My sophomore year at Ball State University was the most exciting basketball season in school history. The Cardinals advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen where they lost to the eventual NCAA Champions UNLV 69-67. The disappointment, for me, was not that we lost such a hard fought game, but in the way the game was lost. With just two seconds left the ball was in the hands of our shooting guard who had an opportunity at open jump shot from the top of the key. But instead of taking what was a high percentage shot for him he attempted an alley-oop to one of the stars of the team, which fell short. Instead of potentially sending the game into overtime the buzzer sounded and the best season in school history came to an end.
While this was indeed a once in a lifetime moment, it seems similar scenarios often repeat themselves in each new season of life. Tempted by the glory of the proverbial slam-dunk we often ignore the simple things. This happens quite literally in basketball, but metaphorically in our careers, our personal lives and in our parenting. We are strive to land the big account, compromise for a quick fix, or work long hours to save for a big vacation, instead of focusing on the simple things. The game of basketball, and more importantly in the game of life, is won and lost in the trenches.
As Christian parents, I believe there is no greater call on our lives than to raise the next generation of disciples. To do so requires a slight but essential shift in our focus from one of raising children to raising disciples.
Below are five key elements I believe necessary to effectively discipling our children.
- It starts with you! Parents, you are far and away the biggest influence – good or bad – on your children. They are always watching you, mimicking your mannerism and responses, and finding interest in the very things that interest you. What do you want your children to value? The best way to instill those values in your children is by modeling them. Jesus said, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” -Mark 12:29-31 Discipleship begins with loving God and loving people. Modeling this in your own life will set an important precedent in the lives of your children.
- Invite your children into your work. Build in extra time to allow your children to help with age appropriate tasks. When folding laundry, socks and wash clothes are perfect kid sized items. It doesn’t matter if they are folded perfectly, what does matter is what you are communicating through this; you are teaching them to value work, to value serving others, and that they are an important part of the family. Other examples might be to have them help plant seeds in the garden or pull weeds from the flowerbed. This will slow you down at first, but efficiency is not the goal – discipleship is – and you will be amazed at the conversations you will have simply by creating the space to invite your children into your daily chores.
- Create opportunities to serve others. In the same way it is good to invite our children into our work, it is also good to invite them into our service. Teaching them to love people starts in our home and then spills out into our community. The opportunities to serve are endless. Allowing your children to help bake cookies – or even a meal – and taking them to a neighbor or the local police station or fire department, visiting the elderly in their home or retirement community, helping a neighbor pick up sticks in their yard are all great examples of teaching our children to serve.
- Worship together. While attending regular church services is a part of worshipping together. Family worship does not start and end there. Worshipping together making regular time to pray and study the Bible together. Look for age appropriate devotionals for your children (a list of children’s devotional we used can be found at https://deliberatefamilyministries.com/resources/devotionals-worship-biographies/). Read them aloud together and discuss them with your children. Also, take time to read the Bible together and take time to discuss the text with your children. Having regular times of family prayer is also important. By putting these into regular practice, you will be amazed at not only the questions, but the insight your children have.
- Play together. As the old adage goes, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I am not sure there is a more precious sound in the world than the laughter of a child. Children love life, taking time to see the world through their eyes can serve as a good reminder to take time to enjoy the simple things in life.
Raising disciples – like winning basketball games – is something that is accomplished in the trenches. It requires deliberate effort, long-term commitment, the grace to learn from mistakes, and patience, but in the end there is no greater call on the life of a parent.