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Five Essential Gifts to Give Your Kids: (1) Your Prioritization of Their Discipleship

As parents, we devote calendar space, gas, mileage, money, texts, camera clicks, social media posts, late nights, and much attention to what we value and prioritize for our kids. While dedicating much, we also sacrifice much for what our kids want to do and what we want our kids to do. What we say yes and no to, what our kids are allowed and not allowed to do, says much about our priorities for them.

Our planners, cars, bank accounts, phones, and homes showcase what we think is foremost for our children. And for many parents, even many who claim that God is foremost, discipling their kids is secondary. It’s backseat at best. Why would I say that? Well, many parents just don’t devote much careful attention to it. Parents taking their children to church is essential, I’d argue it’s most important, but it is not enough, and many Christian parents are irregular in church attendance. The state of discipleship among Christian families is anemic at best? 

While devoting much time to planning out educational choices, how to make activities work in the family schedule, and how to improve athletic, academic, artistic, and other skills and habits, because they wholeheartedly believe they are important, many parents give little time and thought, and really little personal effort, to daily and intentional discipleship of their kids. Though discipleship is neither complicated nor expensive, it does require much wisdom, direction, time, and fortitude in both strategy and implementation. As parents, when we don’t give much to and sacrifice much for the discipleship of our kids, we show in practical ways that it really isn’t important to us, it isn’t the top priority. We should be honest about any incongruities in what we say and do in this area of our lives. We need to change our thinking about what our kids need most and how to give it to them. If our children excel in all the things our culture prioritizes, but they are uneducated, naïve, immature, and untrained in the knowledge of God and His Word, there is no one to blame but ourselves, and we have not done our God-ordained job. I don’t think I’m being too harsh or overstating it. We must continue to stretch ourselves and improve in this area. All of us.  

This series is intended to give parents and aspiring parents five essential things they must do to disciple their children well. Each must be the top priority in parenting. Here’s the first gift you must give your kids: your prioritization of their discipleship. What I mean is, both philosophically and theologically, you must wholeheartedly believe discipling your kids is your responsibility, but even more, believe it is your most important responsibility as a parent. God has appointed you to care for your children’s body and soul, and the more important of the two is their soul. So, please feed and clothe your kids, but even more, disciple their souls.

Before you prioritize your responsibility to disciple your children, you must firmly believe, deep in your gut, that God is commanding you to do it. If you don’t prioritize it as the cadence of life, the many alluring opportunities, beliefs, and values of the world will simply crowd discipleship out and reduce it from a way of life to a few “good talks” here and there. If you don’t prioritize discipleship in your heart first because God commands it, it will not carry over into your calendar, car rides, budget, texts, camera clicks, social media posts, late nights, or your thoughts late at night.

To prioritize your children’s discipleship is to take ownership of it, to feel the weight and responsibility of it, and to desire to work hard at it because it is a unique privilege given to you by God. To prioritize it is to refuse to delegate it to the so-called “professionals” of children’s and youth ministry. Before you disciple your children well for the glory of God and their eternal good, you need to firmly believe that it is your primary responsibility. By owning it you give your children a priceless gift.

Moses said in Deuteronomy 6:6–9:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [1]

Diligence is key. Now, Moses spoke that to all Israel. However, you is masculine singular and Moses mentioned individual houses. He mentioned walking, lying down, and rising up, things done every day. The emphasis is not on a village raising children, but parents raising children throughout daily routines, and I think particularly fathers. God commands parents to disciple their children in the truths of God’s law and gospel at home during daily routines.

Paul specifically addressed fathers in their unique role of discipleship. In Ephesians 6:4 he said, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Anger makes a father’s discipleship bitter; gentleness makes it sweet. The word for “bring them up” means to “nourish” or “provide for.” Fathers are to nourish their children with gentle and patient training in righteousness, education in gospel-living, and admonitions and corrections from the wrong paths, and fathers do this gently and intentionally by helping their children know and apply the word of the Lord. This kind of spiritual provision is central to a father’s role, in fact, it defines a father’s role. We could also go to Genesis 18:19, Deuteronomy 4:9 and 11:19-21, Psalm 78:4, Proverbs 19:18, 22:6, and 29:17, even 2 Timothy 3:15-17. But the point is that parents, with fathers taking the lead, must own their God-given responsibility to provide for their children a steady diet of Biblical truth at home. They must prioritize tender discipleship like they prioritize giving their children food, water, and clothing, and tender discipleship is even more important.

So the first essential gift you must give your kids is your prioritization of their discipleship. It’s likely that things will need to be removed from your family’s schedule in order to improve in this area. Lip service won’t do. Talk is cheap. Show that discipleship is your top priority by introducing it into the daily rhythm and routine of your family. Prove that it is the top priority by the careful attention you give to it. It’s one of the most important things you could ever give your kids and generations to follow.

[1] Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one-half of any book of the ESV Bible.

About the author

Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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