Christian Parenting: 7 Ways to Disciple Your Children

As Christians we are called to make disciples.  As parents, our children are our primary disciples--the very first ones we are to usher toward Christ.  But how does this work out in the business of everyday life?  Using Deuteronomy 6:4-9 as a Biblical model for how discipleship should occur in our homes, Summer Lacy offers some guidance and suggestions for discipling your children “as you go.”

As a stay-at-home mom of three young boys, I’ve spent a large majority of the past 9 years in the presence of my children. I’ve gone through phases where this felt good, and right, and the very place I wanted most to be.  

I’ve also gone through phases where I felt as if my whole life was passing before my eyes as I changed diapers, calmed tantrums, and wiped little noses.  

I’ve cried tears of joy as I watched another little one take his very first steps, and I’ve cried tears of frustration at the end of another day where nothing seemed to have been accomplished.  (And I may have, on occasion, cried for both of these reasons on the very same day.)

To be a mother is to be capable of feeling all of these conflicting feelings all at the very same time.  

But through it all, the Lord has graciously grown within me an understanding that what He has put before me at this very stage of life is by far the most important work I’ll be given in this life.  The work of discipling my children. 

As followers of Christ, we are called to make disciples.  To spread the good word of God’s good work far and wide (Matthew 28:19).  And as parents, our children are our primary disciples.  They are the very first ones we usher toward Christ.   

But in the hustle and bustle of everyday living, how do we do that?  How do we live out the Lord’s command that we teach our children to follow Him in the midst of diapers, dinner, and toy dinosaurs?

Take a look at the instruction Scripture gives us here:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The first piece of instruction I want you to see in this verse is that in order to teach your children to follow Jesus, you're going to have to follow Him yourself.  That is the first, and most important, command that the Lord gives (see also Matthew 22:36-40).  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:5

Who is to love God with all their heart and soul and might?  You.  And when this command is being met, when you are faithfully loving God with all that you are, notice that the rest of discipleship trickles down from there. 

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Don’t miss the simplicity of discipleship as laid out in these verses.  Discipleship occurs as you go.  Discipleship happens as you sit in your house, as you walk by the way, as you lie down and as you rise.  It is not separate from your everyday life, but an organic part of it. 

When following Jesus is a part of your everyday life, discipleship occurs as a part of that process.  When we wholeheartedly follow Jesus, it is impossible for our children to miss that because it stands so incredibly apart from how the rest of the world lives.

I have been utterly astounded at the extent to which the Lord has used this “as we go” discipleship to grow faith in our children.  I know there will come a time when our boys will have to make the decision to follow Christ independent of their parent’s decision to do so, but until that time, I want to use my influence in their young lives to unabashedly point them to the goodness and faithfulness of our God.    

What does this look like on a daily basis in our home?  {This is by no means a formula to be followed, but a list of practices that we have found helpful in pointing our children toward Christ.}

We Pray.

A lot.  Praying with and in front of my children did not come easily to me.   I became a Christian later in life and in those early years I kept my faith very private.  I viewed my relationship with God as being something that was strictly between me and Him.  When I prayed, I did so alone {and mostly under my breath}.  

As my frail faith grew bolder, I began to realize that while faith is always a personal decision it is never really a private matter.  Discipleship requires that you live your faith out loud in full view of family, friends, spectators and passersby.  

My love for Jesus is not only about what He has done for me, but on a much larger scale, it is about what He has done for us all--my boys being a small part of that bigger picture. 

One of the things I desperately desire my children know about God is that He is always present.  That He is always within earshot, and that He is always listening.  I want prayer to be a natural part of their everyday lives, so I have intentionally sought to make it a natural part of our everyday lives.  

And I don’t merely want prayer to be ritualistic in our home {although we do things such as bedtime prayers each night}, but more than that, I want prayer to be ongoing and spontaneous.

When we drive by my husband’s office, I thank God for “such a good Daddy who works so hard for our family.” 

When tragic news pops up on the TV or radio, I immediately ask God to comfort, protect, and be with those involved. 

When one of the boys takes notice of a particularly beautiful sunset, or flower, or the moon, I thank God for His wondrous creation. 

When one of our boys is angry, frustrated, hurt, or scared, I ask if I can pray for him right then and there.  

In all these utterances there is an underlying message that I want my boys to hear loud and clear, “God is always with you.  He is always here.  You can always go to Him.”

Over time, my boys have begun doing this on their own.  My youngest one will pray for his big brothers as we pass by their elementary school on the way out of our neighborhood. 

 My oldest will ask God to “help my brothers make better decisions.” 

They have all at one point or another thanked God for “making me so smart/talented/funny.” 

And my middle son has begged God to “forgive my mean brother for being so stupid.” 

You name it, they’ve prayed it.  {And in case you’re wondering, I let all these “dagger prayers” slide for the most part.  My goal now, in their younger years, is to simply teach them to pray.  As they become more mature, we’ll work some more on how to pray.}

We Sing.

I’m not the girl you want to sit by Sunday morning--just ask my husband.  No one has ever accused me of having a good {or quiet} voice, but that doesn’t stop me from singing out loud.  I’ve decided to take full advantage of my children’s poor perceptual skills at this early stage of their lives by singing praises to the Lord whenever I get the opportunity.   

