Discipling in the context of family life
by Kent and Jen Morgan
This month’s article is going to explore what discipleship looks like in a family context, in our lead up to Missions Fest 2019 and our theme “Mission: Discipling”. The family is the building block of the church, and as such has a missional call that is easy to overlook in our individualistic North American culture. Growing healthy disciples starts at home and leads to vibrant missional churches. – John Hall, Executive Director, Missions Fest Vancouver
It was just last weekend when our family had some friends over. The adults were finishing off the meal together, the children were nearby, playing happily. Our friends overheard my oldest daughter. “She has an Australian accent!” they expressed in amazement. While I am an Australian, our children have lived their whole lives in Canada and for the most part sound like Canadians.
Of course, this comes as no surprise to us, for we have recently discovered that Google Now has a really hard time understanding her because of her accent. At times she tries desperately to put on a Canadian accent to get the phone to understand her. Our children are always watching and learning from us; they are master imitators.
For most of human history, parenting has come naturally. We did not have parenting experts, parenting workshops or the wealth of resources and books at our disposal. Our grandparents would never have thought to ask, “How do we parent?” Simply put, we have a thirst for a solution to parenting. Our culture no longer supports families and we look to the experts to fill that void.
We have lost both the skill of parenting and that same skill of making disciples.
When Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples …”, it was a Jew speaking to other Jews. These words embodied a well-known paradigm that the Jewish listeners well understood. This was a total and willing submission of the students to the interpretive authority of their rabbi, to mimic and embrace the behaviour that their rabbi deemed best to honour God. This discipleship was done through a continual daily relational living experience. The rabbi would ask questions of the disciple as he closely observed the disciples’ daily life, or the disciple would initiate a discussion by raising an issue or asking a question based on some aspect of his daily life.
This is different from a program, or the impartation of skills. Parenting goes beyond building your child’s athletic resume or teaching your child a trade or getting the child to make a decision about God. It’s much more involved than walking through a gospel tract one time, saying prayers at night, or calling for a child to follow Christ by faith.
Making disciples is the commission, but how is that accomplished?
To live together. When a child is born, given the right factors, the child will naturally attach to their primary caregivers in a similar way a Jewish disciple might submit to a rabbi. For a child, their whole world is supported and dependent physically and emotionally on their caregivers’ provision for their needs. Those same caregivers have a similar commitment and responsibility a rabbi might have – to live in community with, and guide their followers.
Relationships come first
The power to parent is rooted in this parent/child attachment. Establishing and maintaining this relationship should always be our first priority. Every other aspect of parenting will naturally flow from this attachment. Without it, the only tools we have are those of external force. It is the parent’s responsibility to keep pursuing the child and to protect and nurture this relationship.
Setting behavioural norms
Our children will learn acceptable and unacceptable kinds of behaviour within the social environment we create. By watching and imitating us, young children will learn how to interact socially. If adults shout, behave violently, exclude or discriminate, children will learn or adapt to this type of behaviour. If we as adults treat our own children and others with respect, kindness and patience, children will follow our example. As parents we have a choice about how we behave and what environment we create for our children to grow up in.
Drawing out a child’s internal motivation
Unlike many of our contemporary discipleship programs, there is no curriculum or agenda for parenting. Rather, families live in a continual relational experience, just as first-century disciples did. Parents have the same opportunity to ask life questions as rabbis did in the first century. Parents may ask questions of the child, allowing the child to identify their own motivations and possible responses. Or the child can initiate a discussion by raising an issue or asking a question based on some aspect of their daily life.
Care for our own soul
As parents we may not have a curriculum, but we still need to be intentional about growth. We sometimes confuse this with putting our children in programs. Activity is not bad, but it is our own growth that will inspire and equip our children to learn for themselves. As we care for our own souls, so too will a child learn how to care for theirs.
Parenting is the task of discipleship in a family context. Yet this type of parenting is for the most part foreign to us in our 21st-Century western culture. As we look at how Jesus approached discipleship, we can see how the Jewish culture fostered a family approach to raising up disciples. Since our children are designed to be master imitators, are we providing them with the best example for following the Master? It is possible for parents to regain the skills of parenting and making disciples – creating thriving families who are using their unique skills, gifts and callings, to impact our culture for the kingdom of God.
Kent and Jen operate Families2Families (families2families.ca). Mission Central and Missions Fest Vancouver serve the church by inspiring all disciples to bring the transforming love of Christ to the world around them. Visit: www.missioncentral.ca for more information.