by Gyle Smith
To view the blog series of this post, click here.
If you’re anything like me, parenting feels like both the most rewarding and most intimidating task you’ve ever been given. I just can’t believe these are my kids?! But at some point it slowly dawned on me that I am responsible, at least in part, for what kind of people they turn out to be. Without the supernatural power and grace of God, that is a heavy burden. In fact, it’s too heavy to carry.
So, let me start this series by saying that nobody in the world has parenting, or discipleship of their kids, figured out. If they say they do, it’s because last week, or maybe just yesterday, went well. But today’s chaos is just around the corner. I’ve actually been discouraged at times by the well-laid plans other parents have for making their children world-changing followers of Jesus, only to realize later that their kids and life circumstances are nothing like mine, and that their plans were just that—ideas that perhaps hadn’t even been tested by the unpredictable, messy realities of daily life.
Pretty much every plan I’ve ever laid out (and I’ve devised several brilliant strategies) has been turned upside down or eventually completely ignored by my kids at some point. My intentions have always been really good. But life doesn’t seem to be intent on fulfilling my ideals. But here’s the good, and sometimes disappointing, news. God isn’t either. He is not committed to making sure I have earned an “A” in parenting or checked off all of my goals. God is committed to His plan for shaping my children into the image of Jesus.
So, if you get only one thing from these articles, may it be this: Follow Jesus with your whole heart, and entrust your kids to Him.
Chill out. He’s got them. That may sound glib, but please know that for me to chill out and entrust my kids to God’s development is probably the hardest thing I can think of. I SO want them to follow Jesus, to be world-changers, to become the full extent of everything that God wants them to be. But, in the end, that’s not up to me. I do have a role. But we cannot live our kids’ lives for them. God and they are in this thing with each other. Yes, I have a role. But even my desire for them to know God is simply a faint echo of what the Father’s heart aches for them. Carry that ache with Him in prayer and in your own faithful devotion to Jesus. He really will sort out the rest.
So let that be the backdrop, the flavor, the canvas in your heart for what I will say about the importance of the home in discipleship. In the end, this is our Father’s work. He just lets us tag along with Him in His joyful, and at times excruciatingly hard, work. Let’s take on the “yoke” of Jesus in this and, with Him, watch our kids become near Him and like Him.
What is a Christian and What Does a Christian Do?
“A Christian is a disciple who makes disciples.”
What is a Christian? And what does a Christian do? In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus answers this question in his final words to His closest friends, to whom He was entrusting the entire future of Christianity: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” A Christian is a disciple of Jesus. And a Christian makes other disciples of Jesus. A Christian is a disciple who makes disciples.
A disciple can be described as an apprentice, a student. A good student or apprentice takes on the characteristics of his or her teacher and lives out the instructions the teacher gives. Likewise, Jesus’ disciples take on, are “baptized into,” the identity, the characteristics of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And a disciple of Jesus lives out the life that Jesus taught, obeying “everything [Jesus] commanded” us.
The way we like to say this at Believers Church is that Jesus is our vision, and our goal is to be near Jesus and to become like Jesus. This is the heart of discipleship.
How Does Discipleship Happen?
“Discipleship…involves three ways of learning: classroom, apprenticeship, and immersion.”
Discipleship, according to Mike Breen, involves three ways of learning: classroom, apprenticeship, and immersion. The classroom mostly involves the passing on of content. And that content is important! We need to know what Jesus taught about himself, and what he has commanded us to do. But knowing that content is only one third of what being a disciple actually entails.
Apprenticeship involves watching and imitating. Jesus lived a certain kind of life, and expected his apprentices to do the same. The disciple of Jesus necessarily has to “watch” what Jesus did in the scriptures, and seek to live it out. But what makes the life of Jesus easier to watch, is to be around one or more of his disciples, in flesh and blood, and watch what they do. This means that there were those who imitated Jesus in the first century, and others who imitated them, and so on, up until the present. Jesus’ disciples live Jesus’ kind of life. And by their example of living, they apprentice other disciples. This is what Paul meant when he said things like, “do what you see me do” in Philippians 4:9. So, being a disciple of Jesus requires watching and imitating other disciples who are further along in living the Jesus life.
Immersion means being dropped into the culture of a place and learning as you go. Language immersion is when you go to the country and just figure it out as you go, while being in the middle of it. It’s like being thrown into the deep end of the pool so you can learn to swim. This way of being discipled is simply to be around other disciples and “catch” their way of living, to start to speak with the accent, to catch the spontaneous movements of living the Jesus life with others.
Discipleship at Its Strongest: The Home
“…in the home, all three strands of discipleship are always happening…”
The most powerful place that discipleship happens is the home. This is because in the home, all three strands of discipleship are always happening, and for the most part, happening unintentionally.
Immersion: Kids are immersed into a family where they have to learn a language. In fact, long before any of us learned what a noun or verb was, we learned how to speak English because we were immersed in it. Kids listen to their family members speak, experiment with words on their own, and then fail forward into fluency. And they do this with basically everything they need to know: Eating. Walking. Hygiene. Clothing. You name it. They learn it in their home.
