There is a gap between the desire most Christian parents have to disciple their children and practically carrying out this desire. Timothy Paul Jones has extensively written on this gap and how we can close it. I have not spoken with one parent who has said they do not want to disciple their children. Every parent, without fail, has a desire to disciple their children. But when I ask these same parents how they are carrying out discipleship in the home, they, without fail, begin their answer with a sigh and say, “Well…”
Why is it that we are unable to put our desires for family discipleship into practice? Why do we struggle to initiate family devotions? Why is it so hard for us to discuss a Person who we claim we are staking our lives on? Why is talking about the gospel so awkward for many families?
Family discipleship is not legalistic, nor flippant. We don’t want to go through the motions and we don’t want to be insignificant or irrelevant. Children and teens can quickly determine whether you truly believe what you are talking about. They have a sixth sense for identifying sincerity. We are not after check-list Christianity in implementing discipleship in the home. We are after biblical obedience through a vibrant and gospel-centered discipleship culture in the home. We want our children to see us as their parents as their primary disciple-makers.
But how can we bridge this gap between desire and practice? How can we implement such vibrant family devotions in the home? I believe bridging the gap between desire and practice in family devotions is found in initiative, simplicity, and discipline.
1. Vibrant family devotions require initiative
Simply put, in order for family discipleship to exist there has to come a breaking point in your desires when you finally say, “Enough is enough. Let’s do this.” Fathers, let’s resolve to no longer let our families be spiritually bankrupt and lacking in the home. We can do this by simply sitting with our families, opening the Bible, and reading. You have no idea how much your wife and children will appreciate your initiative to lead them in Christ. Just turn off the TV, open the Bible, and read. It doesn’t matter where you begin. You could begin with one of the gospels, such as Mark or John. Read one chapter each night. Read five verses! The length could not matter less. What matters is that you take the bull by the horns and end the spiritual hunger by feeding your family the sufficient and satisfying Word of God. Without your initiative, family discipleship will remain a waning desire in your heart.
2. Vibrant family devotions require simplicity
This is where the family discipleship train begins to derail. Dads think they need seminary degrees in order to disciple their families. When dads think of family devotions or family worship, they think of children sitting attentively at their feet or in mom’s lap by the fireplace. Dad will read a chapter of the Bible and then give a robust three point devotion. Then spontaneously the children will start singing a glorious hymn. Dad will close with a theologically rich prayer and the Cleavers will then head to bed.
This fanciful and New Earthy idea of family devotions is what leads to a hit and miss family devotion time in the home. When dads realize how impossible a perfect family devotion time really is, many become discouraged and fail to follow through with the initiative they began. But the good news for dads is that there is no such thing as a perfect family devotion time. Jesus died for all your failed family devotions. And he is sufficient in them as well.
One way to move forward through messy family devotions is simplicity in practice. Dads, you don’t need a seminary degree to disciple your families. No one is more qualified to train your children in the fear of God than you because you have been entrusted as the primary disciple-maker in their lives. So, keep your devotions simple. There is no need to complicate things. Read a passage. Read a verse. Make a brief comment about the text and explain the gospel. Pray for your family. If your family devotion time barely lasts five minutes, good! Family devotions do not require 30 minutes of exegetical expertise. By all means, if your family is suited to go deep and far, don’t hold back. But if formality and time are issues that are keeping you from leading a family devotion, just keep it simple. Read. Comment. Explain the gospel. Pray.
3. Vibrant family devotions require discipline
Like sticking to a diet, implementing vibrant family devotions requires discipline. Like a prize fighter who spends countless hours sweating and bleeding in the ring, dads must gather their families around the table or in the living room or bedroom to fight the good fight of the faith through simple devotions. But we must show up for the fight every single morning or night. Set a time to lead a devotion and meet that time every day. If you have to miss your morning devotion, do it in the evening. But don’t unintentionally miss a day. I encourage the families I minister to to lead family devotions five days per week, leaving the weekends off. As necessary as breakfast and dinner are in your home, make family devotions just as necessary. Let your attitude be: No matter what we do, we are going to read the Bible, pray, and discuss the gospel today. Even when you blow it; even when the kids aren’t paying attention; even when your toddler is playing in his food or pulling his sister’s hair, the practice of devoting time and energy to read the Bible, pray, and proclaim the gospel to your family with discipline will speak volumes to your kids. Even if they don’t understand everything, they will understand that this Jesus guy is super important and must be pretty awesome!
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.