In Top Tip for Raising a Mature, Godly Child, I promised to share tips for how to disciple your child. A well discipled child has a much better chance of making more mature, godly choices. As we saw when Jesus discipled his Apostles, there were some mis-steps along the way. One (Judas) even decided to reject everything Jesus had tried to teach him.
There are no guarantees following these tips will make your children perfect or even that they will consistently make godly, mature decisions. Some mis-steps are likely, in part because of their lack of life experience. That is part of the discipling process – teaching, demonstrating and then giving opportunities for guided practice. Guided practice gives your kids a safe place to make those mistakes. A place where a Christian adult is standing by to mentor or offer help when needed. Practice that allows for feedback and correction.
Parents who don’t disciple their kids often find their children are involved in real life scenarios without that extra godly support. Suddenly, these young people are with peers and attempting to make potentially life-changing if not eternity changing decisions without having been prepared. Honestly, it’s surprising more kids and teens don’t end up in over their heads, making poor choices.
So how do you disciple your kids? There are a lot of things you can do, but if you follow the model Jesus set with his Apostles, you will be making a good start.
- Make sure your kids know God and what He wants from them. Jesus immersed the Apostles in scripture. He quoted verses from our Old Testament. He told them godly principles. He pointed out examples in real life of what God expected from His people. Your kids need to be immersed in scripture too. Taking them to Sunday School even once or twice a week is not enough. They will leave knowing only a fraction of what God has to say, and probably won’t know much of what they do know very well. Your children cannot be expected to keep commands and principles they don’t even know exist.
- Make sure they understand what those principles look like when lived out in real life and the possible consequences for disobeying God. Jesus spent a lot of time telling parables. He wanted the Apostles to thoroughly understand what God meant when He asked for certain behaviors from them. The parables often illustrated the rewards for obeying God and the consequences for disobeying Him. When the parable still confused them, Jesus took more time and walked them through it to make sure they knew what God wanted from them. You need to do the same with your children. Take lying for example. If you merely tell your children “Don’t lie”, they may still tell half truths or omitted truths and believe they are obeying God. They may think you don’t understand the benefits of lying. If they know someone who has lied and somehow escaped a visible consequence, they may think you are out of touch with the “real” world. It’s important to thoroughly explain the behavior God wants from your children. It is also important for them to understand that although earthly consequences for disobedience are not guaranteed, they are very likely.
- Make sure your kids see you living out godly principles consistently. Jesus of course set the perfect example for his disciples. No parent is perfect, but your children should see you live out your faith consistently. Telling them to not lie and then turning around and telling lies yourself will undermine any good you may have done. When you do sin, don’t try to hide it from your children. In age appropriate ways, explain the process for repentance – asking forgiveness, making restitution when possible and asking God to help you avoid the temptation in the future. Not only should you set an example for obeying God’s commands, but also your children should see you reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, serving others and sharing your faith. The New Testament is as much about the good things Christians should be doing with their lives as it is about the bad things we should avoid.
- Make sure your kids have lots of opportunities for guided practice. Jesus gave his disciples opportunities to practice what he was teaching them. He even sent them out on a “mission trip” to practice. Helicopter parenting is not in the best interest of your child. Neither is laissez faire parenting. Your children need a balanced approach. Set guidelines, but give them lots of opportunities to make their own choices. If a choice is poor or questionable, ask questions instead of immediately pouncing in and demanding the correct choice. Questions will help guide your child towards making a better choice. Often poor choices are from a lack of life experience, not rebellion. They may not know wearing that dress in the rain will ruin it. If your child insists on resisting your guidance, consider the possible consequences for letting your child make that poor choice. Sometimes, it is smarter to let your child get an “F” on a test in first grade, than to micromanage his studying – only to have it backfire in college when he has total freedom to make his own choices. (Of course, you should never allow your child to put himself in real physical or spiritual danger.)
- Make sure you are prepared to spend a lot of time discipling your kids. As far as we can tell, Jesus spent every day for at least three years discipling the Apostles. Pretty much every waking hour of every day he spent teaching them, guiding them and giving them practice. If you want the best chance at positive results from discipling your kids, you can’t phone it in or farm it out. You have got to be willing to put in a lot of time and effort. Trust me, I have seen the time, effort, money and heartbreak undiscipled teens and adults can cost their parents. I am sure if those heartbroken parents were asked, they wish they had put a little more time and effort into parenting on the front end in hopes of avoiding the pain and heartbreak they are feeling because of their child’s poor choices.
- Remember this is a mentoring type relationship, not a dictatorship. Jesus could have forbidden Judas to betray him or sent Peter away, so he wouldn’t be at the trial of Jesus to deny him. Yet Jesus chose to guide them, teach them, mentor them and ultimately allowed them to make their own choices. He knew their hearts would reveal the type of men they were and would become after he returned to Heaven. If you force your children to be Christian instead of mentoring and guiding them towards it, you could have a mutiny on your hands at some point. Rules without relationship usually lead to rebellion. Every step in this discipling process should be given with as much love as you can give. There will be many times you will need to be firm with your children – a benevolent dictatorship if you will, but running throughout should be your strong, loving relationship with your child. Ultimately, that was what changed Peter and the others – the love they knew Jesus had for them.
Remember, even Jesus had issues from time to time with his Apostles. He spent every day for at least three years totally focused on discipling them. With the exception of Judas, the others went on to live lives that weren’t perfect, but were godly and productive lives in God’s Kingdom. Your children won’t be perfect either, but if you disciple them well, you may find you have raised mature, godly people.