by Bronwyn Lea
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here ▸
Hearing a friend describe their nightly family habit of memorizing Scripture after dinner filled me with both admiration and deep guilt. Our post-dinner habits are nothing like that. The nightly routine in our house generally involves haggling over whose turn it is to pack the dishwasher and me refereeing the blame game as my kids loudly protest that it wasn’t them who missed the trash bin and left spaghetti sauce smears all over the cabinet. We don’t resemble anything remotely close to what comes to mind when people talk about “discipling their children”.
When and how am I supposed to be discipling my kids?
Jesus’ last instruction before leaving earth was to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). But what does that mean? And how do we do it? The great commission of the Church is to make disciples: baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all he commanded. I hear a lot of teaching, for sure. There is instruction aplenty. But how do we teach people to live it? How do we not just tell people about Jesus, but lead them to be followers of his? How do we do that in our churches and small groups? And, how do I do that at home?
For most of my life, my answer has been curriculum. Teaching people what the Bible says has been the focus of my ministry for 20 years. Developing Bible study materials, teaching and writing books so people will better understand Scripture is what I’ve trained in and trained others in for decades. And yet. Does an excellently-written Bible study or a brilliantly-crafted sermon actually result in growing disciples? Or could we just be creating really well-educated Pharisees?
Jesus said more than ‘teach’. He said ‘teach them to obey’.
So, whatever discipleship means, it has to be more than just teaching my kids a verse, or leading a family devotional—although those are wonderful things to do. It has to be on-the-job training. Discipleship is an internship, not a lecture series. It’s not enough to help people know it. We have to help them live it.
As I wrestled with the questions of when and how to disciple my kids, a wise friend encouraged me to ask when and how Jesus made disciples. The issue suddenly became so much simpler.
Jesus didn’t have to carve out 15-minute pockets after dinner to devote to disciple-making. He made disciples for THREE YEARS, continuously, day by day, as he walked and talked and did ministry alongside them. He explained what he was doing as he went—as much as his disciples were able to understand at the time. He invited them to participate, offering small challenges, encouragement, and correction along the way.
My guilt about not “intentionally discipling” my children instantly fell away. Because the truth was: I already am discipling my children, 24/7. We all are. The way we talk and act are always pointing people to something or someone. The question simply is: what is it? A quick inventory of the things we spend our time, money, and conversations on will reveal what we’re pursuing, and by extension, what we signal to those around us to notice and value.
We may not have a post-dinner family devotional, but I have a daily Scripture I write on our kitchen chalkboard. This began as a practice for me to meditate on God’s Word all day, and by doing this in front of my children, they are being discipled. We may not have signed up our kids for any church-sponsored mission trips, but we make a regular habit of welcoming college students into our home to feed, bless, and encourage them; and our children participate in it all. They are being discipled in hospitality and mission.
The shift I needed to make was not to suddenly *start* discipling my children, but rather to focus on making the implicit work of discipleship explicit. We could do what we’d been doing all along, but be intentional about talking about the WHY of it. Discipleship at home is a years-long commitment to show and tell the ways of Jesus: we walk as we talk, just as Jesus did pointing out the lilies of the field, the rocks that would cry out along the roadside, and discussing the local news as he did when a tower collapsed (Luke 13:4). Jesus used everyday things as teachable moments to help people connect the dots between this world and the Kingdom of God.
And so we do the same, using our words to explain and encourage others to see what we do and why. I can do this while washing dinner dishes with my child and talking about Jesus, who also served by washing (John 13); or over coffee with a friend and processing her college applications in light of Scripture’s words on discernment and decision making. The principle is the same: we say as we go. As we name it, we frame it - helping one another understand that the life we are building rests on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. For some, a regular rhythm of post-dinner Scripture memorization is part of their show-and-tell-the-Gospel lifestyle. For me, it looks different. But for each of us: the call to disciple is the same. We invite others to follow us, even as we follow Jesus ourselves, explaining as we go (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Bronwyn Lea is the author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World. She is a stay-at-home (for the pandemic) pastor, editor for Propel Sophia, and speaker. Sign up for her monthly-ish newsletter here, and connect online on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.