3 principles for effective family discipleship

Written by Christie Thomas
Published on April 14, 2023

You’ve been trying to disciple your kids, but they just won’t pay attention. It may feel like you’re trying to get a group of squirrels to sit still and listen to a lecture on the benefits of a healthy diet. But fear not, there is hope!

As a parent, discipling your children is one of the most important things you can do for them. You want to see them grow in their relationship with Christ and learn to love him for themselves. You want your kids to zone in, not zone out. You want them to be engaged and find God relevant to their lives. You want them to grow an authentic relationship with Christ, not just parrot the right answers or follow the rules.

But what happens when your kids don’t seem to be paying attention to your efforts? Here are three principles to remember on those days when your frustration level is more obvious than the fruit.

  1. You’re playing the long game

Discipleship is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And let’s be real, you’re probably not even wearing running shoes. But that’s okay, because you’re in it for the long haul. You may not see the results you want right away, but keep at it. Keep planting those seeds and watering them, and before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful garden of faith growing in your kids.

Think of family discipleship a bit like putting 25-cent into an investment account every day. Because of the miraculous math of compound interest, if you started very young with this investment account, you would find yourself with a ton of money as an adult, even though you only put in 25-cent each day. 

Comparatively, putting in occasional huge lump sums later in life actually earns you much less interest over time, meaning you have to put in far more money than if you had committed to 25-cent daily investments. Small, consistent efforts over time can yield great results. 

It’s the same with family discipleship. Small investments of time from an early age compound into far more time spent discipling your child than if you decided at age twelve to start doing Bible study every Saturday afternoon.

When you disciple your kids with the long game in mind, not only are you far more effective, but discipleship becomes more sustainable because you can slowly build tiny habits into your family over time, rather than trying to do a massive overhaul to your schedule. 

Keep in mind that you may not see the fruit of your labors immediately, but over time, your efforts will compound and produce a harvest. Continue to be faithful and consistent in your discipleship efforts, even when you don’t see the results you want. 

You can have this positive attitude even without seeing fruit when you remember principle #2.

  1. God is ultimately in charge

It’s easy to become discouraged when your kids don’t seem to be responding to your efforts, but remember that God is ultimately in charge. He loves your kids even more than you do and wants to see them grow in their relationship with him. Trust him, not your fear. 

However, this doesn’t mean you just shrug your shoulders and say, “God will do whatever he wants.” What God wants is to partner with parents to lay a solid foundation of faith while your kids are young. 

So take a deep breath, say a prayer, and invite God to work in your life and in your child’s life. As he works in your life, he’ll give you insight into how best to connect with your kids spiritually.

Keep praying for your kids, and ask him to help you in your discipleship efforts. God is faithful and will honor your prayers.

  1. Consider your audience

One reason your kids may not be responding to your discipleship efforts is that they may not be engaging with the material. You’re not speaking to a group of seminary students here, you’re speaking to kids. Here are three tips to deepen the impact of your discipleship moments. 

Make it short: Unless they’re playing soccer or video games, kids seem to have shorter attention spans than goldfish. A good rule of thumb is that you can expect one minute of attention for each year of life, which means your five-year-old won’t last for a 20-minute lecture on systematic theology. 

Instead of trying to pack in every detail every time, consider making your discipleship times into discipleship moments. Not only are short sessions more sustainable for your family, they have a better chance of actually engaging your child.

Make it fun: Sometimes our kids don’t want to listen because they’re legitimately bored. We want them to learn systematic theology, but they’d rather be playing with marbles on the floor. So let’s bring fun into our discipleship moments! We can laugh, create jokes, retell Bible stories, or even stand on a chair while singing the Bible passage. 

Adding fun to a lesson doesn’t need to detract from the message. In fact, kids can often remember the message more clearly if they’re enjoying themselves while learning it. You also don’t need a curriculum to make Bible reading fun. Simply follow your child’s lead and—dare I say it—loosen up a bit!

Embrace movement: Kids are going to be kids, and most of them are active learners. They’re going to wiggle, they’re going to ask questions, and they’re going to interrupt you at the most inconvenient times. This is how they learn. Embrace it! 

Use their natural curiosity and movement as an opportunity to teach them in a way that’s tailored to their learning style. I find that asking kids to act out a Bible story is one of the best ways to help it stick in their mind, and help them fully immerse themselves in the teaching. 

Discipling your children can be challenging, but remember it’s a long-term investment. Take a deep breath, have some fun, and remember you’re in it for the long haul. With God’s help, you can help your kids grow in their faith and build a foundation that will last a lifetime. 

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Christie Thomas

Christie Thomas is the homeschool mom of three fabulous boys and the wife of one brilliant grown-up boy. She has written several books for Christian families, including The Mother and Son Prayer Journal. If you’re struggling to connect with your son right now, she’d love for you to try out the 5-day, Fun With Your Son Challenge!

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