This is the second in a three-part series on parenting, outlining three phases of discipleship in our children.
- PLANT THE SEEDS: Discipleship by Planting Seeds of Stability
- PROVIDE FOR THE PLANT: Discipleship by Supportive Relationships & Training
- PROTECT THE FUTURE: Discipleship by Influence
In the previous article, I wrote about the first stage of parenting, planting the seeds, which is generally the first five years of a child’s life. During this stage, we would do well to tend our marriage, establish a family identity, and train our children to obedience.
But what’s next? Continuing with the gardening analogy, once seedlings have sprouted through the soil and developed a good root system, you’re ready to provide for your little plants by offering stability through catechism, character, and competence training.
PROVIDE FOR YOUR PLANT: Kids aged 6-12
Provide for your plant. You are now moving from the planting stage to the establishment stage. The little vines that have been in the greenhouse get moved to the soil in the big, wide world. Grapevines need a trellis or arbor for proper support to grow upward. This surface will give the vine a place to spread out, allow you to train a wayward vine and, most importantly, keep the vine off the ground, where it would likely make contact with pests and disease. For THREE to FOUR YEARS you prune and fertilize and prune and fertilize, taking care to help the plants get established.
That’s a long time to work for what may seem like at the time, not a lot of growth. But experienced gardeners know that this is critical for future, robust, healthy plants.
Catechism is just a fancy word that means instruction in the faith. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses instructs the Israelites to love God with all their heart, soul, and strength. The next instructions are connected to this call to love and it’s intimacy with Scripture:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
It is hard to overstate the power of memorizing Scripture with your kids, and this stage of growth is the opportune time to do this. You will likely find that your kids are much better at this than you, and there’s a reason why. Children from pre-K to 6th grade are in a developmental time of life where they are eager learners and are able to memorize easily. This is the stage of learning where a strong foundation of factual information should be built. Take advantage of this natural stage of growth by providing opportunities for your kids to memorize Scripture. Create friendly competition among family or like-minded friends; play the Scriptures set to music “when you sit at home and as you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.” (Thanks Seeds Family Worship)!
In addition to Scripture memorization, my husband and I trained our young children in daily personal quiet time & prayer. Consider your children’s personalities and interests here. (I once found a chemistry-themed devotional book for my science-minded son.) And don’t discount the power of just reading a handful of Bible verses and having your kids answer these basic questions: what does this tell me about God, myself, and the world?
Pray, pray, pray. If there is one thing I wish I’d done more of as a young mom, it’s prayer. Pray with your children and ask them to pray in everyday life. When an ambulance passes you on the road? Pray for the people they’re headed to help. When your child is afraid? Pray for courage and trust in God. When a friend is sick? Pray for healing and comfort. To help create a culture of prayer in your home, I recommend listening to two veteran mothers on the Just Ask Your Mom Podcast who have done this with excellence in their families for decades. Oh, how I wish I’d had their teaching when I was 30!
As your kids are memorizing Scripture and learning to have quiet time, don’t neglect the application of biblical truths. There are plenty of resources, but our go-to in this area was Adventures in Odyssey. This beautifully done serial radio show takes the principles of Scripture and injects them into a narrative. Like listening to Seeds, this is a way to passively and pleasantly train your children to love and think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).
Catechism training wouldn’t be complete without mentioning family worship and service projects. Psalm 22:3 says that God is actually enthroned in our praises. Worship affirms the truth of God’s nature and character and roots it deep in our hearts. There are so many opportunities to do this, but the dinner table is an easy one. By simply asking and answering the question How did you see God at work today? your family will worship. And of course, by all means, sing! (Thanks again, Seeds)!
I’ll end this section on catechism training by encouraging you to ask God what service He would have your family do for others. This is a prayer you can be sure He wants to answer with clarity. After reading a biography on George Müeller, our family decided to ask God for an enormous (to us!) amount of money to donate. God gave us opportunities to earn extra money over the next several months, and this service became a beautiful part of our family identity.
Like so many times in parenting, by catechizing your children, you’ll get the benefits too! Children and parents will grow in maturity so that each of you lacks no good thing (James 1:4).
Character training is very much like the gardening principle of keeping the vine off the ground, where it would likely make contact with pests and disease. Learning respect for authority, respect for age, and respect for peers, property, and nature will help your kids avoid the pests and disease of disdain, rebellion, and self-centeredness and build solid character that represents the beauty of Jesus to the world.
