How to Not be Discouraged in Family Discipleship

Family discipleship – leading our kids to know and be more like Jesus, should be a habit of our everyday Christian lives.

Many a wise soul has remarked that in recent days, during this worldwide crisis, we have more time than ever to really zoom in on the things that matter most.

We have a chance to perhaps be more intentional than ever in our family discipleship efforts. But what does that effort look like? What should it look like right now?

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One month into our instant “togetherness” (aka lockdown 2020), I certainly learned some things that it’s not.

Let me tell you: I had high hopes. I still do.

I identified some areas I felt we were lacking as a family, and I wanted to tackle those areas head-on.

I was ready to see our family grow closer to each other, and to God.

All of this is still my heart’s desire. But guess what I’m finding through this renewed effort and, honestly, a lot of disappointing moments?

The results aren’t up to me.

Maybe you need to know that they’re not up to you as a parent, either.

Here’s what I’ve learned this far about family discipleship during a time of crisis. Remember these three things so you won’t fall prey to discouragement in this important work!

1| Start small, but start today.

I don’t know about you, but when I realized I would have all this extra time at home together, I also thought about all the missed opportunities we had in the past.

How had we gotten so “busy” that we rushed through bedtime prayers and skimmed Bible readings (if we read at all), too many nights to count?

If that is you as well – one thing I’m learning is that we shouldn’t despise small beginnings.

Whether your kids have accepted Christ as their savior or not yet, their journey either TO salvation or growing to be more like Jesus (after they’re saved), is just that: a journey.

We can’t jump full speed ahead to where we want our families to be spiritually.

But we can start laying a better foundation, moment by moment, day by day.

One verse, one opportunity at a time

Often, just reading a verse or two over dinner is better than trying to get through an entire devotional or long passage of Scripture, and then getting frustrated that no one is paying attention.

Or, even breaking down one devotional into two different times during the day.

(We’ve been reading the one below- slowly!)

We all know that capturing kids’ attention for any length of time can be a challenge – especially with younger kids and/or multiple ages.

Planting small seeds, knowing they can grow into better conversations later, more serious questions at a future day and time – these are still good and worthwhile seeds to sow today. (See Philippians 1:6).

2| Leave the outcomes to God.

The ultimate outcome of our family discipleship efforts doesn’t rest squarely on our shoulders. Thank the Lord!

It’s only our job to be obedient to God and to be intentional in “training up” our children, as their primary spiritual influence.

I think as a mom, when I see opportunities for my family to grow and thrive spiritually, I often assume more responsibility for that outcome than is realistic.

AND, I expect to see instant results! (Insert face palm.)

It can be far too easy to pat myself on the back when my kids show an interest in the Bible – or feel depressed when they are less than thrilled about it.

Leading, not transforming

In reality, I can buy all the family devotionals and get excited about all the Jesus films I can get my hands on, but here’s the kicker: I can’t make my family share my enthusiasm.

Not every time, for sure.

God has to be allowed room to do the work in the hearts of our family members.

He is the one that does the transforming work of turning our kids’ curiosity into desire; belief into true devotion.

Remembering God's role in family discipleship

This is true in ANY season and every circumstance.

Lesson learned: don’t try to play the part of the Holy Spirit! (Turns out, I’m way under-qualified.)

3| Adjust your expectations, especially now

Along with realizing that I can’t change my kids’ hearts myself, I’ve also come to recognize something else: Although I might have more time for creating family discipleship opportunities, there are many good reasons why I shouldn’t set myself up for disappointment in the midst of a pandemic.

Though my kids may not verbalize their feelings often (especially the younger ones), they know that our lives and routines have changed drastically, over the last two years.

Kids are more aware of disturbances beneath the surface than I give them credit for.

They feel what we feel – the underlying anxiety, the tension and the stress of the unknown.

And if I’m placing heightened expectations of their spiritual development upon them – unbeknownst to them – that can add another layer of stress on both of us.

Another Christian mom admitted recently that her tween girls weren’t “really into spiritual things right now”.

She and her husband work in ministry, and she said this to remind me that we’re not in charge of how our kids are internally processing things right now – spiritual things or otherwise.

I can’t tell you what a relief that was to me!

In the past month, there have been days when my kids are open books and the important conversations flow naturally.

MANY days though, it’s like pulling teeth to draw them into any meaningful conversation or family activity at all.

Attitude check: Testing, one, two, three….

On those harder days, the best I can do is be aware of my own attitude.

Am I joyful? Am I displaying my trust in God in front of my family? Do they see me spending time in the Word?

We all are going to have hills and valleys in our spiritual lives, our kids included. But the conclusions they come to about their own worries and doubts will be, in part, influenced by how they see us wrestling with the struggles of life.

We can (and should) keep pointing them to Jesus at every point in that journey.

But we all have to remember: no one can be manipulated into genuine spiritual growth.

No one can be pushed into serving, and especially loving Jesus authentically.

What I think the Lord is really showing me in this time is that I need to focus more on my OWN personal growth efforts; the only thing I can truly control – with the help of the Holy Spirit.

If I’m really focused on my own walk with Jesus, I can lead firstly by example.

I can know that my family can be inspired to love the Lord, not out of compulsion, but out of the love that overflows from my relationship with Him.

Read Next: Teaching Children about Faith: Practical Foundations

Grace: the tie that binds us all

In this time of the greatest upheaval in my kids’ life (thus far), my prayer is still that my family will grow closer to each other and to God. I repeat those exact words when we’re praying together at bedtime.

Even when it might feel fruitless at times, I’m not going to give up on devotional time or studying Scripture as a family.

Simply put, the short-term results can’t predict the long-term harvest.

I’m clinging to that hope!

I also pray that the Lord will remind me of the grace he’s shown me time and again when I needed it most – so that I can extend it to my kids who definitely need it now.

No matter what, our family discipleship efforts are not in vain when empowered by the Holy Spirit and that radical, Jesus-modeled kind of grace.

In the midst of crisis, may grace-filled connections be the most powerful lesson we carry with us into the future.

2 thoughts on “How to Not be Discouraged in Family Discipleship”

  1. Comforting to have the reminder that it’s not in my control. I know this but sometimes want to force that spiritual growth. Thanks for sharing your heart!

    1. Relinquishing a sense of control is SO hard for me, Suzanne! God keeps convicting me and nudging me to trust Him in this. I hope it gets easier but at least I know He does a better job developing their spiritual growth than I ever can. 😉

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