One of the greatest ways we can help the kids in our ministries is by helping their parents be better disciplers. But perhaps we usually do that the wrong way: by focusing on tools and techniques rather than on the parents’ own relationship with Christ. In this blog post we use Deut. 6:4-9 as the template showing our greater need to focus on “who” than “how.”
I’m convinced that most of our parents know that they are the primary disciplers of their kids. I’m further convinced that most of our parents want to disciple their kids. But I also know that most (well, perhaps many would be less cynical) of our parents don’t disciple their kids—at least not to a meaningful degree.
The best impact we can make on our kids is to encourage and equip parents for their role in discipling their kids. What we do with kids matters—a great deal—but if I had just one hour to make a difference in a kid’s life, I would spend those 60 minutes with her parents. But here is what I would not do during that hour: I would not spend all of it talking about how to do family worship or giving the parents resources. Those are really important, but I would reserve only the last few minutes for them. Rather, I would spend the bulk of the time focused on the topic I believe would make the greatest difference—the one which I think we are missing which is why we continue to see a lack of family discipleship.
Parents don’t need to understand the how of family discipleship as much as they need to understand the who of family discipleship—more specifically, who they, the parents, are in Christ. You anchor that in a parent’s heart, and you give him or her what is needed to disciple. The how must follow this who.
We see this pattern of “who then how” in the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Notice that as a parent, I don’t see a how action point until verse 7. The first three verses—half of the passage—concern my relationship with God. God is not so subtle in His point here, is He?
Let me go theological nerd on you for a minute—I trust you will appreciate why shortly. In Hebrew writing there is a literary device called the chiasm. Basically think of a chiasm as a sideways pyramid with the point to the right. Each layer of that pyramid relates to the mirrored one. As I study the Shema, I see a chiasm that amplifies the “who then how” principle of parent discipleship:
- a1) A parent’s love for God (4-5)
- b1) A parent’s love of the gospel (6)
- c1) A parent’s grasp of the gospel (6-7)
- c2) Repeating the gospel in structured ways (7)
- b2) Talking about the gospel as you go in unstructured ways (7)
- b1) A parent’s love of the gospel (6)
- a2) Living marked by the gospel (8-9)
Let’s start from the inside, the “c” level, the hinge between who and how, and work back out. In verse 6 God tells parents that His words—the Scriptures, which I have labeled “the gospel” which is what the Scriptures are about—are to be on our hearts. On the surface, that means parents are to love the gospel, but inferred here is our need to know the gospel. You cannot love what you do not know. As a parent then—as a follower of Jesus—I need to be spending time in the Word. I need to grow in my understanding of it, which will fuel my love for it. Notice the parent discipleship action connected with it in verse 7—repeating the gospel to our kids in planned, structured ways. That makes total sense, doesn’t it? The more we know the gospel, the more we will be able and apt to repeat it to our kids. Just as you cannot love what you do not know, neither can you repeat what you do not know. So the first thing parents need to understand in order to disciple their kids is that they need to be immersed in God’s Word themselves. As a parent, I need to be a student of the Bible. That who will drive the how.
The next level, the “b” level, is also found in verses 6 and 7. As we come to know the gospel more and more, our love for it grows proportionally. This prevailing sense of awe of what God has done through Christ is what will lead us as parents to talk about the gospel as we go—in our normal rhythms of life. When our hearts are saturated with love, joy, and gratitude for God’s kindness to us in Christ, how can we not talk about the gospel with our kids? If Jesus is our greatest treasure, how can we not share that treasure with our children? The question of what we have to do as parents in terms of discipleship becomes meaningless. “Have to” gives way to “want to” and “get to.” We want to share the gospel with our kids as part of our daily lives and we are grateful we get to do that. Once again, we see the who driving the how.
That takes us to the final level, the “a” level, the coupling of verse 4-5 with 8-9. As we spend time in the Scriptures coming to know and love the gospel more, we will naturally come to love the Author of the Gospel more. The same “who then how” principle is at play here. The how of the gospel is critical, but it is secondary to the who of the gospel: God. The gospel compels us to love God fully—with all of our being (heart, soul, and strength). And when we do, our lives will change. We will want God to change us through the power of the gospel and live it out to bring Him glory. And as we do so, we become people marked by the gospel. The gospel becomes our core identifier, not our nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic level, or anything else. Those are not unimportant descriptors, neither are they necessarily bad. But they are not our core sense of identity. Our who rests squarely in the gospel. This is what is in mind when God says that the gospel is to be bound on our hands and foreheads and it is to be written on our doorposts and city gates. The gospel should inform all that we think and do, and it is to be an identifier of our homes, like a house address, and of our communities. The who of being a parent who loves God drives the how of living on mission for God with our families.
This is what our parents need to know: it all starts with who they are—people who know the gospel, love the gospel, and love the God of the gospel. The how flows from that.
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.