by Brian Dembowczyk
March Madness is here, and I love it! You just can’t match the drama of what is arguably the greatest sporting event of the year. There’s something about 64 games, the thrill of the Cinderella teams, and the intense pressure of the “one-and-done” tournament format. Every year I find myself on the edge of the couch watching games as final seconds tick away in each game, stressing over teams I generally don’t care about—even when I don’t know where some of their schools are located! Often, all that stands between a team packing for the next round or packing for home is one missed free throw. Now that’s drama!
As a father, I often find myself in a similar posture when I’m discipling my kids. Maybe not with a game clock and cutting down nets when I’m done (but good for you if you do that), but rather with the high pressure of a “one-and-done” mentality. It’s easy to see every time of family worship or prayer or every gospel conversation as critical—as in “If I mess this up, cut it short, or skip it, I will break my kids spiritually forever. They will be ‘out of the tournament’.”
But the truth is, I won’t break my kids if we miss a family worship time, and neither will you. Family discipleship is less about the short-term and more about the long-term. Yes, those individual family worship times matter. And yes that spontaneous conversation about the gospel matters. But just as one success won’t get us across the finish line, neither will a single stumble boot us out of the game. As the old saw goes: this is a marathon, not a sprint.
So with that in mind, here are 5 tips to remember as you disciple your kids with the long-term in view:
1. Disciple Your Kids with Grace. We’re going to mess up. If you haven’t already, come to terms with this. In fact, we will likely fail more times than we succeed as we disciple our kids. But our failures do not define us—all of our defeats have been defeated by the cross. One of the beautiful truths of the gospel is that, as believers, we are declared forgiven and righteous in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). That is our identity. And as such, whenever we mess up, God heaps His limitless grace upon us and unwaveringly sees us the same way: forgiven and righteous. Don’t withhold from yourself that which God extends to you so lavishly: grace. And at the same time, don’t be stingy in offering grace to your kids. How you handle their sins and failures will leave a lasting impression on their minds and hearts.
2. Disciple Your Kids with Humility. Most of us pride ourselves in being self-sufficient. It’s how we are wired as men and it’s one of the chief values of our culture. It’s understandable, but it’s also antithetical to the gospel. The gospel is not about what I can do; it’s about what He—Christ—has done. So it’s ok for us not to have this family discipleship thing all figured out. And it’s ok that we aren’t expert theologians (although wearing a tweed sports coat with elbow patches during family worship doesn’t hurt). We aren’t supposed to have it all figured out. We are merely to be faithful to God’s work in us and through us. You want to know the secret to family discipleship? It’s seeing it for what it truly is: one disciple progressing slowly in his faith (you) coming alongside other disciples who are just a little behind, progressing slowly in their faith (your kids). You aren’t the expert guide pointing the way; you are down in the trenches learning side-by-side.
3. Disciple Your Kids with Purpose. One of the greatest leadership principles I have learned is always to lead with the “why.” The best leaders cast vision repeatedly. Discipling our kids is no different. One of the most important things we can do is help our kids understand why we are discipling them. That “why” is so that they might see the beauty of the gospel and live a life glorifying God out of love and gratitude for what He has done in Christ. We cannot share this truth with our kids too much or too often. We want to weave it into our rhythm of discipleship so that our kids know beyond a shadow of a doubt why family worship matters. Why we filter all we do through the lens of the gospel and strive to keep Christ at the center of everything. What we do matters greatly, but why we do it perhaps matters more.
4. Disciple Your Kids with Perseverance. Family discipleship doesn’t revolve around a checklist. It’s not a matter of being sure we have family worship every week, that we pray with our kids every night, or that we engage in a certain number of gospel conversations. Those are all necessary and important parts of discipleship, but discipleship is not a formula. It’s a process. It’s walking alongside our kids and figuring out what works best for our family every step along the way. In this regard, it involves a lot of trial and error. You get a new discipleship resource only to find it doesn’t work? Punt and move on. Your Tuesday evening family worship becomes harder to protect? Pivot to Thursdays. A good coach knows that the key is to be flexible, call audibles as needed, and never give up. Keep going. Keep moving forward. Persevere.
5. Disciple Your Kids with Passion. When you think of college basketball, it’s hard not to think of Dick Vitale. Whether you are a fan of Dickie V or not, you cannot deny that the guy emanates passion about college hoops. And passion may be an understatement. The guy clearly loves the game and his excitement is infectious. That’s what our kids need to see from us as we disciple them (although perhaps without yellling, “Yeah, Baby!” as much). We all express passion differently, but what matters is that your kids know that you are passionate about the gospel, about them, and about discipling them as their father. Your passion will be contagious and it will validate the beauty of the gospel message you proclaim.