The definition of a disciple is: one who attends upon another for the purpose of learning from them. So, basically, a disciple is someone who follows another person with the expressed purpose of learning from them.
Jesus specifically chose twelve apostles out of a group of about 120 followers. And then, from those twelve, he chose three – Peter, John and James – to give them even more intimate instruction and leadership.
Now, Jesus didn’t have all the distractions that we do today, such as a spouse, job, mortgage, car repairs, etc.. So, how does this model apply today?
Now, I get that you are busy. We all are. There’s school, sports, youth groups, church functions, other extra-curricular activities… we all have full calendars – and those are just our kids’ activities. However, I want to encourage you with these words: Your primary disciples need to be your children. Too many parents overlook this. They want to be involved in ministry at their church, they want to go on missions trips, they want to lead adult Bible studies… All of these things are great and admirable. But, we need to keep in mind that our primary discipleship relationship happens at home, between parents and their children. All those other things are secondary in comparison.
A few key verses that Biblically reflect this are:
Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. 2 “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: 3 If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
Paul gives fathers, specifically, a mandate to train and instruct their children. This is what we call discipleship – training them in the way to appropriately live their lives.
Other key verses include:
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. 20 Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. (Colossians 3:18-21)
For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)
4 These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, 5 to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. (Titus 2:4-5)
18 “So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 19 Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. (Deuteronomy 11:18–21)
These verses explicitly say that we need to teach our children God’s Word from sunrise to bedtime. I don’t know if it can get any clearer than that. For our children, every minute of their lives is “discipleship time”. But, this doesn’t mean that we need to read Bible stories to our kids 24/7. There are a lot of ways that we can disciple our children throughout each day.
As an encouragement, I love the insights that author Gregg Harris has shared, particularly stemming from Psalm 127:3-5:
3 Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.4 Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
5 How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.
One of the interesting things about this Psalm is that it was written by Solomon – the wisest man to have ever lived. He says that children are a gift from the Lord. They are like “arrows” or tools to be used in spiritual battles. We need to think of ourselves as bows that direct and send off these arrows. They are given to us by God and we need to direct them well.
Or, as author Greg Harris says, we are the launching pad and our children are rockets. We tend to become so self-centered that we forget that it is our children who are the rockets – the ones who we should prepare to go on to do greater things then ourselves. We are merely the humble launching pads where they are trained, prepared and provided a trajectory.
The future belongs to them.
Other verses that also shed light on this perspective of discipling our children as we raise them are:
9 “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. 10 Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai, where he told me, ‘Summon the people before me, and I will personally instruct them. Then they will learn to fear me as long as they live, and they will teach their children to fear me also.’ (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)
4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
44 So Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and recited all the words of this song to the people. 45 When Moses had finished reciting all these words to the people of Israel, 46 he added: “Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. 47 These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.” (Deuteronomy 32:44-47)
In these verses, Moses is about to die and he is instructing the Nation of Israel on how to train up the next generation of God’s people.
Additionally, there are also many Proverbs geared from the perspective of a father training up his son to follow God.
We see from the examples of Samuel, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego, Jeremiah, Jesus, John Mark and Timothy that it’s possible to serve God, even before adulthood.
Now, just in case these verses haven’t yet changed your perspective regarding our children being our primary disciples, I want to mention something that might help you shift the gears of your mindset.
We tend to believe that the best way to train our kids is to send them off to a master, then have them sent back to us. We often see this in math tutoring, piano lessons, sports teams, etc.. However, what this tends to instill in us as parents is an expectation that it is up to someone else to train our children – even spiritual training.
Too often, we send our kids off to church and expect their Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders to be the primary trainers, mentors and leaders in our children’s spiritual development. This is absolutely wrong! We’ve got to change this perspective. God did not give these children to the youth pastors of this world, he gave them to YOU… the parents.
That’s the difference between the Biblical mindset of raising your children in Christ and the more modern, American perspective in spiritually training them.