to be obedient to God not because they’re 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.
3. Family discipleship isn’t a way to raise popular kids.
Raising kids who follow Christ means you’re preparing a generation ready to be comfortable being different and even looked down on by a culture that thinks they know better.
While it’s 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.”
Let this sink in: if God graciously saves your child, many in the culture will be repulsed by your child.
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 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.
4. Family discipleship isn’t a strategy to become an admired parent.
Fight the temptation to lead in order to become an impressive mom or dad, and instead impress on 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 isn’t about you finding affirmation in the affection or admiration of others. This isn’t about building your personal legacy or making junior versions of yourself.
Family discipleship shapes children into Christ’s image, not the image of their mom or dad. You’re not crafting a child to fit a mold of perfection for human admiration and parental pride. This training in righteousness isn’t a competition or an avenue for egotistic displays of family superiority.
5. Family discipleship isn’t always the most appealing path.
Family discipleship isn’t 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 doesn’t yield the best fruit. You don’t disciple because it’s painless. You disciple because you believe it’s best to serve and obey the God who knows what is best and is what is best.
We’re Always Discipling
Willfully or not, all parents are discipling the little ones around them. Children are watching and listening to us as we form their impressions of the world, of faith, and of what it means to be an adult.
Far better to have a plan than to fly by the seat of our pants. Since every parent and every child is one-of-a-kind, we should have a plan and a vision for family discipleship suited for our unique family.
Let’s be intentional with our influence.