The family is the most powerful disciple-making group in the world where the Word of God is fleshed out in relationships that are authentic and transparent every minute of the day. God has called every believer to make disciples wherever they go. As parents, not matter the age of our children, we are to disciple them to know, love, and serve Christ with all their hearts.
Teaching the milestone class for new parents recently, I emphasized the importance of starting this disciple-making process early. As early as infancy! The time between infancy and 7 years of age is crucial for laying a solid foundation of discipline, authority, teaching foundational truths about who God is and the importance of His Word, prayer, and living for Christ. For many parents in today’s church starting early has not been the case. But this is not something to fall into guilt and despair, God’s grace always brings hope and encouragement. You have the riches of God’s resources through His Word and His Spirit to lead you to guide and shepherd your children, plus the partnership of your church where there are other parents striving with the same desire to teach their children about Christ. In the great commission, Christ commands us to make disciples and at the same time, He promises us His presence to accomplish this great task when he said, “…and behold, I am with you always…” All we have to do is be obedient by taking that first step and then the next and so on. God’s resources are always available.
I found the following article instructive and encouraging. I hope you do as well.
Depending upon the ages of our children, we have four times when we can impact their lives in the manner that Jesus made disciples. Think about the first twenty years of your child’s life and some broad things we can say about certain age-related categories or phases and what you can generally expect in terms of discipleship opportunities.
From birth to around nine years of age children are very moldable. During this phase parents can prevent or significantly reduce the likelihood of sin induced maladies such as teen rebellion, premarital sex, teen pregnancy, STD’s, or outright apostasy. More importantly, parents can pass on the love of the Lord and God’s Word to their very teachable children. Parents who do the hard work of winning and discipling the hearts of their children during this stage will have laid a lifelong biblical foundation in their children’s lives. The preteen and teen years will be more harmonious.
Last Chance at Prevention Phase
Biblically speaking, the final three years of childhood are around ten to twelve years of age. Of course, we’re not saying that all thirteen year olds are equally mature so we speak in a general way. Additionally, expectations and maturity levels vary from culture to culture. But, what we are saying is that the Bible does not distinguish between children, adolescents, and adults, but between children and adults. This fact is a further reason to reject the notion of automatic rebellion in adolescents. It’s not a psychological phase teens go through with no hope. Parents must disciple their children into adulthood teaching them to handle biblically everything that comes their way from changes in their bodies to peer pressure to an increasing independence of thought. You want your children to think more independently when they are in their teen years. You just don’t want them to think independent of the Scriptures. You want them to think more and more biblically on their own.
With that explanation, although by the time a child reaches ten or twelve years of age the foundation is basically laid, there are some course corrections that you can make during this phase. These years are your best opportunity to easily shape your child’s belief system and to win their hearts if you have not been focused on biblical discipleship to this point.
Damage Control Phase
Around thirteen years old until the time your child leaves home, the principles of discipleship still apply, but the battle will be more intense for the soul of your young adult. Worldviews are already established, lifestyle patterns will be ingrained, and parents will be competing with the culture for the affections of their child. Parents beginning to disciple in this phase will likely experience some teen rebellion and the effort to develop relationships with their children will be more difficult. However, if your child is older don’t lose heart; remember that Jesus discipled adults for only three years and they turned the world upside down! You still have your child living with you and that is a great advantage and nothing is impossible with God.
Once your child has left home, again, the principles of discipleship are still appropriate, even if you have not understood them to this point. But there are additional obstacles you will be facing. These hurdles may include distance, habits that need to be changed, or relationships that need to be mended. The good news again is that Jesus showed us how to disciple children and adults and you can still have an influence in the lives of your children. The gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), so don’t lose heart. Pray and speak to your children about Christ as you are able.
No matter how old your children may be, seize the opportunities that the Lord provides to make disciples of them! The good news is that the command to make disciples is for our entire lives, and Deuteronomy 6 was given to parents and grandparents. Begin now.