In high school and college, I participated in discipleship groups. These groups met each week to talk about our struggles and what the Lord was teaching us. I grew in my relationship with the Lord because of these wonderful opportunities to learn and grow in my faith. But as I became a mom and began to consider what it looks like to disciple my children, the discipleship model I was used to did not seem to fit. My children would not even sit still! With the Lord’s help, I have reconsidered what discipling my kids means and how it changes as they grow and mature. Now that my kids are nine through fourteen years old, discipleship looks very different from my early expectations. But the three main components of instructing, coming alongside, and getting at the heart have remained consistent.

Instruction (Teaching and Training)

No one has earlier or more frequent opportunities to teach our children than we do as parents. Scripture teaches us that we are to tell the truths of the Lord to our children and to tell the next generation, “…about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders” (Psalm 78:3-4). We know from Deuteronomy that this instruction occurs as we go about our daily lives—as part of our routine (Deut. 6:7). As believing parents, we take our kids to church week in and week out so they can hear the word of God preached and sung. We talk about the sermon and answer questions they may have. We endeavor to have times of worship around the dinner table where we talk about God’s truth and how it applies to our life and world. Then we remind our kids of these truths as situations arise. Last week, our youngest son struggled at bedtime with a fear of dying (a struggle that I had often when I was young). His dad and I reminded him about the truths of God’s word—that God made him, knows the number of hairs on his head, and loves him. We taught him to cry out to the Lord in his fear and sing songs to the Lord. We were able to encourage him to remember the truth he has learned.

Coming Alongside

Yesterday, our whole family was outside together, catching up on much-needed yardwork. We labored hard to pull weeds out of our gravel driveway. As I worked beside our children, the sun baked and my back hurt. When my children complained, I could empathize with them because I experienced the same work and the same discomfort. I thought about this as it relates to discipling our children. We are not only our children’s mother and father; we are their brother and sister as well. We are leading our children to grow even as we are still growing. Just because we are now parents does not mean we have all the answers. We are fellow sinners on the road to sanctification alongside our children. We live in close quarters with them, and they see when we are hypocrites—all those times when what we say and do don’t match up. This gives us opportunities to repent to the Lord and apologize to our kids. We bear with our children as fellow sinners and don’t exasperate them by blowing up at them when they mess up. We are transparent with them in age-appropriate ways about our struggles with sin and how the Lord is working in our own hearts. We point them to Christ and encourage them to run to him as their only hope.

Getting to the Heart

Part of our instruction and modeling for our children includes how to live a life pleasing to the Lord. When my children were younger, I just wanted them to follow the rules. I read books about how to discipline them when they disobeyed. While discipline is part of discipleship, discipleship also includes so much more. Discipleship is not focused on outward behavior— where everything will be good if my kids only act a certain way or comply with my instructions. Rather, it focuses on the heart. After all, If I am only correcting their outward actions, when they are away from me, they will not comply. We don’t want to substitute morality for the beauty of the gospel. Instead, discipleship involves knowing our kids’ hearts and applying the gospel at a deep level. It takes so much more time and effort to get to the heart issue behind our children’s sin. I can get my kids to comply with my behavioral demands by giving them consequences and completely neglect addressing what is going on in their heart that is causing them to sin. Digging deeper and helping them identify what is going on in their hearts, such as unbelief or idolatry, helps us better apply the gospel to their lives.

Our most important discipleship group lives in our home. This discipleship can be messy and is not a one-size-fits-all process. Discipleship involves intentional interactions in big moments of conflict and in a thousand smaller, ordinary moments. As we live together in community, we teach and expose our kids to the truths of God’s word. Our kids see our lives up close—not as a model of how to do everything right—but they see us run to the Lord in our failures and bear with them as they struggle. We also become students of our kids, helping them to get to the heart of their struggles, and praying that the Lord will encourage their hearts more and more to seek after him.

Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

Shea Patrick

Shea Patrick is a former Alabama lawyer, now SAHM living in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She and her pastor-hubby have four children, including two adopted from foster care. She serves as the Regional Advisor for the Mid-Atlantic Region. Shea loves live music, reading, and watching reruns of the Golden Girls and Designing Women. She loves her church, Trinity Presbyterian, and serves with the kids, music, missions, and women’s ministry.