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Why We Don’t Do Family Discipleship Anymore (And How we can Change that)

A recent study showed that although somewhere around 25-30% of Americans aged 15-30 were taken to Church at least somewhat regularly as children, less than 6% can actually articulate the basics of the Gospel message. I find this to be astonishing. I’ve read the studies about the mass-migration of Millenials away from the Church over the past decade. I’ve read that unlike the Exodus’ of previous generations, they’re probably not coming back, and I’m even aware that they are taking millions of once-faithful Gen Xers and Boomers with them.  But the idea that only 6% of people in this age group have even a basic understanding of the Gospel floored me, after all, many of them grew up in Church. It makes me wonder what our Churches have been teaching over the past 20 years because it doesn’t seem to be basic biblical Christianity. And it also begins to make sense to me why they’re leaving. They’re not leaving the faith, they’re leaving some watered-down, cheap imitation that we thought would be more palatable to them. Honestly, if these statistics are true, I think it’s a good thing that they’re spitting-up the rotten milk we tried to pass off on them, unfortunately, however, many of them are confusing our pale imitation for the real thing.

In this climate, it is more important than ever that Christians take responsibility for raising their children up in the faith and teaching them to become, not just nominal American Christians, but disciples of Jesus. It is a difficult thing for many of us to do. Many adults continue to struggle with the demands of true radical Christ-following, and many of us feel ill-equipped even to live our own lives, much less to be responsible for a whole nother person. But if you have made the jump into parenthood, you have made the jump into Disciple-maker, whether you realized it or not. You and I have a responsibility to make Disciples and it must start with the people closest to us, and for many of us, that is our kids. So why do so many of us struggle with Family Discipleship. I think there are three reasons that cause most of us to second guess our roles as Disciple-makers in our families:

  1. I take them to Church, isn’t that enough?

In a word, NO! Thirty percent of parents in the last generation took their kids to Church and about three-quarters of those Church going kids literally don’t know the difference between the Gospel and a hole in the ground. It’s not their fault, it’s not the Church’s fault, it’s not the Youth Pastor’s fault, it’s the responsibility of the parents. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 puts the responsibility for the Discipleship of Children squarely on the shoulders of the parents (with the support and encouragement of the larger community of faith to back them up).

In Titus Chapter 1 as Paul lays out the qualification for Elders, he writes that the children of an elder should be believers or faithful. Which means that I would need to seriously reconsider my standing as an elder in my Church if one of my children should happen to leave the faith one day. I do think there is some wiggle-room in this passage, the word for believing could mean faithful, stable, or even well-taught, so it seems there is some room in this passage for an elder who taught his children well, even if they happen to rebel again that teaching one-day. But the implications for all of us in this passage are stark. The Spiritual Condition of the Children is directly the responsibility of the parents. Period. If your children are not trained up in the faith, are not (at the very least) well-taught, it is on you 100%.

  1. We Don’t Have the Time!

Again, short answer: Yes You Do!!! The key here is intentionality rather than addition. When I say we need to train our children up in the faith most of us have the idea that I’m saying we need to add more activity into an already busy day, but that may not be the case. Do you eat dinner? Do you do homework? Get up in the morning? Do bath time? Attach it to one of those things.

I remember several nights when my children were young, reading a Bible story to them while they were in the bathtub. Maybe before dinner time, you sit down, say the blessing and take five minutes to read a few verses of Scripture together. Maybe you plug it into homework time; after math and reading are done, we have a few verse of Scripture we need to go over and a couple of questions we need to answer together. There are tons of ways to make Discipleship apart of your daily life without adding more activity into an already packed day. Maybe you need to go to bed 10 minutes later or get up ten minutes earlier. We don’t have a problem doing this if we have sports practice, or if homework didn’t get finished the night before.

I’m going to resort to guilt tripping here – which I rarely do – but I’ll make an exception on this one. Is Jesus as important to you as sports or good grades? If you’re not willing to carve out five minutes in your day for Jesus and you are willing to do that for these other things. He’s not, plain and simple.

  1. I don’t know enough about the bible.

This is probably the most crippling reason of them all. And I have two answers that I think will be helpful, no matter how new you are in your faith or how little you know.

First, knowledge isn’t static. Ok, you don’t know a whole lot now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn. A lot of people have this idea that they can’t do what pastors do. They can’t take a passage of Scripture and pull some insightful application out like that. Can I share something at the risk of making myself less marketable? Most Pastors can’t do that either. That’s why I have almost 300 books in my library and another 250 e-books on my computer. I’m not very good at staring at a passage of Scripture and coming up with some brilliant insight from it. But I know of some people that are, and I try to read as much of their stuff as I can.