For the most part, I keep our car radio tuned to our local Christian radio station.  This isn’t a matter of moral conviction on my part, rather I see it as an easy way to disciple my children, quite literally, as we go. 

Although not all popular Christian songs espouse sound doctrine, many of them do. My boys are learning bits of Scripture and rock solid truths concerning who God is and what God does when we listen to these songs.  

For instance, just a few weeks ago, my 5-year-old was singing along to the song “We Believe” by the Newsboys.  Take a look at the lyrics I heard him proclaiming from the back seat.

We believe in God the Father
We believe in Jesus Christ
We believe in the Holy Spirit
And He's given us new life
We believe in the crucifixion
We believe that He conquered death
We believe in the resurrection
And He's comin' back again!

My 5-year-old son has these truths memorized because he has heard them again and again set to music.  These things are already engraved upon his young heart, and all I did to assist was turn on the radio.  Now, that’s not to say that we don’t ever jam out to Taylor Swift, Train, or Adam Levine, because we most certainly do.  

We apologize (or more like I apologize).

A lot.  But only because I mess up.  A lot.  I don’t ever want my boys to mistakenly believe that being a Christian means being perfect. 

Instead, I want them to equate being a Christian with being humble and repentant.  When I unfairly discipline one of the boys, when I yell, when I snap, when I ignore, when absolutely lose it--I apologize.  I get down on his level, look him straight in the eyes, admit I was wrong, and I ask him to forgive me.  And while this boy has occasionally told me he needed “just a little more time,” forgiveness has always eventually been given. 

I do this now when my mistakes are somewhat benign in the overall scope of things because we must lay the groundwork for repentance in the small things if we hope to someday be repentant in the big things.  Because I, my husband, and our boys are fallible, I know we are all likely to mess us in ways both big and small, and I want all of our hearts bent toward a posture of repentance.  

We freely give forgiveness.

My mom {and her mother before her} is the reigning queen of grudge-holding {she once refused to speak to my brother for a full month after he shaved his head bald in college}, so this one has required quite a bit of practice on my part.  

Although I don't do it perfectly, I strive to freely offer forgiveness with no strings attached.  Although my children’s actions may at times require that they be disciplined, we try to avoid punishing them by, even unintentionally, withholding our love, affection, or approval of them.  

Perhaps even more difficult than freely granting forgiveness to my children, I have to allow this to play out in front of my children in my other relationships as well.  That means when my husband offends me, {and perhaps on the occasion when I offend him} I have to quickly forgive him.  When a driver cuts me off on I-45, those same principles apply.  

We Study God’s Word.

In my early years of motherhood, I established the habit of waking up very early--at 5 or 5:30 most mornings-- so that I could pray and study the Bible before my children woke up.  

As they got older, I realized that I had gotten so good at this that my children rarely saw me actually reading the Bible.  I want my boys to know how desperately dependent I am on God’s Word.  I want them to see me reading it, wrestling with it, and studying it.  

Although I still do most of my Bible study before they wake up or while they are away at school, I make sure they know it is part of my daily routine.  I’ll linger over the Bible on Saturday mornings and invite them to join me.  {Sometimes they accept; sometimes they decline--this is ok}  

When they ask me difficult questions about life, I make sure they know I get my answers from Scripture.  As they have passed through different stages of life, I have reinvented how we engage them most consistently with God’s Word, but here are some of the things we’ve done over the years.

  • Read Bible stories before bed
  • Scripture memorization
  • Family devotionals
  • Catechism questions

I’ll go into more detail on some of this in my next post when I share with you some of the resources I have found helpful, but hopefully, these ideas help get you started.  However, you choose to include Scripture in your daily routine, keep it a part of daily routine.  

Teach your children that they “do not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” by consuming the Word as readily as you consume the bread that feeds your body.  

We do Church

I know this is tender for many of you.  You’ve tried church.  You’ve been hurt by the church.  So you’ve opted out of the church.  Our family has been there.  And maybe you’re hoping to spare your children from the hypocrisy and hurt that can go along with church. 

But allow me to be brutally honest here for a second. If you’re not living life alongside a church, you’re missing out on something God has for you.  God intends for us to do life with other Believers within the context of a church community.   

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

Church is part of our weekly routine.  Our boys know this.  Sunday morning services and Wednesday evening home groups mark the landscape of our weekly calendar.  They are non-negotiable for the most part.  We make them a priority for our family.    

In large part, this is where our children see us live out our faith.  At church we fellowship, pray, and worship alongside other Believers.  This is where our children see that it is so much bigger than us and our family.  They learn that it is about God and His family.  We are but a small part of all that He is doing.  

Our church has a simple motto it uses for the discipleship process:  “Love Jesus.  Learn His ways.  Lead others.”  I can’t think of a better way to describe the manner in which we are to disciple our own children in our very homes.   If you look closely, you’ll see it right there in Scripture…

Love Jesus:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Learn His Ways:  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

Lead Others:  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

And as your children grow, rest assured that God is sovereign over their little lives, just as He is over yours and mine.