Family Discipleship

Family Discipleship: Whose Job Is It and Why Is It Important?

I can still remember where I was sitting on the Sunday morning when I realized that I could do everything I knew to pass the baton of faith to my children, and they might not choose to follow Christ. I could bring them to church, have consistent family devotions, teach them to read their own Bibles and memorize Scripture, and even, by grace, strive to model a seven-day-per-week brand of Christianity before them, and they could still decide to throw it all aside and choose a godless life.

We’ve all seen this scenario lived out in hundreds of different families, and the statistics confirm those observations. “The Fuller Youth Institute estimates that 50 percent of high school students actively involved in their churches walk away from their faith after graduation.” (9) That’s not just half of all kids, or even just half of the kids in our pews. That’s half of the regular attenders, half of the kids who know where the snack stash is in the nursery, the ones who have a drawer full of t-shirts from youth events!

We can spend a lot of time lamenting this reality and asking ourselves, “How did we get here?” However, a better strategy is to double down on our dependence on God’s power and to admit that the cultural wasteland in which our kids are growing up is going to cost us something! Specifically, we must be intentional about teaching and training our children to live counter-culturally.

Family Discipleship in the Wilderness

Long before I was a parent, I was responsible for the educational program at the church I then called home. I remember feeling the weight of parents’ expectations, the time pressure that comes with knowing we had so few minutes with our learners, and the realization that we had so much to accomplish in laying a firm foundation of faith.

Fast forward a decade and move seventy five miles up the coast of Maine, and I became a parent and eventually took on the same volunteer administrative role in another church. This time, I was even more aware of the need to teach our children well, but with one difference: I had embraced the need for cooperation between home and church in the crucial work of discipleship.

The challenges inherent in effective family discipleship are many, and a Christian education committee of half a dozen members will bring at least that many definitions of “success” to the table. What looks like a thriving program to one family will feel like interference and overreach to another family. For example, we have families in our church who couldn’t survive without a junior church program and others who believe their children are best served by learning the rhythms and routines of worship along with the congregation.

A Family Discipleship Resource

In Teach Your Children Well, Sarah Cowan Johnson offers a step-by-step guide for family discipleship in which the church and the home become co-laborers together and yoke fellows with Jesus Christ–who is actually doing the work and bearing the weight of our kids’ spiritual formation.

She advocates for a model of spiritual training that is both high grace and high challenge. Parents and church leaders who feel stuck and stagnant probably need to push toward more challenge, while those who are too light on grace will feel as if they are living on a hamster wheel and carrying the weight of everyone’s spiritual future on their shoulders.

It turns out that family discipleship is a team sport, for even though research shows “parents are the number one predictor of a child’s spirituality throughout their lives,” (39) church staff have the privilege of coming alongside parents and grandparents as coaches and cheerleaders.

Is family discipleship important to you? Anytime you are tempted to say, “I don’t have time,” try saying, “It’s not a priority,” instead and see how it feels. ~Sarah Cowan Johnson in #TeachYourChildrenWell via @ivpress

Family Discipleship is Important

Accompanied by helpful charts just right for planning and diagrams that communicate and clarify, Teach Your Children Well encourages parents and church leadership to step into their spiritual authority, their “right to make use of God’s power on earth.” (46) Creative ideas for teaching spiritual disciplines get the show on the road as we help our children to identify “God moments,” the burning bushes that pull us into our calling while we’re busily minding our own business.

We communicate value in so many ways:

  • Your time with God is important enough to set aside a special meeting place.
  • Grown ups are still growing in their walk with God, so I will cultivate habits of holiness, too.
  • Let’s share our daily blessings and challenges (“gratefuls and grumbles”) at the dinner table (or at bedtime) so we can be praying for each other.

I am coming away from this book with a renewed awareness of my equipping role as a Christian educator. Parents need to be reassured that they are strategically located in their children’s lives to influence lasting faith. That’s encouraging and empowering!

And I’ve hauled a pile of old flannelgraph materials out of a file drawer for the next visit with my two oldest grandkids. We will study the life of Moses together while they create the scenes themselves on the dining room table. And while I pray for God to light bushes on fire in their path–and that, by grace, they will stop, pay attention, and allow themselves to be changed.

Holding You in the Light,

Michele Morin

Pray for God to light bushes on fire in your child’s path– and that, by grace, they will stop, pay attention, and allow themselves to be changed!

Free Resource: A Seven-Day Challenge!

Standing on the Fringes of Life

A Seven Day Challenge of Scripture and Prayer to Pull You Away from the Fringes

I turned 60 this week, and as my birthday gift to you, I’ve created a seven-day challenge intended to draw us away from the fringes. The challenge incorporates daily Scripture and prayer to help you begin moving toward the center of a living and powerful walk with God.

Last winter, I memorized John 15:1-8 and was struck and instructed all over again by the truth of God’s intense longing to be in relationship with me. He wants us! No question about it, but so often we behave as if we don’t want him.

