You and Your Kid in Family Discipleship

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One of the harshest realities of Christian parenting is accepting that we cannot make our children become followers of Jesus. We can and should influence godly disciplines, but Christianity requires a heart change, a change in affections. According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and empowers people to glorify Christ (John 16). The Holy Spirit brings about eternal significance and salvation through repentance and faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11, Eph. 2:8). In fact, we harm our children by attempting to change their hearts through behavior modification. Why? Behavior teaches our children to deal with sin through pride or fear.

Behavioral modification is the opposite of the gospel!

So we must display and declare the gospel in every area of our lives, not just the overtly, easy ‘churchy’ environments.

In “Seeing and Savoring Jesus in Family Discipleship”, we looked at the first part of family discipleship which begins with you and Jesus. The second part of family discipleship is between you and your children.

There are six things to consider when it comes to your relationship with your children.

1.      You must expect them to sin, a lot, for the rest of their lives.

2.     You must be selfless.

3.     You must ask others for help.

4.     You must disciple/train your children throughout the day.

5.     You must be ready to shepherd their hearts.

6.    You must expect to disciple your children for the long haul.

Let's go through each one very briefly.

 

1.      You must expect them to sin, a lot, for the rest of their lives.

As parents, we expect “good kids.” But there are not “good children” and “bad children”. There are children with easier temperaments who need Jesus, and there are children with harder temperaments who need Jesus. We should not expect any of our children to love and follow God without first understanding who he is, the joy that is in him, their need for him because their sin. We do our children a disservice when we treat them like saints who should not sin. Much of our discipline and correction stem from false dreams of our child being the one who will change the world (or at least your future) instead of realizing that the real World Changer has already come into the world over two thousand years ago. When we portray the “Jesus complex” unto our children we expect too much from sinners (like us). This causes our children either to hide their sin due to fear (they get really good at this) or to become superior in their morality and demand others do the same (which incites pride). When we ignorantly teach them that their sin is a bother to God and to us, we miss an opportunity to teach them the real reason that Jesus has come. 

My son Judah knows Ephesians 6:1 very well. It states, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” When Judah disobeys in a variety of ways, my first goal is to let him know that I knew it would happen. I say, “Judah I know you can’t be obedient all the time. I can’t be obedient all the time. That is why Jesus has come.” I want him to know that he does not have to lie, not because telling the truth is “the right thing to do if you are a good boy” (which incites pride) or that lying will get him into trouble (which incites fear), but that he can tell the truth because he will be my son no matter what he says (which incites love and grace). If our first response is, “how dare they do this frustrating thing”, we have placed a burden on our children that they cannot bear (Acts 15). If you are demanding the impossible from your children they miss out on true forgiveness and grace found in Christ through our discipleship of them. Real forgiveness through grace from us as parents is something they must experience. If we want “good children” they miss out on Jesus, for Jesus says, “no one is good except God alone (Mark 10:18).” You do not need good children you need redeemed children.

2.     You must be selfless.

Christians are called to run the race set before us, throwing off every sin and hindrance that would so easily entangle us from the goal of enjoying God. Marriage is also a step of voluntarily putting down selfish hindrances in order to devote oneself to another (1 Cor. 7:32-35). In marriage there are also opportunities to sacrifice one’s own desires, even godly ones, to devote to our children. God uses marriage and children to sanctify us. Being selfish is hard to see from one’s own perspective but in a community it is visible. When we live for ourselves but have a family, it is obvious. Selfishness looks like you ordering your children and spouse around to fit you and your lifestyle.  When you’re tired, everybody should be quiet. When you are busy everybody should go to the other room, when you want to relax everybody should play somewhere else. When you want to play everybody should stop what they are doing to play with you. But God has changed our purpose from glorifying ourselves to glorifying him. In Christ, we let go of our plans to follow his. At least that is what we meant when Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mark 1:17)” and “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25-25). Without Christ, denying oneself is an impossible task. You must surrender to Christ before you lead your children. Only in Christ will we as parents be ready for whatever the day in the home will be like. You must be willing to stop looking at the magazines and Pinterest to live in the world the Lord has given you to steward (Eccl. 3:22).  God has not given you a raw deal. He has allowed you to surrender to him as you co-labor with Christ in parenting those He loves.

3.     You must ask others for help.

We must ask others for help. Oh how we have believed the lie that the Christian community is to be compartmentalized and only exist within the confines of two hours on a Sunday. We need each other. Parenting is hard, but in a gospel community there is a lot of listening, help, encouragement, prayer confession, and fellowship. Allow your children to grow up around a community of gospel-centered people in day to day life. Your children need gospel-centered people in their lives more than they need to watch Veggie Tales. Who will your child go to when times get hard, and they are still unsure of how you as a parent will respond to their sin? If there is a gospel community, you set your children up to go to people who love Christ and you.

