Generations of undiscipled children are now parents who don’t know how to disciple their children.

And it’s not even their fault. It’s not your fault.

Church leaders spent the last half century cultivating dynamic next gen ministry. We built a church paradigm that positioned itself to take care of your kid’s discipleship. That’s something we were happy to appropriate. 

“We have staff to do that.” 

“We have volunteers to do that.”

We allowed parents, no we encouraged parents, to let us take on the role of primary discipler of their children. “Let us handle the kids”, we said. 

Intentions were good, but we were wrong.

Now we have exactly to product we were trying to produce. Families addicted to programming. Parents expecting the church to do all the “spiritual stuff” for them.

What Can We Do?

Question, parent: Are you making disciples of your own children? That is your role.

Question, church leader: Are you equipping families for discipleship or co-opting the discipleship experience into programming? That is your role.

Let’s all be honest with our answers.

It’s far more challenging to equip families to make disciples in their home than it is to develop programming to handle the process. But it’s also equally ineffective. It reminds me of pandas. Let me explain.

When pandas are in captivity, the handlers must provide basic care for them and their offspring. In a natural scenario a panda mom would take on this task. The captive panda mom doesn’t have the same ability because handlers have always done it. Once captive, pandas will struggle when released into the wild. They must learn to feed themselves to survive.

When churches co-opt the responsibilities of the family, children will struggle when released into the wild of everyday life. They must learn to feed themselves spiritually. Churches are taking on the wrong role. Not as parents but as equippers of parents.

Great Commission Parenting

How do we change the paradigm? It starts with parents owning the Great Commission in their own homes. And churches empowering and equipping families to own it.

How do I make disciples of my own children? Lead them to Jesus. Lead them to live like Jesus. Specifically, parents must “Teach them to obey all I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

How do you teach your children to obey everything God commands? I’ll answer that with another question:

How do you teach your children to obey? Teaching is giving them knowledge and telling them how to apply it. Teaching them to obey is two things:

  1. Showing them the truth in action. 
  2. Holding them accountable to live it out. 

There is quite a large gulf between teaching alone and teaching to obey! It will require parents to model for their children how to be a disciple. Then parents must reinforce these things in their child’s life. Over and over, repeatedly.

Let’s take, for example, the way you teach your child to keep a clean room. This is a never-ending battle for parents like me. My kid’s rooms are messy. There are usually three ways parents deal with this problem. I have. I can confess that I’ve dealt with issues at home in these three ways:

  1. We tell them to clean their room. We have to tell them repeatedly. (And remind them again).
  2. We clean it for them. It’s often easier than the hassle of holding them accountable to do it.
  3. We learn to live with the mess. The easiest route is also the most destructive. In it, the child learns nothing. Their room is still a mess, and the message you’ve sent is: I don’t care.

You must use modeling and accountability. How does your bedroom look? When your kids think about their responsibility, are they seeing the same effort and focus from you? If you are modeling a clean room yourself, that’s most of the battle. You’re now showing them what’s right rather than just telling them. When you tell them to clean their room, you’re speaking from a place of authority and authenticity. Authority as the parent. Authenticity by modeling what you want to see them live out. 

Reinforcement takes long patience and time. That’s the challenge. I’ve yet to meet any child who prioritizes keeping a clean room. But forget about the room. This is how we must think about discipling our children. Far more important than a tidy room, we must model spiritual growth for our children. Don’t just give them a Bible and tell them it’s great if they read it. Let them see you reading it. Ask them how they are applying it. Model application for them in your day-to-day life. Prepare yourself to be patient, it may take a while before they get it. The very term “role model” is playing your role and modeling it for your children. Be their spiritual role model by pointing them to Jesus and modeling the life of Jesus.

This is the hard work of making disciples of your children. I have always believed Christ-following parents want to lead their children to follow Jesus. They simply don’t know how. Or they’ve trusted in a church process that can’t deliver what Jesus commanded. Next week we’ll look at how churches can make a shift. Churches must know their role as equippers not parents. Church leaders will learn how to pivot from doing all the ministry. Churches will learn to change from appropriating the responsibility of the family to empowering families to make disciples.


Family Discipleship