10 Launching Points for Family Discipleship

launchAs I stated in my previous posts on family discipleship (here and here), the number one question that I get from families as a Family Minister is some iteration of this inquiry: “What are some resources that I can use to disciple my kids?” So today’s blog post is going to be extraordinarily practical instead of my usual esoteric ramblings.

Right off the bat, let me state the obvious: The primary resource for the believer is the Bible. It’s the 2 Timothy 3:16-17 principle: God’s Word is God’s tool for teaching, exposing sin, correcting and training us to become more Christlike. We cannot grow to become more like Christ without the application of the Word of God to our lives and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And God’s Word is sufficient for our every need. For most believers reading this blog, we’re having a collective “no duh” moment up in here.

However, many parents are legitimately trying to work through how to use the Bible with their kids. While we might understand that our goal is to produce life-long followers of Jesus Christ, we’re not so sure about how to use the Bible to get from A to B. To make matters more confusing, many of us (including me) grew up in a “quiet time culture,” where our youth leaders taught us that the proper methodology for reading Scripture is alone and by yourself. If we get our “quiet time” right, we hike to a still place in the woods, read Psalm 42:1 or Psalm 46:10, journal how God spoke to us and wait for the deer and squirrels to dance together like a Cinderella movie. When we have runny-nosed, stinky-diapered kids pulling at our hems for attention, it’s hard to imagine just handing them a KJV Bible, telling them to go to their rooms and spend time quietly with God. Obviously, that’s a recipe for some sort of disaster. So what to do?!? Above all things, we want our kids to fall in love with Christ and the Word like we have … And we don’t want to “mess things up.”

Fortunately in our internet culture, there’s more resources than ever to help you as a parent to disciple your kids. Actually, the amount of resources is almost overwhelming. So where to begin? And what’s effective and is going to “work”?

Before I get into some suggestions, I tell my parents in my church that not every family is the same. God has made children bafflingly different in terms of their personal interests to their methods of learning to their attention spans. In addition, our family schedules are vastly different. My frenetic pastoral schedule doesn’t often lend itself to dinner table conversations, and that’s perfectly OK. One cookie-cutter, straight-out-the-box family discipleship plan isn’t going to work for every family scenario. So try something that might work for your family and see whether it works. If it turns out to be a colossal failure or just doesn’t seem to stick, no biggie … Just dust yourself off and try something else. Just stumble towards something that works for your family digging into the Word.

So without further ado, here’s 10 potential “launching points” for family discipleship:

#1. Make The Time:

As frazzled and stressed-out parents, we make time for black Friday sales, ball practices and games, NFL football, Scentsy parties, checking social media, watching Netflix, playing Flappy Bird, swearing about our kids’ homework and an untold number of time wasters. Why don’t we make the time for family discipleship? If we don’t make the time, we are demonstrating our heart and our treasure does not lie with God (Matthew 6:21). Whether its before the school bus, at the dinner table time or right before bedtime, carve out some sacrosanct time that works for your family to interact with one another, pray for one another and dig into God’s Word. And when you do get together, create a “tech-free zone” where everyone has to ditch their cell phones (parents too!) and interact with real, live people.

#2. Partner With Your Local Church:

Virtually every kids and youth ministry curriculum worth its salt already has a built-in family ministry component. Often, churches can do a bad job of sharing that nugget of information. At the end of the lesson, some curriculums include a “take home sheet,” where kids are given a handout at the end of the class of ideas how to continue the lesson at home. Unfortunately, these “take home sheets” are notorious for being left on the sanctuary seats at the end of Sunday worship for the janitor to pick up on Monday. So a quick PSA: Don’t leave “take home” sheets for the janitor … They’re an easy way to extend the lesson into the home. For many tech-savvy curriculums, apps for your smart phone have been designed to go along with the lesson. As an associate pastor in an SBC church, I know that Lifeway produces apps that go along with their kids and youth material that allow parents to extend Sunday School lessons into the home during the week (i.e. The Gospel Project app & Explore The Bible app). If you don’t know how parents can better connect with what their kids are learning on Sundays or mid-week, take the initiative and ask your church staff or volunteers.

