Whoever said discipleship was easy was misinformed. Paul refers to the work of discipleship as a “struggle” in Colossians 2:1-3. The process of making disciples and discipling disciples is a difficult work, but it’s what Jesus has commissioned us to do. If we give ourselves to teaching athletics, building friendships, or doing service ministry (social work), but we don’t engage in the work of discipleship—we’ve missed our calling as a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20). Mark Dever writes:
At the heart of Christianity is God’s desire for a people to display his character. They do this through their obedience to his Word in their relationships with him and with each other. Therefore he sent his Son to call out a people to follow him. And part of following the Son is calling still more people to follow the Son. 
As we examine the work of discipleship, there are many different component parts and aspects—but there are three elements that are central and necessary for true discipleship to happen.
You can build community around almost anything—from coffee to athletics. One foundational necessity for Christian discipleship is biblical theology. In order to lead people to a higher knowledge of God, such knowledge is built upon a firm foundation of the gospel.
This is where many small groups derail themselves in discipleship. They gather over food, have deep and rich conversations, build important relationships—but they don’t have strong teaching and what they do learn in those settings can often be shallow. That’s not the case for all small groups, but that ditch has certainly claimed a massive number of small groups through the years. Theology matters and it’s a necessity to build discipleship relationships on God’s Word in order to see people grow spiritually.
How many older men do you know who claim to have been saved for many years but don’t posses the theological capabilities to disciple someone in the faith? This is far more common than you might think—especially in the Baptist church.
When you read the New Testament, you see that Jesus invested time in people’s lives. He intentionally spent time with disciples, taught them, prayed with them, prayed for them, and modeled a life of holiness before them. Discipleship is hard work because it requires a time investment.
Everyone begins each day with the same number of hours, it’s how those hours are spent that prevent biblical discipleship from taking place. That goes for individual Christians as well as for churches as a whole. In Acts 20:31, Paul described his ministry in Ephesus as consisting of “night and day.” How many churches do you know that seem to be too busy doing everything other than making disciples?
It may seem like an obvious point, but true biblical discipleship requires a willingness on all parties involved. The one who is taking the lead in the process of discipleship as well as the one being discipled—everyone must be willing to engage in the process or it will not happen. Before people can learn anything, they must be willing to learn. Before people can follow Jesus, they must be willing to see His example from the pages of Scripture, hear His Word taught, and watch Christianity modeled in the lives of others.
This is why the church is a necessity. It doesn’t matter if you’re referencing one-to-one discipleship, small group discipleship—call it Sunday school, small groups, grace groups, connection groups, or whatever you like—there must be a willingness on all parties to get involved, learn, talk, pray, and put into action the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You can’t force people into discipleship. You can’t guilt trip people into discipleship. Anything less than a willingness to grow as a disciple of Jesus will lead to a broken model—one that may build friendships but may not end in genuine disciple making.
The work of discipleship is not one thing the church does—it’s what the church does. It requires theology, time, and willing people. Without theology—it’s friendship. Without time—it can’t work. Without willing people—it will never work.
- Mark Dever, Discipling, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), Introduction.
The work of parenting is tough. The labor is long and the discouragement is constant, but the joys of parenting outweigh all of it. I’m certain that all parents experience joys in their relationship with their children, but as a Christian parent we approach the work of parenting through a different lens. Being a parent is far more than building relationships with our children. It is the duty of Christian parents to go beyond building your child’s athletic resume or teaching your child a trade. We have a much larger task and responsibility. Parenting is the work of discipleship.
Parenting is the Task of Making Disciples
Jesus’ Great Commission to His followers involved going and making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). Before going to the nations, they were to begin that work in Jerusalem. We see them engaging unbelievers with the gospel at Pentecost in Acts 2. From there, they would then go beyond the borders of Jerusalem eventually spreading the gospel to the entire world.
Before we go beyond the borders of our own homes to share the gospel with neighbors, co-workers, extended family, friends, and even short term mission trips overseas—we must begin the work of making disciples in our own home with our own children. Making disciples is the commission, but how is that accomplished? It’s certainly more than getting decisions. It’s far more than having someone repeat a prayer. It’s much more involved than walking through a gospel tract one time and calling for a child to follow Christ by faith. Making a disciple is a hard task because it’s an impossible task.
