Three ways to encourage discipleship in young people
As a father of three growing kids, I've recently gained an insight into the world of parenting that I had previously only looked on from a distance with curiosity, wonder and, I admit, sometimes judgementalism.
I now intimately know the concern, anxiety, hopes and dreams parents have for their kids. Not only do I share the normative concerns for their safety, health, academic development and the learning of life skills, but added to that is my desire for their growth as disciples of Christ. To have an enduring and robust faith in Jesus no matter how pleasant or rough the seasons of life are.
I understand the importance of questions like, “How often do you read the Bible with your kids?”, or “how regularly do you do family devotions and meaningfully discuss matters of faith?”
However, I suspect that many of us are finding it hard enough to make the lunches and get our kids dressed and out the door on time. In light of that, let me offer three very modest and simple goals to help you set a great example of discipleship for your kids and the young people around you.
1. Get involved
You’ve probably heard the adage “more is caught than taught” and this is especially true of children and young people who observe and absorb more than you ever specifically teach them. They pickup on your turns of phrase, on your mannerisms, how you spend your money and prioritise your time. You are a role model to them for good or ill whether you like it or not, and when they see you prioritise your time for serving at church, and spend your money generously with kingdom values, and speak with grace and truthfulness, and interact compassionately with others, they get a chance to see and copy your life of Christian discipleship. Family devotions are great, but first make sure you’re involved in actively living the Christian life.
2. Invite them to participate with you
Children and young people are valuable members of the body of Christ - his church. They are more than the church of the future, more than ministry leaders in waiting. If it is true that “the hand cannot say to the foot ‘I don’t need you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21) and if each part has an indispensable part to play in the functionality of the body, then how are your children and young people serving the body?
It’s not beyond them to serve alongside you, to help you with morning tea, to welcome others, to do church prayers with you, read the Bible at church, or sing or play with the band. Children and young people are very capable of these things (and more!) but you will have to invite them to serve and guide them as they do, not because they can’t do it on their own, but because our churches are set up to assume adults will do the serving roles by default. Talk with your kids about how they might be able to serve regularly on the roster ... or next time you lead church prayers, why not invite them to pray some points with you?
3. Confess your failures with them
Your children will follow your example as you follow Christ, but we both know how flawed our example of discipleship often is - the harsh words we speak in anger, our lack of compassion and grace, our frustration and our selfishness. Our failures, however, are the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what true Christian discipleship is, and that is first and foremost an admission that we are dead in our sins and transgressions but for the grace of new life in Christ. Christian disciples of Jesus are far from flawless this side of heaven, but we know that. So we admit our sins and we trust entirely on the certain forgiveness and mercy Jesus secured for us at the cross. It might seem counter-intuitive, but you will be a better example of Christian discipleship to your young people if they see you confess your failures with assurance of forgiveness than if you try to hide them behind a facade of faultlessness.
Growing Faith Week will be the perfect opportunity for you to explore and discuss these things with other adults and parents in your church.
Mike Dicker is the Youth and Children's Minister at All Saints Anglican Church, Petersham. He is a graduate of Youthworks College.