by Carter Brinkley, Student Minister

For the last year, I have had the privilege of leading what the modern Church calls a “student ministry." This has been perhaps the coolest year of my life, and I love to see what God is doing in the lives of our middle and high school students here in Hernando.

At the same time, I have realized more and more that my ministry with our church is a mere accessory to the main avenue toward spiritual maturity that God has already established for students: The Family.

Yes, the family is the primary way for a teenager (or any child) to grow up in godliness and love for Jesus. One of my great concerns is that our development of in-depth ministry for teens should point emphatically towards the ministry of the family rather than replace it. As I look through Scripture, I find that commands to raise up children are for parents, not just cheesy youth pastors like me. Here are a few:

"Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck."
- Proverbs 1:8-9
"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."
- Proverbs 22:6
"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."
- Deuteronomy 6:6-7

As I look around at the families of students at my church, I see so many parents who take the task of discipleship head on and do very well. I also see a good number of parents who ignore, avoid, or struggle with it— and understandably so. I believe discipleship is the most difficult, time-consuming, and vital job for a parent to do. I have a few thoughts that may encourage parents as you spiritually guide your teenagers.

1.) Aim for better than good.

Every parent wants to raise good kids: the ones who do everything they say with a smile, who make the grades and maybe even the varsity team, the kind that other parents notice for all the right reasons—a Wally Cleaver among Eddie Haskells, if you will.

I want to clarify that discipleship has a much higher aim than this. Your teenager may be all or none of the above, but he or she can still be a disciple because a disciple is one who “adheres to Christ" (to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

I’m all for raising good kids, but when it comes to discipleship, the first goal of a parent is to introduce his or her child to Christ every day. The command you are to “teach diligently to your children” is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) 

There is no better goal toward which to point your kids. To see your children do this will bring you more joy than if they merely become "model citizens."

2.) Cover the basics.

I know this sounds incredibly obvious, but it is also incredibly hard: read the Bible and pray with your students regularly. They may not like it or be interested at first, but they need to hear from their parents how to pray and study Scripture. Nowhere else is there a greater potential to instill the importance of these things than in the home with mom or dad.

3.) Be a disciple first.

Sometimes the greatest difficulty of making disciples is remembering to be one first! I sometimes see a great fear in parents of honestly and openly disciplining their students. I think this happens to parents who have never ventured into discipleship for themselves.

If you find yourself in that position, find someone in your church who you know is a disciple of Christ, and ask him or her how he or she does it. Simple, yes. Effective, absolutely.

4.) Cut yourself some grace.

As you disciple your kids, they will inevitably fail from time to time and disappoint you along the way. That is your best opportunity to show them the grace of Christ that Scripture proclaims.

However, the most crippling scenario might come when you fail in discipleship as a parent and then forget to rest in God’s grace yourself. Remember, you are not trying to be the perfect savior for your kids; you just have to point to one.

Parents, your church staff and I are praying for you as you take on the important challenge and responsibility of discipling your children and teenagers.  Let us know how we can pray for you specifically, or if we can help in any way.

Do you have any other tips for discipling in your family?  Leave a comment below!