Jesus gave his church one mission: make disciples. As a church planter I’m consumed all day with the work of disciple making, but the most important disciple making in my life happens with my three sons. The mission Jesus gave the church is the same mission we have as parents: make disciples.
In our church and in our home we define discipleship as “truth and love transferred through relationship.” Because parenting is just plain crazy and exhausting, and because every parent I know is very busy, I thought it would be helpful to share 10 tips for discipling your kids.
1. Bring A Kid Along for Errands
With three sons under the age of six our house smells like testosterone and is one non-stop wrestling match. With the constant chaos, it can be difficult to get the important one-on-one time we want to have with our boys. One way we solve this in our family is to bring one kid along when running errands. Whether it’s my wife or me running the errand, we turn that errand-running time into a discipleship moment–a time to better know, love, and train one of our kids. A trip to the pharmacy can turn into an important conversation about life, sickness, death, and the sovereignty of God.
2. Eat Dinner Together
We eat dinner together at 6pm five nights a week. Our kids are still so young and wild that these dinners haven’t yet turned into how we envision them several years from now: a long, festive, deep time of connecting around the table. But, even 10 chaotic minutes around the dinner table have become for us an important time for my sons to learn how to articulate a story from their day, to ask us questions about things they’re learning, and for us to love them and teach them something new.
3. Learn What’s Unique About Each of Your Kids and Capitalize on it
Every kid is different, a unique creation from God. So, we shouldn’t parent/disciple generically, but specifically. Your job isn’t to raise/disciple a generic kid. Your job is to raise/disciple each of the uniquely wired children God has given you. My three sons are all 100% boy and 100% crazy all the time, but they are each so unique and different from each other. While the general tenor of our parenting looks the same for all of our sons, we treat and train each boy a bit differently given their unique temperaments, personalities, strengths, and struggles. Regularly ask yourself this question about each of your kids: “What’s the key to understanding _____ and what makes him/her tick?” The more you explore that question the more you discover the most effective ways to love and train your kids.
4. Pray for God to Save Your Kids/Lead Your Kids to Christ
While each of our boys were in the womb my wife and I began praying for their salvation. Such prayers are never far from our lips. And conversations about the human heart, the glory of God, the need for rescue from Jesus, heaven and hell, etc. have always been normal and frequent conversations in our home. I have had the privilege of leading my two older boys to Christ. As we disciple them, we pray that as their younger brother reaches an age where he can understand these things that he to will experience the miracle of placing his faith in Jesus. I greatest gift I received as a kid was my mom leading me to Jesus. Don’t farm this out to others. Your child certainly may come to faith in a different way, but praying for this and aiming for this ought to be at the core of our heartbeat as parents.
5. Exercise With Your Kids
Look at the waistlines of many parents and you see that the one of the things parents often forgo amid the busy parenting years is exercise. I’ve found that exercise is not only critical for physical health, but also for mental and emotional health (sanity!). I’m a much better (happier and more patient) parent with exercise. To fit in exercise in the day/disciple our kids at the same time we’ve done several things. Sometimes I bring my boys with me to the local high school where they run with me around the track, I teach them how to do pull ups and pushups, and talk with them about the importance of discipline and hard work. Several times a week instead of driving our sons to school, my wife uses a double stroller to run our kids to school and get a great workout in.
6. Maximize Bedtime
We’re finding that when we put our sons to bed at night this is a time of the day when they’re uniquely receptive and impressionable. I do most of the tucking-in in our home and I vary how I use this time with my boys. Sometimes I read to them from the Bible or a devotional book. Sometimes I read them a fun story. Sometimes we all tell stories from the day. Oftentimes I make up a story and tell it to them over the course of several nights, building the tension so that they can’t wait to hear the next installment the next night. Sometimes I cuddle in bed with each of my sons for a few minutes. Almost every night I pray with my boys, either leading all of us in the Lord’s Prayer, having one of them lead us in some kind of a prayer (even as simple as saying, “God, thanks for a great day.”), or some other way I feel led to pray and teach prayer to my sons. And some nights I’m just so exhausted (and want to check out) that all I have energy for is to take twenty seconds to give each son a kiss and tell them I love them, but that God loves them even more.
7. Give Vision to Your Kids
Nobody can give vision to your kids like you can. From a young age start giving your kids a big vision of God and of how God could use them in this world. Child-like faith is something that we should never lose. Though adults often lose child-like faith and wonder in a big God who can do anything, I fear that in our generation kids never even develop a child-like faith. Our culture (and today’s parents) tend to squish wonder and a sense of the supernatural out of kids. This is terrible. I’ve written more about this here: Parent Your Kids With Big Vision.
8. Involve Others/Give Your Kids As Many Heroes as Possible
My wife and I have an army of people (mostly from our church) who love our kids and who are awesome role models for our kids. This didn’t happen by accident. We’ve sought to turn friends and babysitters into disciplers of our kids, heroes who our kids can look up to. We’ve given vision to these people about the impact they could make on our kids, and we’re seeing great fruit: our boys are learning a lot from our friends/church family/babysitters who are each uniquely helping train our sons. My kids love our church for many reasons, but one of them is because there are so many people in our church who love, care about, and invest in our kids.
9. Go on Adventures Together
It seems that the two great secrets to Jesus’ ministry of discipleship was lots of long meals with his disciples and lots of adventures together. One thing we do with our boys is that when a Buzzard boy turns three, I take him on a solo backpacking trip with me. I did this with my oldest son three years ago. I did this with my middle son two years ago. And this year I will enjoy this adventure with my youngest son. My older boys still talk about this trip they each took with me. They had to carry their own backpack (it only weighed about two or three pounds), hike in 2.5 miles with me, and spend a weekend learning about sleeping under the stars, cooking food on a camp stove, and making a campfire. Don’t skip the adventures. I can already tell that my kids will be talking about our adventures together decades from now.
10. Enter Their World
Enter your child’s world. Know the names of their friends/classmates/teammates, and why they like these friends. Learn what they’re most excited about right now and talk about this with them. Respond to their calls, “Hey daddy, come see what I made” or “Hey mommy, let me show this to you,” and celebrate these discoveries and creations that they are making. Put yourself in the shoes of your child, try to look at life the way they are looking at life. My short little two-year old sees things in our home, in our backyard, and in our city that I don’t see. He’s got a different perspective on this world and I’m learning to get down on one knee, see what he sees, and enter into it. If you don’t enter into your kids’ worlds, as they age don’t expect them to show much interest in what you have to say. Your kids want to be known by you.
PS. There are hundreds of more thoughts I could share, things I’m learning right now about parenting/discipling. There’s not space to do that here, but one thing to add: be careful with how much screen time you give your kids. Just think about what a smartphone has done to you: it’s made you less present and more distracted (and, let’s just say it: you’re less awesome and less fun than you used to be because you’re too tied to your phone). And you only started with a smartphone a few years ago. If you kids grow up with a screen constantly in front of them, just think about how that will shape them over the next twenty years. Be careful with the smartphones, iPads, laptops, home televisions, minivan televisions, etc.
Justin Buzzard is founder and lead pastor of Garden City Church, a church plant in Silicon Valley, and author of the books The Big Story: How The Bible Makes Sense Out of Life and Date Your Wife.