Family Discipleship: What It Is and How To Do It
Parenting is hard, and it feels like it’s just getting more and more difficult. Issues are complex; our culture celebrates busyness, and raising up our kids to be disciples of Jesus is a counter-cultural lifestyle.
What is Family Discipleship?
There are a lot of ways to describe discipleship as followers of Jesus, but three come to my mind when I think about discipleship within my family.
1. Discipleship is incarnate
The incarnation of Jesus — which was when God humbled himself and embraced human form — is a remarkable, mysterious, and essential aspect of our faith. Without the incarnation of Jesus, there is no sacrifice, no salvation, and no defeat over death.
The disciples experience the incarnate Jesus. They walked with him, talked with him, watched him, imitated him, and prayed with him. With the Holy Spirit in us, we imitate Jesus when we disciple others. Incarnate just means “in bodily form.”
When we are in Christ, we are living, breathing reflections of Christ.
What does that mean for our family? We embody discipleship. We live life up close with our kids. As they watch their parents, they should see men and women who passionately live missional lives for the Lord, propelled by his faithful love.
We see this incarnate discipleship in the life of Jesus. All throughout the gospels, the disciples came to Jesus, and Jesus called the disciples to himself to teach, explain, expand, pray, and lovingly lead them in bodily form.
2. Discipleship is sacrificial
Mark 8:34 says, “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
At the very core of discipleship, we see sacrifice. If discipleship means we become more Christlike, then sacrifice will be a crucial part of our daily lives.
Philippians 2 talks about having the same mindset of Christ: “Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
If anyone knows anything about sacrifice, it’s a mom. But it can be quite easy to find our value in our own sacrifice — the sacrifice of our bodies, time, energy, capacity, sleep, food, the list goes on — instead of the life-giving, soul-saving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Instead, we should be offering our lives as a living sacrifice for the worship of God (Romans 12:1). This is the calling on our lives as disciples. Do our sacrificial lives point to ourselves or point to Christ? Do we remind our children of our own sacrifices, which cannot offer salvation, or Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection?
Our personal sacrifices on their own won’t form our kids in the likeness of Jesus. Our kids will be formed in the likeness of Jesus because of how they see his sacrifice through us.
3. Discipleship is transformational
This is why we disciple our kids. The most tempting idol in my life is my kids. When I think about what my innermost heart wants for them, it’s their success, health, and happiness. Of course, we don’t desire our kids to suffer. But when we offer up our parenthood to the altar of our children’s success, their transformation will most likely reflect the culture around them rather than the transformative power of the cross, producing Christ-followers who love God and love others.
And as we disciple them, we’ll also be transformed. It’s part of the life-long journey of following Jesus.
How do we do it well?
I once heard this quote, which has changed how I approach discipling my kids: “You cannot impart what you do not possess.”
When I try to impart what I do not possess, it’s a constant game of catch-up, Googling how to handle every situation, and searching for what I think are biblical answers to complex questions.
Family discipleship starts with a genuine love for God — a gaze transfixed on Jesus. That genuine love pours into all other areas of our lives as we purposefully and consistently spend time in the presence of God.
When we are the embodiment of Christ, living sacrificial lives based on the transformation of our hearts, our kids are discipled in day-to-day moments. Discipleship happens around the table at meal times, on the drive to school, in our daily conversation, and as we pray over our kids before bed.
These are moments of intentional discipleship. The presence of God in us means we do not live ordinary lives — there is so much more for us as followers of Jesus! Every interaction we have with our children is a chance to show them the love, grace, and acceptance of Jesus. Family discipleship takes these moments and turns them into intentional opportunities for our children to know and understand the gospel.
Some of us have kids who are already walking with Christ and trying to navigate life as believers in a secular age. They need to know what it looks like to live it out.
Some of us have kids who aren’t believers yet. Maybe they are little, and we can already see the effects of sin in their short lives. Maybe they don’t know Christ yet, but they’re old enough to know that their family is different because of the faith that defines it. They will look at us and wonder if they should make our faith their own.
Family discipleship is a way of life that forms our families in the way of Jesus through moments, traditions, routines, conversations, and so much more.
This blog was adapted from a meeting of Intentional Motherhood, our discipleship group for moms in every stage. Intentional Motherhood meets on the second Thursday of each month, February 9 through May 11. No registration is required. Childcare is not available. Intentional Fatherhood meets on the fourth Thursday of every month, February 23 – May 25.