Disclaimer: The contents of this post have been adapted for parents from a sermon that I preached on 1/09/2022 at Holly Grove Baptist Church in Spring Hope, NC.
The Bible clearly teaches that Christians parents ought to be the primary disciple makers of their child or children (cf. Deut 6:4-9; Prov 22:6; Eph 6:1-4)–I will use the plural form of child throughout the rest of this post to encompass all family types. The Great Commission commands all believers to “make disciples,” and one of the ways we do this is through “teaching them to observe all that [Christ has commanded]” (Matt 28:18-20). This verse establishes that teaching our children is one method of discipleship that ought to be taking place in our homes. However, parents need to remember that we are not responsible for our child’s salvation nor their sanctification because these two aspects of the Christian faith are entirely dependent on God. You and I are accountable to God for how we parent and disciple these image-bearers rather than the results that come out of our efforts.
Two Foundational Truths
Before we move into the “5 ways,” we must set forth two guiding foundations for discipleship. First, we need to be reminded that discipleship centers around and is dependent upon Christ. The gospel must be central in our teaching. In other words, we don’t disciple for behavioral modification, nor imply that works gain God’s favor, but rather that Jesus Christ’s work remains sufficient and efficient for their salvation and sanctification. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation, and belief in the gospel results in a changed life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our teaching affirms and centers on this truth.
Secondly, you and I need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s spiritual fruit of patience in the discipleship process (cf. Gal 5:22). Our children are not going to get it the first time we teach them the Bible, and they may struggle for many days over a biblical truth or a change that needs to take place in their lives. Jesus displays this type of patience in this own discipleship process in Mark 8. The disciples still didn’t get who he is and what he came to do. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to bestow patience on them as God reveals who Christ is to them and the salvation he brings to all people who put their faith in his work (cf. Mark 8:29). Parents, embrace that the discipleship process in your home requires the same fruit of patience displayed in the life and ministry of Jesus.
5 Ways for Discipling Children:
With these foundational principles in hand, we will now move to the 5 ways you can utilize to disciple your children found in Mark 8:1-10. Please note this list is not all inclusive, but rather one pathway among many Jesus employs throughout his life and ministry.
- Teach children through repetition. Jesus feeds over 5,000 in Mark 6 and in Mark 8:1-10 feeds another group of people in front of his disciples. Jesus’ repetition of feeding the masses was designed to help his disciples recognize that he is the bread of life (cf. John 6:35). They were still learning this truth, which Peter would acknowledge in Mark 8:29, but we recognize the reality that we must teach the truths of Scripture to our children over and over and over again. Repetition helps our children learn about who God is and the work he does. By repeating biblical truths day in and day out, we are helping our children learn about the truth, beauty, and goodness of God, which he has shared with us in Scripture.
- Teach children to have compassion for others. Mark records in Mark 8:2 that Jesus shows his disciples his compassion for the crowds. Mark who is most likely writing Peter’s account of the feeding illustrates that Peter saw Jesus’ compassion for the needs of others and the nations–most likely this feeding was to a predominantly Gentile audience. Parents need to teach their children to be compassionate as a reflection of Christ’s compassion for all people in that “while we were still sinners, Christ (who loves us) died for” you, me, and our babies (Rom 5:8). Therefore, we ought to teach our children to have compassion for others in their times of need and to go share the gospel with the nations.
- Teach children to serve. We live in a selfish culture and are inherently self-absorbed due to our sinful nature, but Jesus teaches his disciples to be selfless in this miracle. They are taught this lesson when he makes them serve the crowds (Mark 8:6-7). We must teach our children to serve others for the sake of the gospel. We serve so that we can point those we help to the Savior, Jesus Christ. In this miracle, Jesus served the crowds bread so that he could point them to the truth that he is the bread of life. We must create opportunities for our own children to serve others so that their service will generate opportunities for them to have gospel conversations.
- Teach them to give thanks. Before Jesus hands out the loaves and the fish, we see him giving thanks (Mark 8:6-7). Jesus is modeling for his disciples that all provision is from God, and they ought to be thankful for it. In our consumeristic culture, it is quite easy for our children to be apathetic towards God’s provision–this truth also applies to us as parents. When God gives us our daily bread or basic provisions, we must teach our children to be thankful (cf. Matt 6:11). If they feel like they have nothing to give thanks for because they have had a bad day, we should teach them that they can always give thanks for Jesus Christ who came to save them from sin, transform them into his image, and one day return to redeem his creation. Teach this lesson of thankfulness by modeling it before your children.
- Teach them to be satisfied in Christ. Mark records that everyone ate until they were satisfied (cf. Mark 8:8). The world is going to constantly tug at our children to believe that the things of this earth will completely satisfy them–i.e., make them happy. However, nothing in this world will bring true and lasting fulfilment or satisfaction to their deepest longings. Only Christ (the bread of life) can truly satisfy human beings. We must teach our children to cherish Christ, and only then, will they learn what true joy and contentment in life really means (cf. Phil 4:10-13).
To conclude, these are only 5 ways out of many that you may use in the discipleship of the children God has temporarily entrusted to you. Our ultimate aim in the teaching category of disciple making is to constantly put before our children the gospel and how trusting in Christ will change their lives. Our teaching of biblical truths should be positioned in such away that God will reveal himself to them, and the same truth that he revealed to Simon Peter, “You [Jesus] are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16), will come to fruition in their own lives. Parents, continue to run the race and disciple your children for the glory of God.
Chap Bettis’ The Disciple-Making Parent. See this link for a review I did for this book at the Center for Faith and Culture.
James Banks’ Prayers for Your Children.
Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart.
Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible.
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