Their best, and most frequent example of what a redeemed, repenting and believing, worshipping missionary submitted to Jesus looks like is me. The longer I’ve been a parent, the more I find myself looking more and more like my parents, both for good and for bad. Bottom line, we become like what we behold, and right now, my children are beholding me.
If I want them to become like Jesus, and they are looking to me, then I must primarily model what discipleship looks like in all facets of life – as a family, on Sundays as we worship corporately, in my vocation daily, in our community involvement, and in the fabric of everyday life. My children are primarily learning what it looks like to be a missionary from me, and therefore I want to be a compelling example for them. A good children’s program or youth ministry can certainly help spark their affections, but they are apprenticing for life in Godliness with me.
Children Need a Model
If that’s the case, I believe that children indeed need some age-graded instruction, but I want to prepare them for maturity in discipleship and show them what faithfulness in our culture can look like. We have prayed for our second son to be a missionary from the day he was born, and I’d prefer if he didn’t have to go to a mission agency training to learn what it looks like. That means that we are going to model the practices of missionary living for them, incorporating them into rhythms of missional, communal life as much as we possibly can.
Discipleship is Meeting People Where They Are
Simply because I’m the best model though, doesn’t mean that I don’t take them into account. Our fourth son Owen is only 4 months old…he’s not quite ready for a conversation about repentance and faith, and he’s for sure not leading other babies to Jesus! Discipling your children means getting down on their level and calling them up over time to Jesus. My first grader still can’t read super well, so an every day Bible reading plan would be tough for him. Instead, we still tell Jesus stories, and are teaching him the basics of observation, application and prayer. I encourage him to pray for and talk to his friends about Jesus, but I’m not yet holding him accountable to evangelism on a weekly basis because he’s not yet mature.
Many children are saved at an early age, but let’s not make the mistake of expecting a child who hasn’t been regenerated to be immediately mature, just the same as you wouldn’t immediately expect your lost neighbor to understand the totality of God’s commands for their life.