I often hear well-meaning Christian parents say the following, “I don’t want to force God on my child. I want them to make their own decisions and create their own relationship with God.”
I agree that an overbearing, hypocritical, legalistic way of parenting is just wrong, but let me challenge you with a different perspective:
If it’s important to actively train our kids in matters of personal hygiene (brushing their teeth), education (attend and do their best in school), manners (say “please” and “thank you”), or even sports (play hard and play fair)…
Then, if we are going to be consistent, why is there even a question as to whether or not to mentor and train your children in Christ?
So assuming that you have made the wise decision to train and equip your children in their spiritual walk, you need to know that there are essentially three stages of discipleship: Mimicking, Repeating, then Understanding.
- Mimicking (2-4 year olds)
It’s what every toddler does when they learn to speak… and how to pray and recite scripture as well. They simply repeat what you say and do. Now, just because they don’t fully understand what they are doing does not take away from the truth in what you are teaching them. You have an amazing opportunity here to teach them, through your own intentional behaviors that God is the GREATEST THING EVER! That Jesus Christ is the greatest man who ever lived. They see these truths written on your face as you talk about God, as you pray with them, or when you cuddle with them out under the stars, showing them all that God has made. Even at an early age, they begin to mimic you and your appreciation of God’s truths.
- Repeating (Kindergarten – Junior High)
Unfortunately, too many Christian kids learn right and wrong due to consequences and the do’s and don’ts become the end-all. They learn not to lie because if they do, they get a mouthful of soap. They learn not to steal something because if they do, they will be grounded. While discipline and consequences are important, though, their instruction in what it means to live like Jesus can’t end there. Instead, while they are learning what the rules are, they also need to be developing in such a way to understand the spiritual truths and reasons behind these rules. Remember – you, as a parent, are the first and primary example and representative of God and His Word. Statistics show that 60-80% of young adults drop out of the Christian faith after leaving high school because they have been successfully taught the rules of Christian living, without any spiritual understanding of why those rules are in place for them. Which leads us to the third phase of discipling your kids…
- Independent Understanding
It’s key to not just follow God’s will for our lives, but to spiritually understand why God’s rules are in place and how they can continue to grow in their walk with Christ on their own. it’s an unfolding process, but one that doesn’t happen without the preceding developmental phases.