Discipleship is one of the buzzwords that has taken over the internet in parenting circles. I have watched a number of reels online where Christian moms equate discipleship with tutoring their children in the ways of God. Or we might equate it with mentorship, teaching, or reading the Bible to my children. Sometimes discipleship seems to be a parenting method that includes the tools used to teach-- books, paper, and flashcards. What about you? When you hear the word discipleship, what does it mean to you?
As we study the Scriptures, words do matter. And I wonder if discipleship has lost some of its intended meaning. Sometimes when a word is repeated often enough, it loses its meaning or suddenly encompasses other unintended meanings. While not necessarily wrong, are we fully grasping what Jesus meant by discipleship? To be honest, as we talk about discipleship together, we could be talking about the same word but mean very different things.
So, with that in mind, let’s see if we can try and define discipleship a bit better. The truth is discipleship does have to do with teaching and tutoring our children in the Lord; disciple actually means “pupil.” In Judaism, to be a pupil meant you emulated your teacher, but not just in knowledge. You also emulated your teacher in heart and action just as we seek to emulate Jesus Christ.
If we look at the Scriptures, we know the great commission is about discipleship, it says, “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)
We also know discipleship is costly, when Jesus says, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33)
To give you an idea of how important discipleship is, the Bible mentions being a "Christian" around 3 times and discipleship around 260 times!
So, perhaps we could say, discipleship involves emulating Jesus Christ in word, deed, and heart. Note that it’s more than memorizing Jesus’ words or acting like Jesus, it’s also about the heart; a heart change where we become more and more like Christ, learning from Him, emulating Him in everything we do, and growing in love for Him through our relationship with him.
Discipleship is by the work of the Spirit
I went through a disheartening parenting season. As I compared my own children to the "fruit" of other people's children, my own children’s lack of fruit was discouraging and burdened me. Why weren’t my children demonstrating the fruit that God calls His children to demonstrate? Like most parents, if you don’t like what you are seeing, you move into the mode of demanding your children follow rules inside and outside the home and you begin to focus on behavioral management. And, as we all know, that gets really frustrating, discouraging, and joyless when it doesn’t seem to produce the results we hoped for.
God graciously prompted me to learn that while I could seek to control my child’s actions, I was incapable of changing my child’s heart. It’s easy to recognize a disobedient child but it’s entirely possible to have a very obedient child, that is far from seeking God's heart. Only the Holy Spirit can change the heart and make true disciples of Jesus. Simply demanding that our children follow certain rules brings no benefit to our children if there is no love and sensitivity to the Spirit. And this is where well-meaning parenting circles on the internet can do damage. When we begin comparing our discipleship parenting methods with others, we risk further aggravating and causing relational divides in our families.
Discipleship requires a humble dependence on God’s Spirit
We each have unique families and children with unique circumstances. No home is the same and everyone has particular needs, so don’t expect to cookie cutter your children into disciples. Not going to happen! Helping our children on the path of discipleship requires listening to the Holy Spirit, praying, and trusting for true heart change through the power of the Holy Spirit. In some ways, that should bring relief to the pressure you may feel in discipling your child. In reality, discipling takes humility because it causes us to come to grips with our own insufficiency where we must RELY on Christ's work to change our children's hearts and bring fruit and growth.
On a daily practical level, how we read the Bible, teach our children Scripture, and teach them compassion may all be applied in different ways as we look to God for wisdom in His Word. If you look to social media for discipleship tips, you might get sucked into the comparison game with your neighbor and begin to feel bad that you are not doing all the things that your neighbor does. Instead, focus on what the Word says about discipleship and begin listening to the Spirit to help you make those unique decisions on how to disciple your child.
Discipleship is also dependent on your church family
Discipleship is also not just on you! It is a communal responsibility. By following Jesus, we commit to having the church come alongside us in shaping our children’s walk with the Lord. We have the community to come alongside our children and help shape them! (2 Timothy 2:1–2) It can be encouraging to watch the way church family can come alongside your own children and help teach them Sunday school stories, how to read their Bible, and what following Jesus is all about. Sometimes it feels like it’s just on us as parents, but truth be told we need community and church to also reiterate what we are teaching in our homes.
Discipleship is walking with Jesus yourself
Discipleship starts with our own personal walk and relationship with God. When we are honest about our lives with God, our children will notice. If we are repentant of our sins, our children will notice. If we approach parenting with humility, our children will see that and respect it.
And our job is to point our children in the same direction we should be pointing ourselves.
When they fall-we point them to God's comfort.
When they cry-we show them the mercy of God.
When they fail-we point to God’s faithfulness.
When they disobey- we point them toward repentance
When they speak unkind words-we show them why words are meant to build up
When they hit-we talk about the kindness of Christ.
When they hurt-we pray with them
When they experience shame-we remind them of the Gospel truth that he has forgiven us of our sins, and now we walk in freedom, and righteousness.
Discipleship happens in prayer through prayer.
One of the simplest but most profound things we can do for our children in discipleship is pray for them, pray with them, and pray on behalf of them. The power of prayer can never be undervalued.
Let us never forget that the power to change your child’s heart only comes from God and the work of the Holy Spirit on your child’s behalf.