Apprenticeship: We are all apprenticed by our parents, like it or not. For anyone who has kids, remember the first time you realized you were doing exactly what your parents did with you? We watch and imitate our parents constantly. It’s impossible not to do it.
Classroom: What we believe about most of the world is based on the content we had passed on to us when we were growing up, and which we then pass on to our kids.
Discipleship at Its Hardest: The Home
“The most important way we disciple our families is by being disciples.”
While the home is the strongest and most natural place for discipleship to occur, it is by far the most challenging place to do it well. Several reasons are at play:
The discipleship of our families just happens. We are apprenticing our spouses and kids into some kind of life. It happens every day whether you want it to or not. So, if you are not a disciple yourself, you will never be able to disciple others to become disciples. The most important way we disciple our families is by being disciples. This is wonderful news, because Jesus has made it completely possible to follow him—to be near Him and to become like Him—in your life. If you do nothing else, be a Christian, one who knows the content of who Jesus is and what He commands, who watches His life and imitates it, and who immerses himself or herself in the shared life of Jesus’ followers in order to become like them. Without being a disciple yourself, nothing you try at home will work. And it’s for this reason that it’s most difficult to make disciples at home.
Our families are keenly aware of any dissonance between the message (content) we proclaim and the shape of our daily lives (apprenticeship and immersion).
In addition, the home is also the place of discipleship that receives the least immediate gratification, at least for parents. As parents, our kids simply expect us to disciple them in all the many ways that it happens. Because it is expected, it is just “the norm.” Our kids rarely think to thank us for doing what we are already supposed to be doing, and they probably won’t until they are well past their twenties, if at all. That’s just the way it is. Not only that, but few people outside of our homes will notice or praise us for our efforts either. Home discipleship is not flashy; it forces us to practice the discipline of hiddenness.
Discipleship at Its Most Critical Point: The Home
“Paul explicitly describes Jesus’ plan for the church, for how His disciples will make disciples: Start in the home.”
Beyond Jesus, the apostle Paul is arguably the most important figure in history for the establishment of the Church. Another way of saying this would be that Paul may be the most effective disciple who made disciples. His example is critical for us to understand how to be disciples of Jesus. Paul encountered Jesus in dramatic fashion, and from Jesus received his job description (Acts 9:15-16). Later in his life, Paul described the job description Jesus gave him:
“Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” Ephesians 3:8-9 NIV
Paul was to preach the gospel and to explain the “administration” of the gospel. The word “administration” in the original language is oikonomia, which was the term that described management of a household in the ancient world, the oikos. Paul says that Jesus showed him how to properly care for the gathering of the disciples of Jesus, and how to make more disciples. And that strategy was like the management of a household.
Paul unpacks this idea further in his later letters when he describes the church as the “household” (oikos) of God (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul insists that the leaders of the church must be people who know how to manage their own households well (1 Timothy 3:4-5). And so whenever Paul talks about how the church, the gathering of disciples who make disciples, should conduct themselves, where he starts is with a description of the home.
For example, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, in the first three chapters of his letter he explains the gospel; i.e. what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Then, in chapter four he begins to describe the church, the gathering of disciples. And as he gets down to the practical matters of how the church is meant to live, he describes the home in detail: Husbands love your wives. Wives respond respectfully to your husbands. Children honor your parents. And then Paul says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4). Here Paul explicitly describes Jesus’ plan for the church, for how His disciples will make disciples: Start in the home.
Where to Start: Your Home
“The truth is, we are discipling our kids right now, either intentionally or unintentionally. So, let’s try and do this on purpose.”
Parents, we love to have a children’s ministry on Sunday mornings. It is our privilege to be with your kids and hopefully pass on the content of who Jesus is and what He commanded, to give them a chance to watch and imitate a disciple or two, and to be immersed in the culture of what a group of disciples act like with each other. But the basic, irrefutable truth is that we only have the chance to do that for two hours per week. The remaining 166 hours per week are spent with you, the parent. There is simply no way that we could possibly disciple your children in any adequate way. But the great news for all of us is that we weren’t meant to. You are the true disciple maker. You are the one who is already passing on content, apprenticing your kids, and immersing them in your culture. We exist merely to reinforce what is already going on in your home.
Often as parents we find ourselves intimidated by the challenge of discipling our kids (and especially our spouses). But, be encouraged. God has made you for this moment, and for this task. And please remember that discipleship is not a flashy content-delivery program. Rather, it is a natural process of living a life in front of and with our kids that they will imitate, for good or for ill. The truth is, we are discipling our kids right now, either intentionally or unintentionally. So, let’s try and do this on purpose. It is God’s plan for us, so we can be confident that the infinite, living God, and all of heaven, is on our side.
So what are we encouraging you to do?
- Follow Jesus. Only a disciple can make disciples.
- Do your best to live a life that is worth imitating. This is really hard. But the great thing about following Jesus is that failure is the prerequisite for discipleship in an economy of mercy and grace. So we get to fail, and then keep on imitating him.
- Immerse yourself in the community of disciples, and bring your kids along. This immersion is critical.
Remember: You were made for this moment. Our goal with this series is simply to encourage you and equip you for the task at hand. You are not alone.