How to Imperfectly Disciple Your Kids, Part 1: Definitions

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Jesus gave his followers one mission: make disciples. As a parent, the most important people for me to disciple are the little people who live under my roof, my kids. I don’t want to screw this up. I’m with you, wanting to figure out now, before I make too many more mistakes, how to do the best, imperfect job I can at discipling my kids.

As I talk with other parents I’ve found that many parents are intimidated and overwhelmed with the responsibility of discipling their kids. My current theory is that most of this intimidation stems from lack of clarity on what the imperative “make disciples” means, and therefore over-complicating this parental responsibility. I want to help you better understand this exciting summons from Jesus and encourage you to make some forward progress. Originally this article was going to be titled “1 Effective Way to Disciple Your Kids.” I intended to write one brief post explaining one thing I’m doing right now to disciple my kids that is bearing great fruit and that I super look forward to each day. I’ll write that article soon, but I realized I first need to lay some foundation. *Note: much of what I write about discipleship in this series is transferable to non-parents, to people wanting help with all types of discipleship relationships.

After his resurrection, Jesus commanded his small group of followers to (we’re speaking Greek now, Matthew 28:19) “matheteusate” (make disciples of) all people groups. Moving now from the verb to the noun, mathetes (disciple) means “a learner, an apprentice, a student, a follower.” So, to disciple your kids means to shape them as learners, to guide them towards becoming life-long learners/lovers of Jesus—step-takers towards Jesus. Your responsibility isn’t to “do it all” or “master all things Christianity and teach it all to your kids,” or “to disciple perfectly,” but to foster an environment of learning where fresh steps towards Jesus can be taken.

The definition of discipleship that guides my work as a pastor and parent is “Transferring truth & love through relationship.” I get this definition from observing Jesus, who throughout the pages of the Gospels is seen shaping people through relationships, transferring both truth & love to diverse people in a relational context. Jesus’ method of disciple-making isn’t professorial/classroom, but relational/real life. The second person of the Trinity transferred truth & love to people he cared about through conversation, small group dialogue, one-on-one meetings, long walks together, time around the dinner table, boat trips, touch, real life observations (see that sower on the hillside and his seeds, God’s Kingdom works like that…), walking through challenges/tests together (getting caught in a storm at sea or being in a desert place with no food to eat), a rhythm of presence and absence, etc.

So, to disciple your kids you don’t teach them a class or search for a silver-bullet curriculum. The curriculum, the silver bullet, is relationship. Our kids need parents with a biblical, all-of-life encompassing, relational grasp of the mission Jesus gave us as parents: make disciples. My aim and joy as a dad is to develop a close, life-long relationship with each of my three sons where I transfer truth & love to them for decades and decades as we travel real, messy life together (I’ll write on this later in this series: close relationship and time horizon for disciple-making).

Our journey together through this series of articles starts with definitions. What is your definition of discipleship? Do you maybe have a faulty definition that’s explicitly or implicitly driving your parenting? Perhaps you have a sub-biblical, perfectionistic, non-relational, Jesus-less, do-it-myself definition of discipleship? Consider drafting your own biblical, all-of-life encompassing, relational definition of discipleship, or adopt the definition that I’ve found so helpful: “Transferring truth & love through relationship.” You can do this. You can do this right now. Be in relationship with your kids today. Transfer one piece of truth & love into their little hearts today. Further awaken their apprenticeship to Jesus, stimulate their curiosity, take a fresh step towards Jesus together.

You’re not alone, Jesus is right there with you. Jesus promised, “Behold, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). When I say “Transferring truth & love through relationship,” the most important person in this relational mission isn’t you, it’s Jesus. Jesus cares more about your kids than you do, he’s with you, he’s at work. He’s perfect, so you can be imperfect and relate to you kids as a fellow imperfect disciple who’s also learning to trust, follow, and enjoy the Perfect One.

May you experience His presence today,

Justin

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