Four Tips to Make Discipleship Easy
By Anne Kerhoulas
Let’s Be Honest
“Having kids is super easy.” “I get so much rest.” “I’m really relaxed these days.” “I have so much free time.” Said no parent ever. If you’re like me, you’re a little worn out. From midnight wake-ups and after-school meltdowns to the ever-growing list of activities and seemingly endless birthday parties, life with kids is full.
And for a lot of us, this is exactly why the thought of proactively discipling our kids feels overwhelming. How can we possibly get our acts together enough to teach our kids the Bible? When will we ever find time for theology lessons? For intentionally teaching our kids about who God is? If you find yourself in this position, take heart, you are not alone.
Into, not Onto
When it comes to thinking about discipleship for our kids, we typically assume we need to add it onto our schedule. But as John Mark Comer argues, spiritual practices are actually an invitation to doing less, not more. So rather than trying to add discipleship time ONTO your schedule, let’s consider how we might be able to incorporate it INTO the our existing rhythms and routines.
Remember, discipleship is apprenticeship; our kids learn from us naturally, slowly, and steadily, not necessarily in big bursts of information. If we think about discipleship as just part of our relationship with our kids, we can take the pressure off of ourselves to do it all perfectly. So, here we go, four tips to make discipleship easy.
Sing the truth together.
I have a worship mix that I regularly play while I’m driving. One day, the song Come Thou Fount came on while I was taking the girls to the playground. I could tell they were listening to it and liking the melody as they began to pick up lines of the chorus and sing along. When the song ended, they shouted, “do that one again!” My children had, unknowingly, chosen to enroll in a theology lesson, and the best part was that they were excited about it.
Music has so much power. And as Christians, worship music in particular has the power to disciple us by teaching us Scripture and theology; it helps get big ideas into our hearts and minds in an accessible and beautiful way.
It’s also something that is easy to incorporate into your life. Put it on while you’re coloring with your kid or making a meal or driving to soccer practice and invite them to listen to the words and sing along. And when your kids inevitably sing some phrase that is nonsensical, tell them what the real words are and what it means. Before you know it you’ll be hearing your kids sing, “Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” There is also some amazing worship music for kids that aims to teach them Scripture. Slugs and Bugs is a family favorite.
Pray out loud.
Our kids will imitate us, for better or for worse. But one of the ways we can harness this superpower of theirs is to pray for them and others out loud as much as possible. Simply by watching and hearing us pray, our kids learn about who God is and how we relate to him.
Eugene Peterson says, “Language is spoken into us; we learn language only as we are spoken to. We are plunged at birth into a sea of language…Then slowly syllable by syllable we acquire the capacity to answer: mama, papa, bottle, blanket, yes, no. Not one of these words was a first word..All speech is answering speech. We were all spoken to before we spoke” (Answering God).
Studies show that when children learn how to talk, they learn to talk to the degree and vocabulary with which their parents talk to them. In the same way, we need to teach our children the language of prayer and we do it by praying for them and over them. Through prayer, we answer God’s already spoken word to us—through Holy Scripture and through the incarnate Word, Jesus. And when we pray out loud for our kids, we teach them how to respond to a Creator who has already started the conversation.
Pray out loud for your kids. Pray for their day at school, for their friend who has the stomach bug, for their soccer game that they are nervous about, pray without ceasing about all things. And then, invite them to pray out loud too. I still remember my mom praying for me when I had bad dreams and her telling me that I could pray too. Your words have the power to speak a new language into them—the language of prayer! So pray out loud for your kids. You will bless them with your attention and affection but you will also teach them how to pray as you do.
Make story time about Jesus.
My girls ask me to read them stories out of their big pink princess book every morning, and I do. But we also make it a point to read the Jesus Storybook Bible with them every day as well. (If you don’t have the Jesus Storybook Bible, now is a great time to pick it up and read it with your kids. It’s amazing.)
Spending 10 minutes reading a Bible story is a fast and easy way to get straight into Scripture with your kids. Using a Bible that is age-appropriate ensures that the stories are understandable and usually provides an easy on ramp for questions about God. Kids have a natural curiosity that makes them great students of Scripture! Why did Jonah not listen to God? Why did Jesus get boo-boos and why is his crown hurting him? How did God talk in that burning bush? Are just a few of the questions my girls have asked lately that we have been able to talk about with them.
Furthermore, when we read the Bible regularly with them, they begin to internalize truths about God and themselves and connect the story of God to their own lives. Huge concepts like sin and forgiveness and healing and grace get situated in their real-life circumstances. They begin to connect that they can forgive their friend because Jesus forgave us, that God gives us everything we have, that it’s the power of the Spirit at work in them when they are patient or kind or obedient. It’s all in God’s good, good Word, and it all starts with us opening it with them.
Go to church.
When I was in middle school, I started playing club basketball and games were on Sunday mornings. Rather than skipping church for the season, my mom took me to the 8 am service every week. It was a 20-minute drive in the wrong direction. It was another thing to add to her day. She had three other kids to juggle as well. But she made church a priority for herself and for me.
Showing up at church when you’ve had a rough morning, a long week, or a busy weekend can be tough. But where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Showing up in spite of your circumstances demonstrates to your children that participating in the family of God is not optional, not something that can easily be squeezed out by other activities, not something that ebbs and flows based on emotions or circumstances. Ease and comfort are not our god. And when we show up to church, we show them where our priorities lie.
But church is also a great opportunity for your kids to hear the gospel reiterated from supporting voices. It’s a chance for young friendships to be built, to be invested in by other believing adults, and to participate in the family of God.