Paul was sent out by God to open blind eyes (Acts 26:18). That’s an impossible task—something only God is capable of doing. However, Paul was sent to preach the gospel and convince sinners of their need of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. It would be through that labor that God would perform the miracle of conversion in the hearts of rebel sinners. The same thing is true regarding parenting. We have the responsibility of disciple-making, but only God has the power to open the blind eyes of our children and bring them to faith in Jesus.
The greatest opportunities that Christian parents will have with their children will be during the early days when their children live in their home. Once they leave home, the influence and opportunity of the parent drastically decreases. Maximize your opportunities for disciple making by implementing family worship time where you read through the Bible and pray together on a regular basis. Make the gospel a higher priority in your home than sports.
Parenting is the Task of Discipling Disciples
After a person is converted, the work of discipleship intensifies. Going beyond making a disciple to discipling a disciple is hard work. This is the business of the church, and it’s likewise the business of the Christian home. Jonathan Edwards was one of the great pillars and voices of the Great Awakening in American history. Yet, he was fired from his church for his position on the Lord’s Supper as he took a more biblical and conservative position than his grandfather—the former pastor. In his farewell sermon, Edwards pointed to the home as central for discipleship. He said:
We have had great disputes how the church ought to be regulated; and indeed the subject of these disputes was of great importance: but the due regulation of your families is of no less, and, in some respects, of much greater importance. Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules. And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove in effectual. If these are duly maintained, all the means of grace will be likely to prosper and be successful. 
If your children were interviewed and asked what the greatest priority is in your home, how would they answer? Would it be sports? Would it be recreation? Would it be something other than the gospel of Jesus? Once again, we must be reminded that faithful discipleship goes far beyond the realm of getting decisions. If your children are disciples of Jesus, help them learn. A disciple is a learner, and your children need to learn more about God on a daily basis. Parents need to learn too, so the work of discipleship allows for parents to learn and teach—and this ebb and flow of gospel-centered learning is key to discipling disciples.
As a Christian father who is working to make disciples and disciple disciples in my home—I consistently face challenges of time management. When do we do our catechism questions during a busy baseball season? When life is crazy busy and you add sports commitments on top of that—things can get out of balance in a hurry. It’s essential to minimize the schedule when possible in order to make the gospel shine in the home in a far brighter way than the other things of this world.
One reminder that all Christian parents should revisit on a regular basis is the idea that parenting is not easy—especially if you take the responsibility seriously. Discipling disciples is the work of shaping worldviews, challenging false ideologies, redirecting passions, rebuking sin, encouraging sinners, and leading children to the throne of grace for help and strength. Paul Tripp writes, “You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior.”  Remember, what your children see on your television, listen to on your Wi-Fi, and view on YouTube in your home matters. It’s shaping their heart. It’s ultimately your duty to shepherd the heart of your children, so think earnestly about how you’re overseeing and parenting your children in these areas. Freedom to use the Internet is not a right in your home—it’s a privilege.
Perhaps you need to take a season off from sports. Has it become an idol in your heart? Are you fearful of your child not getting that coveted scholarship? If you disciple your child to love athletics more than God, that’s not proper discipleship. This could be said for a variety of other commitments—including academics, business trades, and video games. Depending on the ages of your children, there will be different challenges to face in the work of discipleship. I’m still learning to balance things as I seek to become a better parent each day—I hope you will take your calling seriously.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 — Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ESV)
For further help and reading:
- Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. I, p. ccvi.
- Paul Tripp, Parenting, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), principle heading for chapter 11 titled, “False Gods.”
What is a disciple? Many people claim to be Christians, but what exactly does that mean? The first time the title, “Christian” was used it was in the context of opposition and used in a derisive manner (Acts 11:26). What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? In short, to be a disciple or a follower of Christ means to be a person who learns from Him and seeks to obey Him. Mark Dever explains:
What is a disciple? A disciples is a follower. You can do that by following someone’s teaching from afar, like someone might say he follows the teaching and example of Gandhi. And being a disciple of Christ means at least that much. A disciple of Jesus follows in Jesus’s steps, doing as Jesus taught and lived. But it means more than that. Following Jesus first means that you have entered into a personal, saving relationship with him. You have been “united with Christ,” as the Bible puts it (Phil. 2:1, NIV). You have been united through the new covenant in his blood. Through his death and resurrection, all the guilt of sin that is yours becomes his, and all the righteousness that is his becomes yours. 
