The year before my husband and I had our first child, we had the opportunity to get to know a couple who spent a short season in our hometown. They were a sweet, young couple with two children under the age of two.
One day while we were spending an afternoon together, they brought up some things they were learning about parenting. Both of their little ones were delightful—even their one-year-old was responsive and sweet—so I was all ears to gaining any insights in parenting to tuck away for when that time came for us.
They said that they had decided to be very intentional about tracing all their training back to biblical principles and to explain these principles to their children from an early age. Even though these truths often seemed too deep for their one-year-old son to grasp, they saw him responding to what they were saying in pretty significant ways. The wife went on to give an example.
They had been going through a time where their son wanted to throw food off his plate onto the floor, and nothing seemed to get him to stop. She prayed and asked the Lord for wisdom, and she decided when it happened again to trace it back to being ungrateful.
The next time it happened, she told him that everything we have is from God and that we are told to be thankful for it. But when he throws it on the floor, he is showing that he isn’t thankful for God’s provision (I believe she may have quoted a verse as well). And the throwing stopped! I was amazed and excited as I listened, realizing that using the Bible as their main source of discipleship for their children, even at a young age, works.
The commission to disciple our children can be a daunting one. What exactly is it supposed to look like? What if I say something I shouldn’t? What if I don’t say something I should? Do we use some kind of curriculum? Do we put them in a church program?
There are plenty of ways we can approach discipling our children. The Bible gives us principles to work off of but doesn’t really give many methods. However, what we do know is that the bulk of discipleship isn’t separate from daily life. It should be intertwined in every facet of everyday life.
Deuteronomy 11:18-19 says, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul … You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Discipleship of children is a regular, day-in-day-out thing. Discipleship is teaching our children how to live as Christians, and what better way to do that than in every event of the day, both large and small? As it says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
As parents, it’s our responsibility to train our children, both in words and in example, what it looks like to live for God in all facets of life. And this is true discipleship.
Yes, we can put our children in Sunday school or another Christian program, and if it’s solid in its doctrine, then it will most certainly be a help. But God didn’t design this to be the primary source of our children’s training. He assigned that task to us, their parents.
Here are some things that have been helpful for us as we’ve sought the Lord about how best to disciple our children in daily life.
1. Ask the Lord for Wisdom and Clear Spiritual Eyesight
You may be thinking, “I have absolutely no idea where or how to begin discipling my children.” If that’s the case, then you’re in the perfect starting place. All of us are so dependent upon God’s grace to disciple our children well.
Some might have all sorts of methods, but if they’re not affecting their children’s hearts, then it is no better than moralism, which only deals with outward appearances. God is the one responsible for changing their hearts, and He is very interested in giving us all we need to do that.
Start by asking Him for wisdom and insight. Ask Him to help you see clearly the opportunities throughout the day to point your children to Him, whether it’s eating a meal or cleaning up toys or taking a bath. If we’re ready for Him to lead us, then He certainly will.
2. Trace Everything Back to Biblical Principles
It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling your children to do something just because it’s right but not take the time to tell them why according to the Bible (I speak from experience).
It takes a lot of mental energy to always be ready to trace your instruction back to Scripture. But it’s important that our children know from a very young age that they aren’t supposed to obey just “because Mommy (or Daddy) says so” but because it is how God has instructed us to live in obedience to Him.
For example, my children are in the midst of learning how to share. It would be easiest for me to say to them, “You need to share because it’s the right and kind thing to do.” But as much as possible, I try to talk them through the danger of selfishness and use a verse that we’ve memorized about “Do[ing] nothing from selfish ambition …” and “count[ing] others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
This always places God as the ultimate authority, not Dad and Mom. It may take years for them to understand, but all of it is laying subconscious groundwork for solid understanding of right and wrong according to God’s standards.
3. Memorize Specific Verses to Use During the Day
I touched on this in my last point, but I will say it again. Memorizing Scripture with your children that you can apply to daily life is one of the best ways to keep bringing the focus back to Jesus and disciple them straight from the Bible.
Whether it’s a verse about rejoicing (Psalm 118:24), receiving instruction (Proverbs 1:7), or understanding God’s love for us (John 3:16), I’ve found that there is hardly a time when I can’t directly apply Scripture to any given situation. And if your children recognize the Bible as an authority in their life and in yours, it will make an impact on them.
4. Teach Biblical Terminology and Use it Regularly
There are words in the Bible that are rather large and complicated, even for adults—words like sanctification, propitiation, etc. But the earlier we begin using words like this around our children and taking the time to explain them for our children’s comprehension level, the sooner they will grasp their meaning.
An excellent example of this comes from when I was a part of a small Christian school for a few months helping to teach the 4-7 year-olds. They had a daily “discipleship time” where words or concepts would be taught. I remember specifically when they were teaching the kids the meaning of the word “repentance.” A child would start walking across the room and was told to turn around and walk the other direction when they heard the word “repent!” The kids thought it was fun, and it helped them learn what repentance really is: turning from going the wrong way to going the right way toward God.
God cares deeply about the spiritual state of our children, and He also cares deeply about enabling us to teach them about Him. He delights to honor obedience, so we can be sure that no matter how faltering our steps may be, He will lead and guide and give us all we need to point these precious little ones to Him.
For more resources on discipling children, check out our Family Discipleship Curriculum, designed to equip parents to effectively lead their children to know Jesus and walk with Him. Learn more about the Family Discipleship Curriculum and sign up for your FREE one-week trial subscription!