Each day’s brief reading from John 15 is an invitation to abide with Christ, to pull away from the fringes and toward his heart. I’m committed to the truth that women can become confident followers of God and students of his word, and it’s my goal to provide resources to help you along that path. Subscribers receive them automatically, and you can receive your copy by simply entering your email and then clicking on the button below…

Success! You're on the list.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and an affiliate of The Joyful Life Magazine, two advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books or products I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to the seller. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

48 thoughts on “Family Discipleship: Whose Job Is It and Why Is It Important?”

  1. This is so ponient to me, as a stroke survivor who has been left disabled, I need family a friends to find the time to help, which I mu say say that that I am blessed blessed with my friends es#dreamteam


  2. Michele, this is such an important topic. It’s an area that I wish we had done a better job with. Ours was a blended family trying to make things work without any real foundation of our own. But even at that, we had some vague idea that we needed to be doing something in this area. I wish we had tried harder to understand how. I’m sure a resource like this would have been so helpful.


  3. Thanks so much for raising awareness of the importance of cooperation between families and churches. That statistic about half of regular church attending high-schoolers leaving the faith after graduation, is quite sad, though not surprising to me. #DreamTeam


  4. A good reminder that even though we can’t control the outcome, we can still follow our values in teaching our children about Jesus. I wish it all came with a guarantee, but that’s definitely not in the parenting brochure. 😉


  5. Once again, you have hit it hard on the head of the nail.
    It’s been hitting me recently too, these facts. It’s sobering and also can be a kick in the pants for us as parents. We don’t have time to waste.

    Thank you for writing this and sharing it at the Sunday Sunshine Blog Hop this week.



    1. Yes, the church’s role is to stand with parents, encouraging and equipping them to step into their responsiblity as the spiritual authority in their home. Thanks for reading and sharing!


  6. This sounds like a great book. It breaks my heart that as my niece’s godmother, I taught Catechism the entire time she was growing up to set an example. And now she doesn’t even want to sign her kids up for Catechism.


  7. A book that’s helped me through the realization that we can do all the things and our children can still reject God is Mary DeMuth’s Love, Pray, Listen. Although our fledgelings have left the nest, I still need to be willing to disciple others as a Christian. Thank you for the resource and the reminder!


  8. What a wonderful resource! I don’t envy today’s parents who are struggling with menacing cultural pressures that we didn’t have to. Our 9-year old granddaughter is feeling left out at school (sometimes purposefully) because she doesn’t have her own cell phone, doesn’t have access to Tik-Tok videos, etc. And she attends a Christian school! Lord, help us help the children in our spheres of influence to experience You in ways that draw them tightly to you with forever bonds of love and gratitude.


  9. It is scary to think about- no matter how much we try or try to make the right decisions, you can’t make someone follow Christ and you have to just hope and pray they do! THank you for this 🙂


  10. ‘the cultural wasteland in which our kids are growing up is going to cost us something’

    wow. yes. anything good that our kids end up being is only by His grace. it breaks my heart to listen to the stories of families who love the Lord and done the best they could only to see their kids wander off.

    Lord, have mercy.


    1. I listened to the broken heart of a mum this past weekend. Praying faithfully, and seeing nothing ahead but more heartache.
      So humbling to me, and reinforces what you said– anything good is all grace.


  11. investing in the next generations is so important – essential! May we be faithful in doing all that God asks of us in this task, and trust him with our children. Thank you for sharing.


  12. What a staggering statistic; but I have definitely seen it played out in our local churches. I can remember it being “standing room only” if you were even just a few minutes late for service; now the church is almost always less than 1/4 full.


      1. Yeah, but as much as I’d like to blame society and culture our church changed drastically too. They had a school attached to it that they shut down– and in a very short span of time our diocese shut down nearly EVERY single catholic school they have. In the 562 parishes only a dozen schools remain. They claimed the schools were costing the diocese money because those parishes supporting schools had less funding to send. It was so sad and so eye opening to be in the midst of the school shutting down and to see how it was handled (my boys were in pre-k & K and I was teaching in the school at the time). While it definitely shook my faith, I later realized that it wasn’t so much my faith in God but my faith in the institution of church itself– and sadly, what I will always think of as “my church” in particular.


  13. It’s a bit out there, but this reminds me of school. Where, you can send your child to school and they can do well enough. Or, you can send your child to school, and support and nurture their learning at home, making the hunger for learning as natural as breathing… and then they will carry that with them in the future. Whether actively, or privately in their hearts. They will always have the know-how and support to turn back to learning, as and when they want to. Thank you for joining us for the #DreamTeam x


  14. Hope you had a wonderful birthday! I think all children rebel against their upbringing and we as parents have to have faith that our kids will find the right path thanks to our support. I am less concerned with outward conformity and prefer personal faith. Thanks for linking up with #dreamteam


  15. I’d like to think I raised my children well and that they will carry on with their children
    Thanks for linking with #pocolo, sorry for the delay with leaving a comment, hope to see you back soon


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