Discipleship Explained from the Pulpit
The pulpit is the best training ground for making disciples. Through a healthy and balanced preaching ministry, the subject of discipleship will be addressed in a careful way through biblical exposition. Unfortunately, many churches become unbalanced in their approach to preaching and teaching the Bible. Some churches are known for their evangelism and missions while other churches are known for their emphasis upon discipleship. Which one is correct? The answer is that neither approach is accurate. Both discipleship and missions are necessary in the life of the local church—like two wings on an airplane, and without one or the other the plane will go down.
As the Word of God is expounded on a weekly basis, the subject of discipleship will be covered in texts such as Matthew 28:18-20 and all through the book of Acts and the epistles. The work of the church is discipleship. Before one can engage in missions, a person must be a disciple of Jesus and learn how to make disciples as commissioned by Jesus. If you get the cart before the horse or if you head off down the trail without the horse—it will spell disaster in your mission. It’s essential to know what discipleship is before you move on to engage in making disciples.
Discipleship Modeled by Biblical Preaching
The way in which the Bible is handled on a week-by-week basis in the pulpit will go a long way in teaching the congregation how to read and study the Bible. It’s like a pastor who teaches a congregation to be zealous about missions, but he never goes out and shares the gospel outside of a classroom or pulpit setting. How much evangelism do you think his congregation will effectively engage in? The pastor who teaches his congregation to rightly handle the Bible and to study the Bible in the proper context through a literal, historical, and grammatical approach will never see his congregation follow that method if he doesn’t employ it in his preaching.
The reason so many Christians embrace a loose hermeneutic and an allegorical method of interpretation is because they have witnessed that type of preaching from the pulpit for so many years. If a father should not parent by saying to his son, “Do as I say and not as I do,” the pastor should not preach sermons by one method and expect the congregation to follow a different approach to Bible study. Preaching stands at the core of biblical discipleship.
Discipleship Happens Through Gospel Preaching
Discipleship is not centered on models, methods, marketing, and strategies. Disciples are made and strengthened through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anyone can gather and engage in conversation about life, politics, parenting, and sports over coffee. Only through the gospel of Jesus Christ can true disciples be made and cultivated for the glory of God. How can we know about God’s expectation regarding holiness if people are merely talking about sports and the weather?
Today, the church is filled with hundreds of people who once upon a time called on Jesus’ name for salvation, but they’re not really interested in being a learner of Jesus. Instead, they want the benefits of Jesus without the rigors of being a student of Jesus. They want the joys of being a disciple without the work. John Calvin once said, “Something must be said about those who want to be called Christians but possess nothing of Christ except the title and appearance. They arrogantly glory in His holy name. But only those who have gained a true knowledge of Christ form the Word of the gospel have a relationship with Him.” 
Are you a true disciple of Jesus? Are you learning a proper discipleship model from the pulpit in your local church?
- Mark Dever, Discipling, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 35.
- John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2017), 11.
The last words we have on record of the apostle Paul before he was martyred for his faith in Christ was penned to a young pastor named Timothy. His goal was to encourage him in the work of ministry and to charge him to remain steadfast in the faith. In order to do so, Paul made a very important statement in 2 Timothy 3:14-15:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it  and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Timothy was encouraged to remember his journey in the faith and how he was discipled in the sacred Scriptures. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a Sunday school teacher, a youth pastor, or a cool YouTube personality that was responsible for the spiritual formation of young Timothy. According to the Scriptures, it was Timothy’s own mother and grandmother (see 2 Tim. 1:5).
One of the great needs of the evangelical church today is godly parents who take parenting seriously. While pastors are extremely vital to the maturity of an individual family and fathers are responsible for leading, children need to be impacted spiritually by faithful mothers who recognize their calling and take it seriously. In the opening words to the first chapter of his book titled, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, Paul David Tripp writes, “Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.” 
