As parents, we are the greatest influences in the lives of our children. We are the ones responsible for forming their views on God, humanity, society, culture, and a host of other things. Now while that is true, there are a couple of caveats we should also embrace as parents.
Caveat number one is that we are influential regardless of whether we are intentional about it or not. It’s a frightening thing to recognize that our children’s minds and hearts are being formed – by us – whether we know it or not. Our kids will learn about how to handle money by watching us. They will learn how to treat their peers by watching us. They will learn about how to relate to the opposite sex by watching us. And they will learn and be formed by all those things whether we want them to or not.
The second caveat is that our influence, while profound, decreases the older our children grow. That’s not rocket science because we know from experience that the older our children get the more influences come into their lives. They spend less and less of their time with us, their parents, and more and more time with other people.
Combining those things together help us see that discipleship in our families should be both intentional and urgent. Having said that, we turn to a particular passage in the Old Testament that gives us some helpful principles when considering discipleship in our families:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9).
These words were spoken first by Moses to the people of Israel as he was trying to prepare them for their new lives in the land God had promised to them. In that land, there would be all kinds of competing influences, and the Lord knew the importance of reinforcement of His ways in the midst of those influences. From these verses, we can still glean today – in a culture of competing influences – at least three principles for discipleship in the home:
1. The Principle of Responsibility.
Though obvious, it still needs to be said that the first principle is that of responsibility. Moses was addressing parents and future parents, telling them what to do. To put it simply, the spiritual education and formation of our kids is our job as parents.
It’s our job. Not someone else’s. We cannot, as parents, outsource the discipleship of our kids, even to the church. That’s not to say the church doesn’t play a role here, and it’s not to say that the role of the church is important. Imperative even. It does mean, however, that we must first accept the spiritual responsibility of parenting before we do anything else.
2. The Principle of Repetition.
There is a regularity to this passage. Everything that happens in this passage – sitting at home, walking on the road, laying down, getting up – these are all things that happen with regularity. So should it be with the way we approach discipleship in the home. There needs to be steady repetition and regularity with that discipleship.
That means we should establish, reinforce, and embrace spiritual routines in the home, and these can and should take a variety of forms. Reading the Bible and praying at breakfast, praying together before bedtime, a consistent conversation after worship on Sundays – these are all routines that we need to establish and then commit ourselves to, to the degree that when the rare occasion happens when we break the routine, our kids notice and call us out for it.
3. The Principle of Normalization.
While there is a regularity to the passage that presses the need for consistent routines, there is also a normality to the passage. All of the activities mentioned are things that happen in the course of every day life. The vision, therefore, is one of normalization – that discipleship becomes the norm for how we do life in our homes.
It means there don’t have to be special, isolated occasions when we pray or talk about the Bible. These things should be part of our every day conversations – on the way to school, sitting around in the evenings, going on a walk – we talk about real things. And we apply the Bible to the real stuff of life. When we do that, we are helping normalize spiritual conversations and also building a way of thinking about all parts of life from the biblical standpoint.
These three principles – responsibility, repetition, and normalization – are the foundation for family discipleship. Once we choose to align ourselves with these, we can, as parents, steward the time and influence we have with our children for the sake of Jesus and His gospel.