My husband and I teach a class of 100 adults on Sunday mornings. Earlier this year we were walking through J.D. Greear’s book on the Holy Spirit, Jesus Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better Than Jesus Beside You, based on Jesus’ audacious statement in John 16 that it is for our good for him to leave this world so the Holy Spirit could come live inside of us.
Greear goes on to note that one of the first things the Holy Spirit does in our lives is illuminate the gospel. So, we asked our class, “What is the gospel?”
After an awkward, extended silence, one lone soul raised his hand and answered hesitatingly, “The good news?”
We were shocked.
The gospel of King Jesus is the starting point for all attempts to disciple our children. If we cannot articulate the gospel clearly to ourselves, any attempts to disciple our children will be significantly hindered.
Discipling Children: “The gospel of King Jesus is the starting point for all attempts to disciple our children.”
The more we understand the gospel ourselves, by the mediation of the Holy Spirit, the more effectively we can disciple our kids. For the gospel is the soil into which all the seeds of discipleship are planted. (For more on what the gospel is, check out Matthew Bates’s The Gospel Precisely.)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is that he is the saving king. And it’s because of the gospel that we are called out of the darkness of sin and into the light and life of Christ so we can proclaim the excellence and greatness of who he is (1 Peter 2:9). We do this through the power of the Spirit of God, who is greater than the enemy in the world, and lives in us (1 John 4:4). The gospel reveals that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that he has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). And those works, as parents, are to train our children to love what is true, good, and beautiful, showing them the way to trust and follow Jesus all the days of their lives.
In this series of articles, I will outline three phases of discipleship in our children.
- Plant the Seeds: Discipleship by Planting Seeds of Stability
- Provide for the Plant: Discipleship by Supportive Relationships & Training
- Protect the Future: Discipleship by Influence
Plant the Seeds: Kids aged 0-5
Go to any website that teaches novice gardeners how to grow grapevines and you will discover that this stage requires much attention to detail. In the early spring, you must choose your seeds and plant them in pots filled with good soil. You must make sure your seeds stay warm enough (inside the house or a greenhouse) and keep the soil moist but not too wet. Then you check for growth. For the healthiest plants, experts recommend keeping your seedlings indoors or in a greenhouse until they have reached a height of 12 inches, have a good network of roots, and have at least 5-6 leaves.
This is a great analogy for training preschoolers. My husband and I believe that there are three critical seeds to plant during this stage of development: tending your marriage, establishing your family identity, and training to obedience. Do these three things well, and you create stability in your home where love, purpose, and harmony abound.
Discipling Children: “There are three critical seeds to plant during this stage of development: tending your marriage, establishing your family identity, and training to obedience.”
Tending your marriage.
Children are a welcome addition to the family. Indeed, Solomon reminds us that they are a gift and a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). We have observed from our own experience and in the families we’ve taught for a couple of decades that the care of little people can become all-consuming. A little intentionality will go a long way in tending your marriage. We recommend two simple practices: the daily habit of talk time and the weekly habit of date nights.
Talk time is just a time for the two of you to reconnect for 15-20 minutes without interruption by your children.
In addition to talk time, we recommend a weekly date night. I know that it seems like a lifetime away, but the day is coming when your children will leave your home. Many divorces happen at the beginning of the empty nest season of life because the husband-wife relationship took a back seat to raising kids. Date nights are an effective (and fun!) way to guard against this devastation by staying connected. They were a boon for me as a stay-at-home mom. If I was having a hard day, I could look forward to our night out together. I knew a break was coming!
“If I was having a hard day, I could look forward to our night out together.”
Establishing a family identity
Looking back at the instructions on how to grow grape vines, choosing the grape seeds was one of the first steps. These seeds, planted in the soil of your heart and your children’s hearts, will grow into your family identity.
What will be the seeds for your family? Well, what passions has God placed on your heart? What do you want your family to be known for? All of Scripture is useful for teaching us and guiding our lives, but the unique strengths and personalities in a husband and wife will point them to things that are particularly important for their family.
Discipling Children: “What do you want your family to be known for?”
Do you love the virtues of encouragement (Rom. 15:5 and 1 Thess. 5:11), patience (Prov. 14:29 and 1 Cor. 13:4-5), or forgiveness (Matt. 6:12 and Eph. 4:32)? Which passages of Scripture do you love that concisely explain the gospel? Remember, the gospel is the soil into which all of the other virtues are planted.
Recording these Scriptures and placing them around your house will help them become a “cloud by day and fire by night” for your family (Ex. 13:21). They are the seeds that you are planting to grow your unique family identity.
As we move to discussing training in the elementary years in the next article, these family values are the hills you die on, so to speak. They will clarify what’s really important as you are training your children.
Training to Obedience
Why train to obedience during the first five years? Because obedience ultimately drives out conflict. Minimize conflict and you have more space to learn, celebrate, grow, and have FUN! God longed to bless his beloved people, Israel, but their continued disobedience and rebellion caused him to send them into exile. Instead of flourishing in the land of milk and honey and enjoying their God, Israel was in “time out” for 70 years. And our Lord told us that obedience shows our love for him (John 14:15).
A simple tool for planting the seeds of obedience is teaching your child to come when they are called. There are four elements to this that you can be working on from ages 1-5. Your child should come immediately, completely, without challenge, and without complaint.
Discipling Children: “Your child should come immediately, completely, without challenge, and without complaint.”
Sound like a dream? It’s actually doable when you take the long view and spend some time each day planting this seed and cultivating its growth.
This is simply coming when you’re called by mom or dad. A simple, “Yes mom!” or “I’m coming!” will suffice. We made this a game in our house. I would hide in another room and call for one of my children. When they heard their name called, they came running to me with a “Yes mom!” When they found me, they received an M&M. Practicing this a couple of times a day for 5-10 minutes worked wonders in developing this skill.
This means that your preschooler comes all the way to you instead of you yelling back-and-forth from room to room. Once they are in front of you, you have their full attention. You’re setting them up for success in responding to your request.
Coming without challenging you means that they come without making excuses or refusing to look you in the eye when they do come.
Coming without complaint is simply coming to you with a happy heart. Proverbs 17:22 tells us that a cheerful heart is good medicine. Give your children this remedy to many ills by requiring them to come to you cheerfully.
One caveat: Sometimes, giving your preschooler a 5-minute warning before calling them is a gracious way to prepare them to obey. If they’re in the middle of playing intently, let them know that time is coming to an end. Otherwise, an abrupt call can frustrate or exasperate them.
“Sometimes, giving your preschooler a 5-minute warning before calling them is a gracious way to prepare them to obey.”
Why take the trouble to train your kids to obedience month after month, year after year? It sets them up for success by the initial act of responding to your call. It’s teaching them to love obedience instead of rebellion. It creates submission and a teachable heart in your child so that they’re ready to receive instruction. They’re now right in front of you, ready to obey again because they already obeyed you once by coming when called.
Tending your marriage, establishing a family identity, and training to obedience are seeds that when planted and tended in the early years, will come sprouting from the soil of your child’s heart. (And yours!) This season requires attention to detail and tender care, so that you encourage instead of exasperate the precious people entrusted to you (Col. 3:21). They create stability in your home so that you can faithfully steward your family for their good and God’s glory.
In the next article, we’ll talk about “Providing for the Plant”: Discipleship by Supportive Relationships and Training.
From discipleship.org. Used with permission.