Today’s young mothers need to know that spiritual nourishment is vitally important in the lives of their children. All Christian mothers need to hear these words, “Mom—you are a theologian.” It’s not that you should be theologically savvy or competent in the world of church history. All Christian mothers and grandmothers are theologians. Consider the fact that:
- Your classroom is your home.
- Your textbook is the Word of God (the Bible).
- Your students are your children.
Timothy had been taught and personally discipled by Paul, but it was this great battle-scared preacher who gave the credit to Timothy’s mother and grandmother. It should be further noted that they were not just placing Timothy in a room with Veggie Tales on a television screen and expecting it all to work itself out. They were actively taking Timothy to the sacred Scriptures.
There are many things we could insist are needed in today’s evangelical church culture, but at the top of the list would be faithful mother-theologians who understand their God-given role in the lives of their children. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a formal education and you may not have authored a book or a blog, but if you’re a mother—you’re a theologian. You must recognize God’s calling on your life and seek to be found faithful.
If you look at church history, you see John and Charles Wesley pointing to their mother as a major influence upon their spiritual formation. Charles Spurgeon talked about his mother’s Sunday “sermon” at the supper table. It was the mothers in Timothy’s life that shaped him in the gospel. Mom and grandmother, please don’t overlook your role. Don’t walk away from your post. Your children need to know that Jesus and His gospel have a much higher place in your life than Mickey Mouse and Disney World. Mom—you are a theologian. More important than your “soccer mom” identity is your calling to God’s Word. What are you teaching your children? Use your gifts for God’s glory. Paul David Tripp writes:
Children are God’s possession (see Ps. 127:3) for his purpose. That means that his plan for parents is that we would be his agents in the lives of these little ones that have been formed into his image and entrusted to our care. 
- Paul David Tripp, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 21.
- Ibid., 14.
As I watch my children grow up in the life of the church, I often find myself having conversations with them in order to prepare them for “real life” (as if they’re not already experiencing it). That’s the role of parents in this life. We teach, instruct, and prepare our children to live life for the glory of God. This time of preparation involves having awkward conversations with our children, honest conversations, and at times—serious conversations that will help them navigate the journey before them.
Why do we prepare our children for adversity on the basketball court, intense opponents on the soccer field, and difficult battles on the football field, but we fail to teach our children to deal with conflict and disappointment in the church? Maybe that’s why so many young children are growing up to be really good ball players—but not very good church members.
It’s essential to prepare your children for disappointments in the church. Your children need to know that people will disappoint them in the life of the church. It happens. It will happen. It’s just a matter of time before it happens again. The cycle of life involves both encouragement and disappointment, but all of life in the church is not “vanity of vanities.” I don’t want my children to learn about life at the ball field, in the school lunchroom, or on social media. I want my children to learn about life and experience life through the church. This involves both encouragement and disappointment, but they must be prepared for both the highs and lows.
Disappointments and conflict in the church can produce:
- Opportunities for learning.
- Opportunities to learn how to handle conflict.
- Opportunities to see the fruit of real repentance.
- Opportunities to see good examples of faithfulness to God.
- Opportunities, perhaps, to see bad examples of unfaithfulness, compromise, and sin.
- Opportunities to see the true value of church membership.
- Opportunities to see the functionality and value of biblical church discipline.
As a father and pastor, I wear both hats for my children. I always want my children to love the church and to grow up and have their lives rooted and grounded in the local church. This Sunday evening, as we were riding home from church, I had an honest conversation with my children. I told them that I wanted them to always love the local church. I also warned them of the disappointments that will come their way at times. They need to know that people will fail them. People will disappoint them.
Why was I having this conversation? We had just shared a meal with our church family and held a member’s meeting to discuss the state of the church and goals for 2017. There was no public church discipline discussed in the member’s meeting. It was a good night, but as I reflected and thought about my children growing up so quickly, I wanted to encourage them and warn them at the same time. In short, I was seeking to prepare my children for real church life.
Hiding the disappointments from your children in the life of the church is like changing the story line of Bambi to avoid dealing with death. Your children shouldn’t grow up thinking that the church is perfect. Children need to be taught that all churches are made up of sinners—imperfect people who must learn daily to cling to Christ. Paul Daivd Tripp writes:
The goal of parenting is to work yourself out of a job. The goal of parenting is to send young adults out into the world who are prepared to live as God’s children and as salt and light in a corrupt and broken world. 
