In Matthew 22, when someone asked Jesus Christ, almighty God incarnate, what is the most important command in the entire Old Testament, he didn’t hesitate in his answer. Recalling Deuteronomy 6:5 Jesus replies, ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus called it ”the great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). According to God-in-the-flesh, the long-promised Messiah, this is the preeminent command in the Bible-love God with everything you’ve got. In Deuteronomy 6:6 Moses says that ”these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” and immediately follows it with the mandate to ”teach them diligently to your children (6:7)”. Scripture reinforces this imperative several times. God has clearly commanded that the highest priority of parenting is helping children know, follow, and trust him.
The foundation of understanding family discipleship must be what God himself has to say about it. What Jesus called the Great Commandment (the supreme love for God in Deuteronomy 6) as well as what we call the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 (the assignment to make disciples everywhere) both have a profound import for the Christian family. The biblical imperative is for believing parents to teach their household to obey all that Christ has commanded, principally, to love and follow God above anything else.
One generation removed from those who first heard Deuteronomy 6, the people of God demonstrated the danger of not passing on God’s truth. In Judges 2:10, we see the generation after Joshua, Moses’s successor, described as ”another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” Judges 2 says that they ”did what was evil” and ”abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers,” and that as a result ”the Lord was against them . . . as the Lord had warned” (2:11-12, 15). Those who heard Deuteronomy 6 did not pass on Deuteronomy 6.
You, however, get the chance to do what they did not. You get to not only keep God’s life-giving commandments but diligently teach them to your children.
Diligence implies dedication. You are not just hoping for your kids to know the Lord; you are dedicated and relentless in doing everything it takes to help them know more about their God. Whatever the cost. No matter what. Your child will not escape your house without knowing the life, joy, and freedom that comes with loving and serving God above all others. This is your biblical mandate as a parent.
While Deuteronomy 6 is one of the primary commands to impart your faith to your children, it is far from the only place this is communicated in the word of God. The Bible gives Christians a robust understanding of family.
God invented the family. Its functions and responsibilities are determined by its Creator. All families can find their history and their mission in the Bible. From the Bible we learn that the first family existed before humanity’s fall into sin, quickly ran into depravity and dysfunction, and that, from now until Christ comes back or we go to be with him, every Christian family is called to be the instrument and environment for discipleship of every newly forming generation. However, the Bible also makes it clear that parents are not alone on this journey. The Christian community around the family-the church-also plays an important role in the spiritual formation of children. Ideally, Christian parents and Christian churches are collaboratively discipling kids to know and love Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Whether it is training, resources, mentors, or programs, churches can provide a great level of support to families. In addition, having partners from within our Christian community who resource and disciple in concert with a mom or dad is a gift.
What Is the Parent’s Role in Family Discipleship?
In many ways, culture has convinced parents that it is better to outsource the education and training of their children to professionals. We send them to teachers, counselors, tutors, coaches, and churches to learn and develop. Because of this reality, many parents walk in insecurity over their parental influence.
There is nothing wrong with utilizing specialists in specific fields for the sake of your child’s growth; parents aren’t expected to be an expert on everything in the life of their kids. But when it comes to spiritual matters, God gives the primary responsibility of religious instruction and the training of children to parents, as outlined in Scripture (Deut. 6; Pss. 78; 145; Eph. 6). Christian education begins and should primarily take place in the home.
In God’s good design, parents are given the closest proximity and greatest influence in the lives of their children. Parents have the incredible privilege of helping their children discover the world and teaching them to know, love, trust, and obey the one who made them. God commands parents to actively and earnestly shape the character of their children and help form their faith. While God calls one generation to commend his works to the next, which is certainly a community undertaking, there is a particular sense in which mothers and fathers are responsible for the spiritual formation of the children entrusted to them. God calls parents to recount the past faithfulness of God, declare his works, and teach his commands. They have a unique responsibility to testify to his goodness, encourage belief, and model glad-hearted obedience.
As parents model love for God and others, they also diligently teach their children the fear of the Lord and obedience to his commands. This looks like sharing the stories of faith found in God’s word and explaining not only what God calls his people to do but also why he calls us to do it. Parents have a unique opportunity to teach their children how to see the world and their experiences through gospel lenses.
They also have the privilege, both through modeling and instruction, to show their children how to engage relationally with the Lord in prayer, worship, and Bible study.
Parents are not only the primary disciplers; this is their primary Christian role. Most families are very busy groups of people, pulled in many different directions. If it seems like you don’t have time to engage in family discipleship, the opposite is actually true. You don’t have time for overtime at work or any of the myriad family activities and other commitments if you don’t have time for this. Spiritual leadership is your priority as a parent.
Content adapted from Family Discipleship by Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin, ©2020. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, crossway.org.