The following originally appeared in the July-August 2012 issue of the AFA Journal, by Rebecca Davis.
When it comes to parenting, the Word of God is clear: Believers are diligently and consistently to train, teach, and admonish their children in the ways of the Lord. In other words, they are to carry out the Great Commission and make disciples in their own homes.
“[But] the truth of the matter is Christianity today dies in the first generation,” according to Dr. Howard Hendricks, distinguished professor emeritus of Christian education and leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary. “The average parent does not conceive his role as mentor, as a disciple-maker, and therefore does not function that way.”
Young parents Kennon and Kathryn Vaughan are an exception. They are very intentional and strategic when it comes to marking every day of their children’s lives with the presence of the gospel for the glory of God.
“The first institution for protecting and magnifying the glory of God was not the church; it was the family,” Kennon told AFA Journal. “So I think in the life of every believer, the first line of defense when it comes to the Great Commission is in the home.”
Even as founder and executive director of Downline Ministries, a non-profit organization designed to train believers to make disciples, Kennon believes it is his first responsibility to foster biblical discipleship in his own home.
“Frankly, if we’re not discipling our own kids, then we probably don’t have any business trying to reach out and pour into others whether they are children or students or adults,” he added. “The ones we know we are to disciple are the ones God has given us.”
But knowing exactly how to shepherd a child so that he desires to become a lifelong follower and learner of Christ can be overwhelming.
While there is no perfect formula for biblical parenting and certainly no guaranteed outcome, the Vaughans share what is presently working for their family to encourage and motivate other families who desire to exalt Christ in their homes.
“What Kathryn and I are doing first and foremost is praying,” Kennon explained
“Each day I pray three things happen as I am with my children,” Kathryn added. “They come from the famous biblical parenting passage in Deuteronomy 6, also known as the great Shema.
“It begins with ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts,’” she recited.
Therefore, Kathryn first prays for her young children to see a great love and obedience toward God in her own words, actions, and attitude.
“The passage then continues, ‘Impress them on your children. Speak of them when you sit at home and when you walk along the way. When you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.’”
So, secondly, Kathryn seeks the Lord as she attempts to be intentional and consistent in teaching her children the truths of God through discipline and instruction as well as daily rituals, which include reviewing a Bible verse each morning, praying before every meal, singing at night, kneeling together in prayer, and praying the armor of God and a specific verse over each child before bed.
“Thirdly, I ask God each morning to make me sensitive to teachable moments with my children,” she said. “I have to be listening to the Holy Spirit and not be too tired or too busy or closed to veering from my schedule.”
“Only God can turn their hearts toward Him,” Kennon added, “so the greatest thing I think we do for our kids is pray Ephesians 1:18 – that God would open the eyes of their hearts that they may really know His greatness and know Him personally.”
Knowing God is the desired outcome of biblical discipleship in the home, and family devotions or family worship is becoming an increasingly common way parents are teaching their children about God.
After dinner each night, the Vaughans stay around the table and together they read the Bible, memorize Scripture, learn catechisms, and sing songs. It’s a way to impart theological truth to their children, even at such young ages.
Family devotions for the Vaughans have played a large role in giving them the platform to share the gospel with their children through the happenings of everyday life.
Kathryn has also been instrumental in establishing family traditions that celebrate God’s faithfulness in the life of their family.
“Our entire year is marked by traditions that keep us remembering and discussing the prophecy, anticipation, and expectation of the Messiah and then the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. That leads us into constant worship of who Christ is and what He has done for us,” Kathryn explained. “Traditions are fun and special to children, and we want them to have fun learning about God and the gospel through special experiences that they eagerly anticipate.”
“We don’t want to be passive in the fight to model Christ for our kids,” Kennon said. “We know we won’t do it perfectly, and often, we won’t even do it very well. But we want to go for it.”
“I have a real passion for discipleship in the early years, which I think is rarely seen as discipleship because it can be so mundane, repetitious and tedious,” Kathryn said. “However, every major parenting expert I’ve read says the first five years are the most formative in a child’s life.”
Therefore, she encourages mothers, especially those who are worn down, to press on for the glory of God.
“The biblical truths they are teaching and modeling, the decision making, the values they are living before their children over and over will be there to guide their children when they become adolescents,” Kathryn added.
“But there is only so much we can do,” Kennon admitted.
After all, if successful parenting is merely about what you do and how you do it, then it nullifies the work of Christ on the cross and the grace of God in the lives of sinners.
“The central focus of parenting is the gospel,” writes Dr. Tedd Tripp, in his book Shepherding a Childs Heart. “[I] expected that God’s Word would be the power of God to salvation for my children. But that expectation was based on the power of the gospel and its suitability to human need, not on a correct formula for producing children who believe.”
“We can’t make our children love Jesus. We desperately want them to love Jesus, but we can’t make them, Kennon added.
“How they turn out will depend on more than what you have done in providing shaping influences,” Tripp writes. “Ultimately, you leave them to God, knowing that you can entrust your children to the God who has dealt so graciously with you.”
Family to Family: Leaving a Lasting Legacy by Dr. Jerry Pipes and Victor Lee
Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes In You and Your Kids by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp