If you’ve read any posts on this blog, you know that I’m a big advocate of talking to with your children—even the young ones (though the reasons are different when they are younger). Talk about anything and everything. And listen, listen, listen.
There are a couple of topics, however, about which we parents find it difficult to talk and the kids find it . . . awkward to listen. Procreation is a big one. Drug use is another topic with which parents struggle (sometimes because it means revealing their own histories). Turns out, some parents also find it difficult to have authentic conversations about spiritual things. So I thought it would be helpful to lay out some thoughts on discipling our children. That’s why I choose this title. Were they to speak with the wisdom of the ages, our children would say, “Wait, wait, Mom/Dad. Don’t just tell me how to follow God. Don’t just deliver a carefully-prepared lecture or a cleverly-constructed argument. Work through all this with me!” Because really, it’s about discipleship, not about unloading information. You can’t have one God Talk and consider that topic covered. (You shouldn’t have just one Sex Talk or one Drugs Talk either, by the way.) Similarly, your kids don’t know what questions to ask about sex or drugs—at least we hope they don’t—so those ‘talks’ necessitate lots of information transfer. But if you are taking them to church, maybe having family devotions, maybe praying over them, at least saying a blessing before you eat, then they already know enough to ask and/or answer questions about faith.
So. Here are four thoughts/consideration/points on “Discipleship Begins at Home” (which was almost the title of this post, but it’s not nearly as good!)
1. Elbow out spaces of intimacy with your children.
Sometimes you have to subtly fight for this. Where can you grasp two minutes to speak Truth into your child’s life? It might be in the car. Turn off the radio and ask him or her to stop playing the game or reading the book. It might be just before bed, and it’s partially a delaying technique, but it if you get a good talk, who cares? It might be over the table at a meal time. If you have already found a fantastic, regularly-occurring time to talk intimately with your child(ren), please share it in the comments.
This is an intentional thing, but the less formal you make it, the better. Saying “Son, we need to have a talk” just sets you up for awkwardness and silence. If this priority means you have to lay aside a personal project or rearrange your schedule a bit, it’s worth it! See #3 and #4 for how to actually start talking when you get a little space.
2. Make spiritual things a part of your regular conversations—whether the kids participate or not.
This is important. It creates an environment in which spiritual life is an acceptable topic of conversation or discussion. This was Moses’ point in Deuteronomy 6:6-7. He said, These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. First, you talk about what is on your own heart or mind. Second, you talk as you go about the normal routines of life. From the time they are very young, your children understand conversations you have with your spouse. Make a point of casually talking about your spiritual walk in front of them even when they aren’t actively involved in the conversation. And don’t shy away from the things you struggle with (when appropriate).
- Were you really challenged by something the pastor said? Talk about it. You probably won’t get any resolution, but that’s okay.
- Are you working to understand a particular passage of Scripture? You’re certainly not the first.
- Do you know how to get answers? Model that as well.
- Did God bless you today? He’ll get even more glory when you celebrate the story with your family.
- What are you praying for? Let your children see you learning to wait on the Lord and dealing with answers that weren’t exactly what you expected. Let them always see you trusting God . . . or maybe working to trust Him more fully.
3. No lectures.
Don’t just tell your kids about God or Jesus. Don’t tell them what is right and what is wrong. (I’m talking about double-digit-aged kids here. Little kids need clear guidance on right and wrong.) Engage them in Christ-centered conversations that are peppered with prayer. When Joey gets brave enough to talk about the girl at school who sits beside him and cusses, pray with Joey for that girl before you ever give any advice. Then ask Joey what he thinks Jesus wants him to do. He may have no clue—especially the first time your conversation goes this way. When you affirm his desire to honor Christ, however, he becomes more willing to hear from you. Let him know that you trust the power of God in him. Then, make a few reasonable suggestions that reflect that power. Continue to pray for him, and follow up in the next few days with encouraging questions and further support.
4. Ask random questions.
Start on Sunday. Ask each child what they talked about in their Sunday school (or whatever you call it) classes. If this gets you nothing but blank stares, give an advance warning for the next week: “Hey guys, pay attention in class today because I’m going to ask you about it later.” That’s not hard or high-pressured, so don’t turn it into a fact-finding mission. Your goal is conversing, not receiving a report. Whatever your child says about that day’s topic, respond thoughtfully, perhaps from something in your own study or life. You may have to say, “Hmm. That’s interesting. How did you get that conclusion from that topic?” But keep your tone friendly. He or she may have a valid point that just takes a little explanation. Just don’t attack or ridicule–no matter what!
You could also bring up a point from the pastor’s talk and ask what they think. Don’t pick the most guilt-ridden point as if you are trying to point fingers at the problems in their lives. Pick something that really made you think. Then, if they don’t have any comments, you can at least share your own thoughts. If your child is in youth group, I’m sure the youth leader would LOVE to text or e-mail you with the week’s topic; then you could ask more specific questions. For example, “I heard that Steve talked about not lying in youth worship. What did you think? Did he say anything particularly good?”
Ask about books they are reading or movies they’ve watched. Ask about their quiet times, about the spiritual state of their friends, about what’s on their minds. Form your questions so that the possible answers do not include ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It’s not, “Did you do your quiet time?” but rather “What did you read in your quiet time? What do you think about that? Do you see a way to apply it in your life today?” It will probably be awkward at first, but if you refrain from judging their answers, they will feel more comfortable about sharing more and more later. They might even begin to look forward to it.
You have the right and the responsibility to hold your children accountable. You can’t force them into spiritual growth, but you can create a healthy environment in which it happens.
5. Here’s a free one: Pray Scripture over your children. Out loud. In front of them. When they are awake. (I like to lay hands on my kids and pray for them while they sleep, but that’s not discipleship.) Let them hear you claim the promises of Christ in their lives. It will give them the confidence to claim His promises for themselves. You don’t have to memorize it; have your Bible open in front of you. One of my favorites is Ephesians 1:17-20 (or 23) NIV.
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you [my child] the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms . . .
Someone might say, “But my child isn’t a Believer yet.” So? That doesn’t change anything I’ve written here. In fact, an increased openness to spiritual conversations in your home may help your child feel the freedom to talk/ask about following Christ specifically.
When you live like this, you are modeling the Christ-life in a way that lets your children know that it’s okay to be on-the-way, with no expectations of having already arrived. And just so you know, we haven’t actually accomplished all this in our home. We’re on-the-way too.
*This is the title of a hilarious quiz show on NPR. It’s my favorite way to get news!