Parenting With A Purpose: Discipleship Spoke

BIBLICAL BASIS – What does God say about this topic?

Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”

 John 15:8, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”


Disciple – a pupil or student who not only accepts the views of the teacher (listens) but adheres to the practice and purpose of the teacher (obeys).
Discipleship – a process through which a follower (or disciple) is taught in doctrine and precepts for the purpose of helping the person grow.

What purpose does this concept have in the parenting wheel?

As parents, an important part of our calling and responsibility is to purposefully point our children towards Christ. To model for them what it means and looks like to be a disciple of Christ. To be grafted into the vine of Christ and to bear the fruit of the Spirit, our children need to know:

  1. Who Christ is and their need for salvation through Him. John 14:6 says, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
  2. The way of salvation, as stated in Mark 1:15, “And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Also, Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:”
  3. What living a sanctified Christian life looks like. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

Children must be taught that there are two forces at work in this world: God’s plan for love and salvation (John 3:16) and Satan’s desire for evil and death (1 Peter 5:8). Parents must teach and train their children to understand carnal/fleshly living prevents discipleship while growing and living in the Spirit mandates it. Galatians 6:8 states, “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

APPLICATION – The act of putting something to a special use or purpose.

 What does this concept look like in “real life?”

Discipleship as Christ Modeled: Effective discipleship of our children requires that we follow the Word and provide them with Holy Spirit-inspired leadership. As parents mature spiritually and grow together in unity, their leadership in the home will grow. Disciple-making does not come easy and often requires repetition. Christ’s interactions with His disciples show the need of repetition. Jesus frequently taught and showed His disciples how to love one another, how to help the hungry and hurting, and how to ask questions to discern and seek the truth. He often pulled them aside and taught them with parables to guide, grow, and gauge their understanding and spiritual growth. The depth of His love was shown to them in His ability to administer grace and truth through times where He chastised and rebuked them. He showed compassion and mercy to them in spite of their sin and lack of understanding. Christ’s interaction with His disciples is a perfect example of what discipleship looks like as parents interact with and lead their children.

Parents must be Intentional about Discipleship: Dads and moms need to be intentional in working together in preparing a child’s heart for the seed of the Word of salvation and sanctification through Christ. The “garden” of a child’s heart (Luke 8:5-15) requires both the strength of a tiller and rock remover and the gentleness and patience of someone separating the roots of a sinful weed from the tender new plant. The desired fruit of effective discipleship is expressed in 3 John 4 when the author said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” The blessedness of that joy should instill a sense of purpose and urgency for parents to want to teach and model the joys of living as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Importance of Parents Following Christ: It is vital that parents model Christ-like behaviors to their children. Like Paul in Philippians 3:17, parents need to be able to say to their children, “…be followers together of me…” as we seek to follow Christ. Even at a young age, children are quite adept at noticing whether a parent’s words match their actions. Since most children tend to be visual learners during their formative years, they will often believe what they see over what they hear. Therefore, it is important to be a disciple of Christ and become more conformed to His image every day (2 Peter 3:18). In doing so, our actions will be consistent with our words as we are preparing our children’s hearts for the Word of God and for becoming a disciple of Christ.

Discipleship is a Developmental Process Over Time: We are to diligently teach God’s commands to our children. How we teach those truths to our children is part of the discipleship process. How parents carry out this process will vary, depending on the ages of the children. By using Deuteronomy 6:6-7 as a model, we can glean some specific discipleship opportunities: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” These verses teach us that discipleship opportunities are around us virtually all of the time. This also means that the parenting tasks that seem mundane or insignificant can actually be the springboards to teach our children valuable lessons. What we are doing (or not doing) as parents matters and directs our children. Below are ideas about how discipleship might look with children of different ages.

Ages 0-2: Starting at a tender age, the opportunity to model the love of Christ begins with the love that flows in a Christian home. When our children are in the early stages of life (ages 0-3), they love to be held and taught through our physical and emotional closeness with them. A secure and healthy attachment between parents and children helps to set the stage for developing a personal relationship with God. Eventually, children in this stage will begin to repeat modeled behaviors such as folding hands and bowing heads during prayers.

Ages 3-7: Allow children to learn through discovery and using Bible story books, pictures, and hands-on opportunities (coloring, etc.). Hearing the engaging stories of characters from the Bible ignites their curiosity and wonder. As children grow older, they spend increasing amounts of time with peers and less time with parents. This should motivate parents to take advantage of the unique opportunities and time they have with their children while they are young.

Ages 8-12: In the pre-teen years, children learn the most through the application of thoughts and ideas. In other words, “How does this work?” Therefore, focusing family devotion time on what a specific Bible story teaches us about life is helpful. Concrete examples and object lessons help anchor Biblical teachings and principles in their minds. For example, when reading the story of David and Goliath, go outside and measure against a tree how tall Goliath would have been. For the brave parent, try putting a sling together and let them learn how hard it is to throw a stone accurately.

Ages 13-18: Our older children are pondering the future and can benefit from teachings that show the relevance of Scripture to life today. Remember, children are moving toward independence and forming belief systems of their own during this time. When children are young, their parents’ beliefs largely govern their lives. However, as children grow into teens, the beliefs and values that govern their lives will shift from their parents’ beliefs to their own set of beliefs.

