What Does It Mean ‘To Disciple’ Our Kids?

What does it mean to disciple our kids? It’s a good question. One that more than one parent has asked me. And, to be honest, over the years I’ve given different answers, based on my understanding of what it means to be a disciple and what discipleship looks like.

The word disciple literally means “student, learner, or follower.” Technically, the word disciple only appears as a noun. The idea of using “disciple” as an action verb is a strictly Christian usage. Generally, it is understood in Christian circles that “to disciple” someone is to help someone to become a follower of Jesus. Discipleship is the work of discipling.

So, let’s put all of that together

  1. A disciple is someone who learns or studies or follows someone or something.
  2. To disciple someone is to teach them about that person and what it means to follow.
  3. Discipleship is the condition or situation of being a follower or a learner of a philosophy, belief, or person.

I know that’s not what we typically think of when we talk about discipleship, making disciples, and discipling people. These aren’t necessarily the things that come to mind when a parent is told that they need to “disciple” their kids or a Sunday School class describes its new curriculum as a “discipleship program.”

Very often our ideas of discipleship, especially successful discipleship, have what certain outcomes—to make a disciple would mean someone became a Christian, got baptized, join the church. For parents, to make a disciple would mean that their kids would grow up to be Christians, followers of Christ, and stay in church. These outcomes are often what our curriculums and programs and teachings are aimed at—the goal shapes the means.

But what if those goals aren’t necessary the right goals. Of course, those are good goals and every parent’s hope and every minister’s dream, but what if the goal of discipleship isn’t to make converts and churchgoers.  What if Jesus’ command to “make disciples” is to help people know who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him, even if they choose not to do so for a time?

I cannot help but think of Jesus.

More specifically, lately, I remember Judas. Remember Judas? He was one of the 12 disciples. He was part of Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus, the Son of God himself, discipled Judas. He poured into Judas and let Judas get to know him in the most intimate circle. Judas was numbered with people like Peter and John. And Jesus was his pastor.

And Judas chose not to follow Jesus. He chose to turn his back on his pastor, his faith, and his community.

As I sit with that reality, and I think about some of the people who I love so very much who have chosen not to follow Jesus, I recognize that even Jesus could not make people follow Him. He could not “make disciples” by our definition. He offered life. He gave wisdom and love and a place to belong. He also gave a choice. If Jesus were to mark sheets of paper with his discipleship successes and failures, multitudes would fill the fail column and the success column would dim in comparison.

To know who Jesus is. To know what it means to follow him.

If our children, our neighbors, our family, our fellow Christians—if all of these people who interact with us on a daily basis know who Jesus is and what it means to follow him, we are indeed making disciples. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can draw hearts to Christ. We can share the reason for the hope we have in Christ, the One we follow (1 Peter 3:15).

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