I say all this to say that it takes work. I know most of us don’t have the luxury to study Scripture as part of our jobs, but I’m saying just saying that if they’re honest, most pastors probably feel ill-equipped to teach the Word at times too. But we can always learn and grow in that knowledge. So I want to give you some resources that can help you get a bit more confident

The Bible Project – a fantastic youtube page with insightful videos that give an overview of each book of the Bible as well as several important theological concepts. These videos are geared toward adults, but pre-teens and teens will find them very interesting as well.

ESV Study Bible – IMHO, the gold standard of Study Bibles. 2700 pages of introduction, historical and background information, theological explanation, and notes explaining what the Bible is saying. If I only had this book, I could do about 95% of what I need to do as a pastor. It is enormous, it is dense, but it is the absolute best out there, hands down.

CSB Study Bible – The ESV’s little brother. 2200 pages and it is filled with the same kinds of study notes on anything you need to know about Scripture. It’s a little bit less lengthy and intimidating when compared with the ESV.

Life Application Study Bible – Another great option, geared less toward understanding the original meaning and more toward applying it to life in today’s world, so this might be a great resource in conjunction with one of the other study Bibles listed above, because this isn’t going to help as much with the history and background.

Epic – this is a cool little book that gives a brief overview of the main over-arching story behind Scripture. Understanding this book will go a long way toward giving you the confidence you need to lead your kids in Bible Study.

Bible Dictionary & Handbook – The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary is, in my opinion, the best bible dictionary out there. There are dictionaries that are more comprehensive (like the 8 volume IVP dictionary, if you have $300 burning a hole in your pocket), and there are probably some out there that are more readable, but in my opinion, this is the best mix of good information in an easy to understand format.  You can get the 10-year-old version used for next to nothing, so that’s cool.  There is also a compact version, watch for deals on this (every once in a while Christian Book Distributors runs it on sale for $5.00!). The Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook offers an overview of each book of the Bible for very little money if you don’t have the money for a big study bible right now.

My second response to this objection is, who says that you can’t learn together? This doesn’t have to be, “gather ‘round children let me impart my vast knowledge on you.” Instead, it can be, “hey, the Bible is important, and yeah, I don’t know as much about it as I’d like to, but let’s learn together.” Following are a few resources that might help you learn together.

The Biggest Story – best Children’s Bible resource ever. It is the basic overarching story of the Bible told as a children’s book, complete with some of the coolest art I’ve ever seen. My kids loved it (they were eight and nine when it came out), and if I ever got became a college professor it would be required reading in every one of my classes. Literally, everyone who is breathing should read this book.

The Beginners Bible – Nothing fancy here, just a bunch of well-known Bible stories told in a simple way that is perfect to get younger kids acquainted with Scripture. There is also a toddlers edition that they loved before they could even walk.

Radical Book for Kids – with respect to The Biggest Story, this is one of the coolest kids books to come out in a while. It’s basically a kid’s Bible reference books with chapters on everything from Bible names and places, to literary genres, to Church History, to basic theology, to science (there is even a page with nothing but elephant jokes on it). There are arts and crafts projects, science experiments, recipes, and all kinds of other cool things. It’s a little bit expensive, but a seriously cool book.

Grace for the Moment: Kids – There are tons of kid’s devotionals out there, some good, some mediocre.  This probably isn’t the best one out there, but it’s solid and it gets your kid’s reading and understanding Scripture, so that’s a good thing.

Teen Life Application Study Bible – A good readable translation and insightful applications that teenagers and pre-teens can understand. There is also an ESV Student Study Bible for those kids who are ready to take it to the next level.

The Joshua Project – Is a great website to explore the need for the Gospel around the world and the thousands of people groups with whom we share our planet, who are virtually untouched by the Gospel.  It’s also a great tool for Social Studies homework.

One Last thought. This is not just about checking family devotions off our list, this is about making Disciples. There are other things that you can do in this process. Get a group of your children’s friends and go to a concert like Winterjam. Find time for your family to serve somewhere together as a family (maybe a local soup kitchen, or pack a few Operation Christmas Child boxes), there are tons of opportunities out there to do things like this. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s intentional and that it is all leading back to Jesus. After all, it’s all about Him in the end.

Jason Koon

Jason Koon has been serving as the Pastor of Bridge42 Church since 2015. He is passionate about building up the Body of Christ through the ministry of the Word, that all may come and find new life in Christ.

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