Four Opportunity Phases of Family Discipleship
Depending upon the ages of our children, we have four times when we can impact their lives in the manner that Jesus made disciples. Think about the first twenty years of your child’s life and some broad things we can say about certain age-related categories or phases and what you can generally expect in terms of discipleship opportunities.
From birth to around nine years of age children are very moldable. During this phase parents can prevent or significantly reduce the likelihood of sin induced maladies such as teen rebellion, premarital sex, teen pregnancy, STD’s, or outright apostasy. More importantly, parents can pass on the love of the Lord and God’s Word to their very teachable children. Parents who do the hard work of winning and discipling the hearts of their children during this stage will have laid a lifelong biblical foundation in their children’s lives. The preteen and teen years will be more harmonious.
Last Chance at Prevention Phase
Biblically speaking, the final three years of childhood are around ten to twelve years of age. Of course, we’re not saying that all thirteen year olds are equally mature so we speak in a general way. Additionally, expectations and maturity levels vary from culture to culture. But, what we are saying is that the Bible does not distinguish between children, adolescents, and adults, but between children and adults. This fact is a further reason to reject the notion of automatic rebellion in adolescents. It’s not a psychological phase teens go through with no hope. Parents must disciple their children into adulthood teaching them to handle biblically everything that comes their way from changes in their bodies to peer pressure to an increasing independence of thought. You want your children to think more independently when they are in their teen years. You just don’t want them to think independent of the Scriptures. You want them to think more and more biblically on their own.
With that explanation, although by the time a child reaches ten or twelve years of age the foundation is basically laid, there are some course corrections that you can make during this phase. These years are your best opportunity to easily shape your child’s belief system and to win their hearts if you have not been focused on biblical discipleship to this point.
Damage Control Phase
Around thirteen years old until the time your child leaves home, the principles of discipleship still apply, but the battle will be more intense for the soul of your young adult. Worldviews are already established, lifestyle patterns will be ingrained, and parents will be competing with the culture for the affections of their child. Parents beginning to disciple in this phase will likely experience some teen rebellion and the effort to develop relationships with their children will be more difficult. However, if your child is older don’t lose heart; remember that Jesus discipled adults for only three years and they turned the world upside down! You still have your child living with you and that is a great advantage and nothing is impossible with God.
Once your child has left home, again, the principles of discipleship are still appropriate, even if you have not understood them to this point. But there are additional obstacles you will be facing. These hurdles may include distance, habits that need to be changed, or relationships that need to be mended. The good news again is that Jesus showed us how to disciple children and adults and you can still have an influence in the lives of your children. The gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), so don’t lose heart. Pray and speak to your children about Christ as you are able.
No matter how old your children may be, seize the opportunities that the Lord provides to make disciples of them! The good news is that the command to make disciples is for our entire lives, and Deuteronomy 6 was given to parents and grandparents. Begin now.
Alan Melton is the founder of Disciple Like Jesus ministry and co-author of "Disciple Like Jesus For Parents." The ministry encourages parents and grandparents to disciple their children in the same manner that Jesus made disciples. His articles have been featured in numerous publications, and he speaks at churches, associations and conferences. Alan has served the Lord as a church planter, pastor-elder, deacon chairman and business owner. He led Evangelism Explosion and FAITH evangelism training ministries for 10 years and juvenile delinquent ministries for 16 years. Married to Donna since 1977, he has two children, Jennifer and Ryan.