#3. Bible Reading Plans:

I am not a huge fan of Bible reading plans, because I’ve seen many overambitious reading plans do more harm than good. Most people that I know who start their New Years Resolutions of reading through the Bible in a year are discouraged and done by half-way through Leviticus. In addition, Bible reading plans can inadvertently emphasize quantity of pages read over quality time with God. But for some (weird) type A people (you know who you are), Bible reading plans work, because they provide structure.

#4. Devotional Books:

Devotional materials are a tricky thing, because they have the propensity to go far afield of Scripture. Most devotionals recount an author’s personal experience and then insert one random Bible verse tacked on at the end to prooftext. For that reason, most kids and youth devotionals are incorrigible … They tend to kick the difficult parts of Scripture under the rug, and paint the Flood as a really fun sleepover replete with stuffed animals … They tend focus on good moral behavior instead of Gospel. For the most part, I’d steer clear of kids and youth devotionals. It takes some theological discernment to sift the good from the bad. Nonetheless, I confess that Oswald Chambers is my homeboy, and my go-to guy when I’m in a “quiet time” rut. And there are a couple decent devotional books out there:

#5. Bible Storybooks:

Right off the bat, let me say that Bible storybooks are not Bibles, and should never be used as a substitute for the Bible. What’s the difference you ask? Bibles must contain the entirety of the inspired words of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Bible storybooks use words and pictures to tell the story of Bible to a younger audience. So one of my pet peeves is when publishers pass off storybooks as Bibles. That being said, storybooks are often a good resource for younger children to learn the basic storyline of the Bible. And there’s some fabulous, Christ-centered ones out there:

#6. D6 Family:

D6 Family (short for Deuteronomy 6 Family) is a family discipleship “movement” affiliated with Randall House publishing. The goal of D6 Family is simply to offer resources that allow churches and families to fulfill God’s design in Deuteronomy 6 as the “first small group.” D6 Family does offer a couple free resources for family discipleship:

  • Splink: Splink is a free weekly email from D6 Family that provides a family devotional and opportunities for you to engage one another in conversation. Go to the D6 Family website here to get on the Splink email list.
  • D6 App: D6 Family also offers a free D6 Family app that includes a daily devotion, Splink and resources for family conversation.

#7. Homefront Magazine:

Homefront Magazine is a monthly magazine that offers ideas for fun ways to incorporate discipleship into the home. The online version and archive are free. This resource is definitely for families that like creative and crafty things to do. If you’re a fan of the whole Martha Stewart lite vibe, this resource is probably for you.

#8. Heart Connex:

Youth ministry guru Richard Ross offers a series of free devotionals online for parents and students here.

#9. Seeds Family Worship:

I confess that I have a problem with memorizing Bible verses. One of the methods that helps me learn Bible verses in music. Seeds Family Worship has basically cornered the market in producing worship songs based entirely on Scripture for the explicit purpose of Bible memorization. The songs are catchy and high quality. The Seeds website also offers free Scripture memory cards that go along with each worship song.

#10. Serve Together:

Look for some opportunities in your community to serve in the name of Christ alongside your kids. A couple summers ago, my wife and I served alongside our daughter at a church in the Atlanta area. We dare to chaperone kids and youth camps where our daughter attends. A couple days ago, we took our daughter to the local rescue mission in our community to help prep Thanksgiving meals for the disadvantaged. Service opportunities are all around you, so don’t just wait for your church to organize something. Take the initiative for your family, and let your kids see you living out the Christian life.

On Family Discipleship: A Glorious Waste

Go-Green-Lunch-BoxMy daughter’s lunchbox is a never-ending source of waste.

It’s a strange phenomenon: Our ten-year daughter likes to pack her own lunchbox every morning for school. She does a good job. She always packs healthy stuff to eat ranging from apples to fish … But never a peanut butter sandwich, because that’ll get you stuck at the anti-allergy “peanut butter quarantine” table in the lunch room.

Even though she personally chooses her lunch every morning, some form of uneaten food always falls out of her lunchbox when we’re cleaning it out at day’s end: Tubes of yogurt … Half of a sandwich … Even dessert items. And – obviously – that food is not going to get eaten hours later. It’s waste. It’s going to get thrown out. And immediately I chide her about wasting food. After all, that food cost good, hard-earned money, right?!? When confronted on the food waste, she usually tells some tale of not having enough time to eat during lunchtime. In contrast, my elementary school age self would pride himself on eating a piece of square lunchroom sheet pizza in less than a minute. Expediency in lunch can be achieved … But I digress.

