Family Discipleship: Equipping Parents to Build the Next Generation

Parents have a unique calling placed on their lives. The moment they receive news that they will welcome that bundle of joy into the world, God calls them to serve as the primary spiritual trainers for their child (Ephesians 6:4). This high calling is one that comes without experience or training but a wonderful guidebook found in the Bible. And as ministers of the Gospel, pastors have been called to help equip parents for this role (Ephesians 4:12). In fact, strengthening the foundation of homes is vital to the overall strength of a church. As families grow together in their spiritual walk, the effect is undeniable in a church. Healthy families help create healthy churches.

And this foundational principle of parents serving as the primary disciple-makers of their children is prevalent in Scripture. Throughout the Bible, we find exhortations for parents to read God’s Word at home (Deuteronomy 6:4–9), encourage Scripture memorization (Proverbs 7:1), exhibit their faith boldly (2 Timothy 1:5), offer Godly correction (Proverbs 29:17), and to avoid outside influences that would harm the family (Joshua 24:14–15). Implicit in these verses is the charge for parents to live out their love for God and to do everything they can to serve as the catalyst in building faith in their children. Scripture is clear that the training and spiritual nurture of children lies in the hands of parents.

According to a Barna Group study, nine out of 10 parents agree with this type of parent-focused discipleship. Many in this same survey, however, said they “have no plan” for the spiritual development of their children. Additionally, this same research showed that “the majority of parents do not spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials.”[1] This news should sound alarms because God uses the family to advance the Gospel through generational faithfulness.

As a result of this information, the Church has a great opportunity to equip and train parents to become the primary disciple-makers in their family. Through training and equipping, the family’s church does not usurp the God-ordained, parental responsibility; rather, the church can walk alongside parents to undergird the parental responsibility of disciple-makers. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 reminds us it is through the local church we find encouragement to live out our faith daily. Here the apostle Paul exhorts believers to “encourage one another and build one another up.…” It is through the encouragement of the local church that parents become better equipped to disciple their children at home.

Now a family discipleship plan will look different in every home— because God uniquely creates every child and parent. However by equipping parents with family discipleship tools, they can begin to develop a plan that works for their family. Through the focus on three areas at Prestonwood, in addition to our weekly Worship Services, our desire is to help families build Gospel centered homes.

1) Milestones – A “milestone” is a significant spiritual marker in a child’s life that highlights the various developmental markers of a child. Milestones can include Parent/Child Dedication, baptism, preparing for adolescence, purity vows, senior recognition, etc. These moments provide the perfect opportunity to support parents as their children move along a faith path. At Prestonwood, for example, any parent desiring to participate in Parent/Child Dedication is required to attend a parenting class. During this class, they learn how to be the parent God desires. This class serves to lay the groundwork for how our church comes alongside families to integrate discipleship within the home. First-grade bible presentation is an additional way, which we partner with families to celebrate a new milestone in their child’s life. Children receive a bible upon entering 1st grade to help them develop Bible reading habits at a young age. Additionally, after a child receives Christ and before participating in baptism at Prestonwood, the parent(s) and child are asked to attend a three-week New Christians Class. This class is specifically structured to the learning needs of children so that the concepts of salvation are easily understood. Since parents participate in the class with their children, it helps illustrate the idea for parents to serve as the primary disciple-makers of their children. A final milestone celebrated at Prestonwood occurs at the time of the student’s high school graduation. Before Senior Recognition in the Worship Service, parents are invited to attend a parent/senior parenting class. During the class, parents/seniors hear from student ministers on how to “disciple from a distance.”

2) At-Home Resources – Writing and distributing parenting articles is a useful way to equip parents so they can establish faith conversations with their children at home. At Prestonwood a few years ago, we launched our family support ministry, Homelife, which has become the place for those who are single or married and those who have young children or an empty nest to find practical resources and step-by-step guidance to help nurture faith at home. Through Homelife guides (articles on various family challenges) and Blueprint Cards (faith-building, at-home activities), parents are equipped to meet the unique needs of today’s family. To help jumpstart our Homelife ministry, we partnered with drivefaithhome.com to utilize a variety of customizable articles and at-home activities. In addition to the resources from drivefaithhome.com, our staff writes supplementary guides and Blueprint Cards throughout the year. This combination of materials provides families with a vast library of articles including topics such as “Introducing Your Child to Christ,” “Prodigal Kids” and “Preparing for Adolescence.”

3) Parent Classes – Offering parenting classes after a Children’s Ministry special event such as Fall Festival, Vacation Bible School or Easter Helicopter Egg Drops are great ways to expose new families to a church’s parenting resources. Recently, at Prestonwood, we invited first-time guests who attended our Helicopter Egg Drop to participate in “Kidology,” a three-week parenting class. The response was tremendous, and we had the opportunity to connect first-time visitors into the life of our church. Additionally, they were exposed to the various resources our church offers to help them in the process of discipling their children at home.

An intentional plan to help parents focus on family discipleship at home will have lasting effects. Let’s face it—There is no greater influence in a child’s life than the parental relationship. It is in the home that children learn about the world and where parents impart good or bad behaviors. Through this relationship, the vision for a child to receive a Christian worldview is maximized. Parents have the best opportunity to teach their children how to pray, read God’s Word, share God’s story with others, and develop a heart for missions. So, as a church helps strengthen families, they will become a brighter light in their community, build a stronger church, and empower the next generation to carry the hope of the Gospel.