4.     You must disciple/train your children throughout the day.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 shapes the times we as parents should disciple our children, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” According to Scripture we are to be teaching our children about God, his love for his glory, his love for his creation, his redemptive work and our joy in him for all he has done. Sometimes I let my kids be rambunctious while other times I have to stop and remind them how important it is to know that God is in our midst. This is the reason we read, sing, and pray — to put us in the path to see the greatest and glory of God! I love these family devotional times but these cannot be the only times. Why? Because our children learn where our affections are from our day-to-day worries, attitudes, and actions. Our children need to be devoted to our scheduled family worship times but we, as parents need to be devoted to worship our good and holy father all the time. The more times throughout the day I can remind myself, my wife, and my children who God is, what he has done, who are we in Him the more opportunities we put ourselves and our family in the pathway of God’s grace.

5.     You must be ready to shepherd their hearts.

We tend to believe that kids who can clean their room and do their homework can understand more complex life decisions. This goes back to our selfishness. Listening, teaching, celebrating, and praying will take a huge toll on us as parents. Shepherding a heart means lovingly guiding our children to godliness and wisdom. Think of godliness as the clear standards of Scripture and wisdom for when and how to apply those standards in specific situations. If we just talk in terms of do’s or don’ts without discussing their hearts we can completely miss teaching kids what wisdom is. Our children will grow into adults (LORD willing) and if they do, following rules will be up to their discretion. You have to spend the time showing them the beauty and glory it is to be saved by God and to enjoy him through the commands he has given. Do you ever get tired of children asking why daddy/momma? Cherish those moments and use them to talk about the goodness that God has given to us in following him. Whatever you do don’t just tell them right and wrong, shepherd their heart! Get to your children before the world does. Tell them of God, creation, fall, and the good news of forgiveness and a new identity we have in Christ’s work on the cross and in the resurrection. Tell them of heaven and what it will be like so that they too can see how things ought to be!

As you are proactive about wisdom there will be times when wisdom is needed in the moment. Judah is about to be 7. Throughout the past two years, he has made some negative comments about people and himself that have caught me off guard. Many times he will tell me his thought and will ask me how he can replace the thought with something about Jesus. Honestly, my first reaction is to find out who he’s been talking to! Though we should be careful concerning who our children’s mind and hearts are spending time with, I know that Judah’s heart was not pure from the beginning. He is growing into a broken world, and he too is broken himself because he inherited a sin debt from our first parents, Adam and Eve. In order to answer his question I need to shepherd his heart then just make the correction. This means I must listen to him and ask good questions. I will ask him what he thinks about what he said and why he wants to replace it. Where is his heart (heart=affections) right now? As Judah grows he is going to need an ear for all the crazy, evil, and adventurous thoughts he will have. Yes, we want him to know and believe the truth. But first, he must know I care about what he truly believes in this moment about how he sees and interacts with God and the world, and be able to express it freely.

6.     You must expect to disciple your children for the long haul.

You must expect to disciple your children for the long haul. At a certain point when children understand the do and don’ts, we take that as a signal to slack off of our training/coaching and begin to primarily be a corrective voice. But that is the point they need your life to reflect and shine Jesus. This is the point they need to see you fail and repent. As your children get older you lose more authority in their lives. But what can continue to grow from childhood to adulthood is your influence in their lives. They need to see you taking seriously the call to love them unconditionally and be in a Christian community. You won’t get much by them at this point. All correction will need evidence. Your children need you to show them Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, not in your perfection but in your open repentance.

A reminder that our identity is in Jesus alone

Why do you discipline your children? When I ask others or myself this question, I see a common thread: I don’t want to be noticed as a bad parent or to be embarrassed my children’s behavior. If good behavior in private or public is your goal as a parent, then your kids will always disappoint, and you will let them know it. You will use pride or fear to get them to stop doing that or to start doing this. And when your kids ask for a reason why, your response will be vague or without much weight. Eventually, they will stop asking why and just do it, at least when you’re around them. They will struggle to find their identity because their parents never allowed them to have one. Our children need to be free to deal with their hurt, pain, sin, and failure with someone they can trust. You do not have to be the “best parent.” God the Father is the best parent. Repent from your need to be perfect, have the perfect home, or have perfect children. None of those things are possible nor will they bring you happiness. Only the forgiveness of sin (including the sin of believing we can be perfect without Christ) by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross will set us free from chasing after such a burden. We should play, work and disciple our children because we love them, because we have been loved by our Father. If your children do not remember one verse from some summer church camp, they will be more blessed by the fact that they know their parents really loved them because they showed them an unshakable gospel.