Like my daughter, I believe we’re ingrained with messages about wastefulness from an early age:

  • Haste makes waste.
  • Don’t waste your money on that Snuggie.
  • You’re wasting your time trying to please anyone but yourself.
  • Don’t waste your time on that trashy girl … I saw her at a Chili’s with Bob last week.
  • Recycle those cans, papers and milk jugs and live a sustainable life. Watch the carbon footprint.

The funny thing about waste is that the concept is wholly subjective. I have been over to many homes where a mom gets absolutely hysterical about soda cans not being recycled. In my home, I have no twinge of guilt whatsoever about tossing used cans into the “regular” trash. Similarly, many tech-averse parents consider the hours their kids spend on Instagram, Halo 23 and YouTube channels as a complete waste of time. Their tech-savvy kids’ lives revolve around the interaction on these mediums. Wonderful household arguments ensue. Waste is subjective.

Unfortunately, you and I are often averse to things that are good, Godly and healthy for us because our culture and our guilty conscience considers them wasteful. I feel guilty about taking time off and “not doing anything.” I feel terrible about sleeping in. I often feel like basic exercise – like walking – is wasteful. Not working earlier in the morning and later in the evening than everyone else seems selfish. Practicing my guitar chords seems so unproductive. Taking extra time to talk with God and slowly work on a cup of coffee seems so extravagant. And here’s a weird one for a pastor to admit: Sometimes I feel guilty about reading my Bible for personal devotion time. I should be out visiting random sick people at the hospital, bringing pound cakes to widows or furiously working on a sermon, right? That would certainly be a better use of time.

In a recent video, musician Sara Groves talks about this struggle against the concept of waste in terms of her artistry. I can relate to her struggle with feeling “lazy” when taking time to craft music and art:

Here lies the crucial personal fight regarding discipleship in our frenetic, frazzled culture: Convincing ourselves that discipleship is critical to life and not wasteful. We often consider spending time with God as “one more thing to do.” And often that chore gets quickly shuffled down the list of chores when one kid is barfing, another kid is getting ready for soccer practice, the dog needs to go out, the dryer full of clothes is buzzing and dinner needs to get on the table in exactly 2 minutes. Discipleship gets de-prioritized because it seems extravagant. It seems like a wasteful thing. We feel guilty about spending time alone with God.

What a perfectly pitiful attitude.

In John 12:1-11, Mary, the sister of the resurrected Lazarus, pours a pint of the expensive perfume (called nard) on Jesus’ feet. According to Luke, the pint of nard is worth a year’s wages. Judas is stunned that something so expensive is wasted. After all, the perfume could have been sold and the proceeds could have been used to feed a great number of the poor. Or – more likely – the proceeds could have gone into Judas’ pocket. Either way, the nard could have been used for a less wasteful purpose. Jesus chides Judas’ commentary: “Leave her alone … It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:7-8). In other words, the woman’s act of extravagant worship of the Christ is not a waste.

I could (and probably will) write all sorts of “how-to” articles on family discipleship. But until we view the pursuit of Christ as the most essential thing to our life, we are hopelessly doomed. We cannot become little Judases hoarding our personal trash heaps and pig-pies while ignoring the treasure that is Christ. The pursuit of Christ cannot be just another thing to be added to our life. The pursuit of Christ must be centerpiece of our life … Everything else must be brushed aside for the pursuit. We must recover the importance of dying to self and surrendering to Christ. Possibly the greatest gift that we can give to our kids is visibly and verbally demonstrating that devotion to Christ is more important than fundraisers, ball games, music rehearsals and after school programs.

Ultimately, our attitude must match Psalm 42:1-4:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

The imagery of Psalm 42 is of a man endlessly weeping because He cannot worship God. Think about that: When is the last time you physically wept because you skipped reading your Bible or slept in on Sunday?!? Honestly, I think we treat Jesus as an add-on that we could easily do without. Instead, we must pant after Christ because we won’t live without Him in our lives. He is more essential than water … Without Christ, we die. If we convey that following Jesus is just an extravagance, we’re missing the most important lesson that we can give our children. Discipleship starts here: Christ is everything.

If the world considers following Jesus to be a waste, then I want to waste my life on Jesus.

Let my life be a glorious waste on you, Jesus.