Discipling Kids Is a Long Game of Small Interactions

Jamie Taylor on Unsplash

My family used to live in France. My brother was put into a local primary school without being able to speak a single word of French. (Don’t judge my parents. They’re lovely.) For about three months he didn’t say one word in school. Not one. Mum and Dad were just about to pull him out when he walked into the house one day speaking fluent French. And he’s never lost it. Today, 35 years later, he can still startle our continental neighbors with his perfect French.

The human capacity for learning is amazing, and it’s at its most inspiring during childhood. Still, it can often feel slow, unpredictable, and usually a little frustrating.

You don’t remember the moment you learned to speak English. Not because your memory fails you, but because—as we all know—learning to speak as toddlers doesn’t work that way. The process is long and slow, moving gradually from babbling (“She’s definitely saying ‘Mummy’!”), to sentence fragments (“Want car!”), to actual conversation. And while most of the time adults can make ourselves understood well enough, we’re all still learning. Even now I’m discovering new words—apparently the thing I almost vacuumed up this morning is called a “butterfly clutch.” Who knew?

Our spiritual growth works much the same way.

Maturity Takes Time

There may be significant, penny-dropping moments when we grasp a truth more clearly, or experience something of God that was previously only “head knowledge.” But most of the time we grow in knowledge and love for Jesus gradually, through an accumulation of Bible reading, daily exercised faith and obedience, and listening to the wisdom of other Christians.

We should expect the same for our children.

As parents we must remember that spiritual growth—just like growth of all other kinds—is usually a slow, gentle, and even painful process rather than a series of big leaps. It rarely comes through amazing performances in which we explain an aspect of Christian faith clearly and comprehensively to a child who listens, spellbound, before responding with perfect understanding and immediate acceptance. Imagine if it did work that way. You would explain the gospel once; they would “pray the prayer.” Then they’d ask if God really is in charge of everything; you’d deliver a brief summary of all aspects of God’s sovereignty. They would smile and say, “Thanks—I get it now.”

Resist the Lure of Quick-Fix Discipleship

We’re so often tempted to look for shortcuts. The consistent habit of reading the Bible together, talking about it, and making connections between what you read and ordinary life doesn’t feel spectacular. But consider this: Ten minutes a day spent talking about Jesus, five days a week, 40-something weeks a year adds up to around 39 hours. I’d be amazed if even the biggest “big conversation” with a child lasted an hour. So even if you did get three of those in a year, and made perfect use of them, you’d still have less than 10 percent of the input you’d have using a little-and-often approach.

And when the big conversations do come along, we’ll be ready for them, because we already have the building blocks in place—an accumulation of conversations and examples and familiar verses ready to refer back to. We don’t need to pin all our hopes on the “big leaps.”

God’s Wisdom in the Slow

The God who is growing our children’s faith is the same God who grows a 300-foot redwood over seven centuries, creating something strong and beautiful at a rate invisible to the human eye. The same God chose to carve out spectacular canyons one droplet of water at a time—when he could’ve spoken them into being in an instant.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that God-given means of spiritual growth are often small and unspectacular—ten minutes a day; reading from the Bible; an ordinary, unimpressive parent talking with their ordinary, unimpressive child; little by little, step by step.

If you’re already engaged in this everyday pattern of sharing Scripture with your children—keep going! You may not see the effect immediately, but you can pray with confidence that God would use those small, forgettable moments to do great and lasting things.

If you haven’t yet started—get going! All you need is a child, a Bible, and faith in a God who delights to achieve magnificent things in unspectacular ways.

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