Most teachers like to test their students to see how they are doing. Allowing older children to occasionally lead a family devotion (this can be as simple as reading a short passage or story and asking a few questions) helps the parents see progress and development. Allowing them to do some leading and teaching will help them formulate their belief systems in an environment where the parents are still present and able to provide feedback and guidance. Just as Christ was preparing His disciples for the time when He would no longer be physically walking with them on this earth, parents’ roles with their teenage children is the same. Specifically, parents are training children for the times when they will not be present, such as when they talk with peers, drive from one place to another, or find themselves alone in a challenging situation. Children’s personal beliefs, not their parent’s beliefs, will determine how they respond to these situations.

Discipleship in Everyday Life: Along with taking into account the age and maturity of each child, discipleship is a lifestyle that permeates all avenues of life. Below are some ideas about discipleship in day-to-day interactions.

Prayer: Parents who express and demonstrate their belief in the power of prayer through the ups and downs of life are teaching their children valuable lessons. Children are taught that God is always a prayer away and that they can go to Him in times of difficulty or in times of thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). Parents are also teaching their children to seek help from the ultimate Source of power and authority. Through this, children can learn to share their burdens, and they can talk to their parents when they need advice or are in a tough situation. It is a wonderful blessing for children to hear their parents praying specifically for them.

Scripture Memory: Promoting and facilitating scripture memory for children to hide the Word in their heart (Psalm 119:11) is another powerful opportunity for children to grow as disciples. Parents should learn the verse right along with the children. Don’t give in to the misbelief that some people can’t memorize!

Reading the Bible: Remember that one of the goals of making a disciple is connecting the truths in Biblical stories to the relevance and application in everyday life (2 Timothy 3:16). Not only should children be taught to believe that the stories in the Bible are true, they should also be taught to develop the faith and trust that the same God who helped Noah is the same one who helps them. Having specific lessons or conversations with children about the characters of the Bible is a great way to teach about His ability and power.

Personal Testimonies: Parents have great opportunities to teach their children by taking the time to have conversations with them about how God has worked in the parents’ lives. Parents also get to help guide children’s eyes to see how God has helped or provided for the family. If parents are not purposely seeking these opportunities, they can quickly become overtaken by the cares of this life (Mark 4:19) and will sadly miss these teaching times.

Focused Attention: Making time to play with and listen to each child strengthens his ability to trust in the parent’s teaching. One-on-one time with a parent is very special to children. Being engaged with children and their lives gives a parent the credibility to speak truth into their lives.

Family Time: Group settings can be a great way for children to learn to love God and to do His will. By learning to grow and enjoy the rewards of family fellowship, they are much better prepared for the joy of worship in a church fellowship. While God has ordained and designed the family unit for good, it is the parent’s responsibility to build and nurture the family unit to experience God’s blessing. Start small and early! Build on the families’ experiences to establish a stable foundation of family discipleship. The supper table is one of the most powerful tools in this setting. Family vacations (short or long) are another valuable opportunity to build family time.

Adjust Your Expectations for Young Children: With very young children, a formal devotional time can often be hectic or chaotic. However, even a short Bible story and singing some Sunday School songs will help set important precedents in the home and teach the child about family values.

Show Interest in Each Other’s Lives: As the children get older, the supper table should be a place to “download the day” and share about the good, bad, funny, etc. in the day. Make sure everyone gets a chance to share.

Have Fun Together: Laughter can be a lubricant that keeps family members looking forward to time together.

Family Devotions: Having a regular time of family devotions is a powerful blessing to a family. Of course, the format for this will greatly depend on the needs, ages, and schedules of the family. That said, taking time to read, discern, pray, and reason together regarding the Word will do wonders for family relationships. For example, integrating wisdom from the Proverbs and other applications from the Word are good opportunities to strengthen and sharpen disciples through family devotions. Using characters from Bible stories, doing word studies, and identifying how current events may fit with prophecy are all devotion opportunities. Allowing children some input into what is talked about and who gets to help with the lesson can also build participation and maintain interest.

Family Prayer Time: Share together about needs for prayer and then take the time to pray together as a family for those specific needs. Writing prayer requests and praises down in a notebook can help the family see how God has answered prayers over time. Praying together creates trust and unity.

Serving Together: Serving together as a family is another great opportunity for disciple building. These could be projects in the church, neighborhood, World Relief, etc. Serving together models the teaching of being a “doer of the Word” (James 1:22) and focusing on the needs of others (Matthew 25:40).

How does this concept benefit children?

Discipleship helps fulfill the Great Commission to raise up disciples (Matthew 28:19). Grace and peace will be multiplied to those in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:2). A child growing up in a home where parents are modeling Christ’s example of grace and truth experience the blessings of security and stability. They can have the joy and peace of salvation in Christ as they learn to place their trust in Him. It promotes future stability for families, church, and society.

PERSONAL REFLECTION – How am I doing in this area?

To whom are you a disciple? Are your priorities consistent with the priorities of your Teacher?

The answers you gave to question #1 show where you are leading your children. Are you leading them where you want them to go? How does your current leadership style reflect biblical or secular values? Do your actions show the fruit of what your words say are your priorities?

What is one thing you can do to more effectively lead your children toward Christ?

As Deuteronomy 6:5-7 instructs us to teach the way of the Word to our children, what are some ways that your family can accomplish that?

Individually with each child:
As a family unit:

What are some roadblocks or barriers to fostering this “disciple-building” time with your children/family?

For Further Information:

Family Worship Podcast Episodes