This will be more challenging for you than it was for me and my husband, because our nation is experiencing an authority crisis. Balancing respect for those in authority with a healthy dose of discernment will take intentionality on your part, but this is not optional for the Christ follower. The basis for our respect for each person is not how much power they hold, but God’s image in them. Respectful disagreement is quickly becoming a lost art. Reclaim it for your children’s good and God’s glory.
Respect for authority, age, peers, property, and nature include learning to be a friend, taking care of your things, and honoring God’s nature. Look for ways to elevate what you’re looking for instead of always squashing the negative. Celebrate when your child gives a soft answer to a cranky response from their sibling or makes their bed without being reminded. Practice looking adults in the eye and responding with interest in the other person. Celebrate after a successful interaction! Enlist your kids’ help in watering the plants and get outside to enjoy nature.
A final warning regarding character training is this: Don’t exasperate your children. This is the explicit instruction the apostle Paul gives to fathers right after commanding children to obey their parents (Eph 6:4). We take our cues on authority from the ultimate authority, God, and He is slow to anger, abounding in love in faithfulness (Ex 34:6). As Christian parents, we must strive to train our precious children with love and patience.
Competence Training (aka Life Skills)
The third and final area of provision for your little plants is competence. These are the life skills that you’d like them to master as they move toward the teenage years. We grouped these into three areas to help keep track of our children’s progress: home, financial, and social skills.
Home skills include helping around the house, in the yard, and with the cars. A two-year-old can help put away the silverware or sort the laundry. An early elementary-aged child can learn to work the washing machine, fold their clothes, and put them away. An upper-elementary-aged child can help you rake the leaves or wash the car. You get the idea. It’s slower to have your children help… but only at first! Eventually you will enjoy the blessing of your whole family pitching in to help run the home.
Finances. So many parents we have taught through the years sheepishly admitted that they weren’t trained in even the most basic of financial skills. So if you feel intimidated in this area, thank God for the opportunity to learn to steward money alongside your kids! Living as a steward means surrendering your finances to God and recognizing yourself as a manager, not owner, of all you have. It means honoring God first with your money and avoiding debt. And it means focusing on God’s provision with an abundance, not scarcity, mentality. There are lots of good programs out there, but a favorite of ours is Crown. They have great resources for you and your kids.
Learning social skills is simply gaining awareness of self and others. It’s the ability to build relationships. Technology has become a hindrance to our children learning the social skills that previous generations mastered. Limit screen time and require your kids to engage in face-to-face interactions. Encourage them to do the talking when people ask them questions, have them order properly when at a restaurant, and reinforce sibling conflict resolution when you can.
Is your head spinning yet? Don’t worry! There are plenty of good lists like this one that suggest what life skills your child should be mastering at each stage of life. We found it helpful to refer to a list like that every few months to measure our progress in training and their progress in learning!
Final Encouragement & Caveats
If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is! But take heart, parents. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly… at least at first! As a reformed perfectionist, my tendency was to let the perfect be the enemy of good enough. I encourage you to just set some goals and give it a try. Ask God’s Spirit to equip you and remind you of where you’re headed. And celebrate, celebrate, celebrate the progress you see in your kids (and yourself!).
Enlist the help of like-minded Christians who are different from you. Make up excuses for them to be with your children. We once paid a friend’s high schooler to give our 6th grader chess lessons. Did we care if he learned chess? Not really. But we wanted him around people whose character he could emulate, and chess lessons were a perfect excuse.
All of this training should be done in light of your child’s particular personality. Each personality type has besetting sins as well as strengths. Ask God to reveal the unique giftings of each child. Part of the cost of discipleship is helping them maximize their strengths and become less characterized by their weaknesses.
God has a standard for us and our children, and we don’t get to adjust that because it might be hard to accomplish. Take the long view! Set some goals for catechism, character, and competence. Grapevines don’t show fruit for years but with good provision, they are being established as sturdy and strong plants that will bear fruit in the years to come.
For further reading:
Bobby’s introductory post on the problem of how little discipling of children is taking place – The Crisis in Children’s Discipleship
Renee’s first part in the series – Discipling Children: Planting the Seeds (Part 1)
Renee’s third part in the series – Discipling Children: Protecting the Future (Part 3)