When you hear of disagreements or experience them head-on in the life of the church, take such opportunities to shepherd your child’s heart. Depending on the ages of your children, you may want to withhold such information. You certainly don’t want to demonize a fellow church member in the life of the church. However, if your children are able to think clearly and with maturity, you would do well to point out the disagreement or situation of controversy in order to use it as an opportunity to disciple them in righteousness. Alexander Strauch writes:
There is nothing wrong with Christian disagreeing with one another or trying to persuade another of the rightness of a particular position. What is wrong, however, is loveless conflict that ends in hate and bitterness. 
Each week in the life of the church, the children are watching us. They’re listening to our conversations. They’re watching us interact in person, in private, and in the pixelated world of social media. It’s vital that we deal with conflict in a biblical manner. Sadly, many 8 year olds watch their parents behave like 8 year olds when dealing with conflict in the church. Children need more than lessons from Jesus’ preaching in the Sermon on the Mount. They need to see their mother and father living out that doctrine that was taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
- Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997), 192-193.
- Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs, CO: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 166.
This past week my family and I had the privilege to spend a week on the beach in North Carolina – a special place we’ve been visiting for many years. As you know, when you sit on the beach and play in the sand with your children, you often notice other people around you and what they’re doing. My children usually end up playing with random children around us building sand castles and splashing in the water.
If you’ve kept up with the news, you’re aware that this year has been a unique season on the North Carolina coast with several shark attacks. In fact, as I watched the water and ventured out with my children to ride waves with them, I couldn’t help but notice that people were not venturing out nearly as far as they normally do in the water. After playing in the water for a while, I took my seat in the shade. I noticed that one father followed his children out into the water and stood about ankle deep with his hands on his hips and watched every move his children made in the ocean surf. As he stood there watching, I glanced to my left and noticed that he was standing a few yards from a lifeguard stand where a professional lifeguard was standing on his post, but he continued to stand there for the duration of the time that his children were in the water.
That scene made me think about the spiritual duty of a father. Although a child may be under the direct care of teachers and pastors in the life of the church, the one who is to take the lead in protecting and caring for that child spiritually is the father. A perpetual problem in the church is the mindset that many families have on the beach. They view the protection of the children as the job of the lifeguard on the stand, so they sit under the umbrella with a book while their children play in the water. In many ways, parents are consistently guilty of that same mindset spiritually. Unfortunately, many fathers believe it’s the duty of the youth pastor, children’s minister, and Sunday school teachers to disciple their children through the gospel. Like that father I saw standing ankle deep watching over his children merely yards from an occupied lifeguard stand – we as fathers need to do the same with our children spiritually.
Family worship may seem like a strange concept to many who have never practiced it, but as Matthew Henry once wrote, “Here the Reformation must begin.” Take time each week, each evening when possible, to read the Bible, pray, and sing with your family. Have you ever watched teenagers sneer at church life and worship as if it’s strange and uncool? Perhaps it’s strange because what they see the church doing is never practiced in the home. Voddie Baucham, in his excellent book, Family Driven Faith, shares that 70-88% of all students walk away from the faith of their parents by the end of their freshman year of college. If sharks swimming in the water will cause parents to focus more on their children while playing on the beach, shouldn’t we care about the massive numbers of children who are walking away from the church after they graduate? What’s more dangerous – sharks in the water or sharks in our culture?
With a flamboyant agenda, the culture is interested in discipling your child with a secular worldview. Are you prepared to do battle? Are you standing guard? Are you seeking to practice in the home what the church practices together in order to normalize worship in the life of your family? Take time to consider the high calling of the father and mother as the prime influencers in the lives of your children. Deuteronomy 6 gives us the key responsibilities regarding family discipleship. The children of Israel were commanded to teach their children the Word of God and to instruct them regarding the redemptive history and purposes of God. As believers positioned on the other side of the cross, we must do the same thing. God has redeemed us, not with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and spot (1 Peter 1:19). When your children ask you about the lamb imagery, you can take them back to the Exodus and explain the whole scene that was a foreshadow of Jesus as the Savior of the world.
Don Whitney – Family Worship: In the Bible, in History & in Your Home
Joel Beeke – Family Worship