Discipling the disciplers
I’ve been reading gardening books in an attempt to keep more of my plants alive this year, and something which they all start with is soil care. I am not interested in soil care! I want to grow plants. Usually I flip forward to the interesting bit – seeds and seedlings and how to deal with slugs. However, I accidentally read the first paragraph of the soil section and was shocked to discover that really I should be tending to my soil! After all, look after the soil and the soil will take care of the plants. Huh. Who knew?
The same is true in children and family ministry. Parents are the main disciplers of their children. If we partner with them, or really come along them – be their wingman, as Rachel Turner says – we can magnify our influence ten-fold!
Parents are the key influence in their children’s lives, their words and actions will live on in their children long after their children leave home. Their values and beliefs are absorbed and lived out by their children, unless and until they intentionally choose otherwise.
We see this in ourselves, and for those of us who are parents, we see it in our children. The good and the bad gets replicated in all it’s glory in our children. Our attitudes to food, fitness, books, nature, cars, sport and, of course, God.
God knows this, of course! In Deuteronomy 6:5-7 God tells the people:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your strength. The commandments I give you today must be in your hearts. Make sure your children learn them. Talk about them when you are at home. Talk about them when you walk along the road. Speak about them when you go to bed. And speak about them when you get up.”
These are conversations which take place not in the temple or at a sacred gathering, but in normal life. The entire community is invited to join, but the people are best placed to have the majority of these convos are parents, as they are with their children for more hours of the day (and night!).
So how do we partner with parents? How can we disciple the disciplers?
In order to disciple someone, they have to follow you. Jesus called his disciples – he invited them to follow him, and they adopted him as their teacher, someone they would spend lots of time with, learn from and seek to emulate. Now this model isn’t necessarily one which works in exactly the same in our culture, but there are some essential principles we can follow (see what I did there?).
1 Be someone worth following.
The reason the disciples followed Jesus was not (just) because he called them but because he was different. This isn’t something we can add to our list of thing to do, but it’s a call to continue to be transformed and to be someone whose life is worth emulating in some way.
Think of the people you enjoy spending time with, the people who invigorate you and leave you feeling ‘topped up’. Think about what they exude, what word you would use to describe them. I know Naomi, a bold, fearless dancer and mother of three who exudes joy. I know Paul, a gently spoken children’s hospital chaplain, who exudes peace. What do you exude? Maybe ask some friends to give three words to describe you and see what themes emerge!
- Be intentional.
We need to have a plan and live in a way which moves us towards our goals. If we want to be people who help others come close to God, we need to live in a way which achieves that! For each of us that will be different, but being intentional will help us.
Let’s be intentional about what we share, in conversation and online. Let’s not be the people who are all moaning or telling the latest saga of queues on bank telephone calls! Let’s be people who choose to bring someone of God’s goodness into the conversations we have with people.
- Be authentic
Having said that about bank queues, sometimes we need to share the difficulties on our lives too. To ignore them in our conversations makes us into un-authentic people. To talk about Jesus all the time, is a bit like turning into a super-keen Avon lady, always looking for a way to talk about how Avon products will solve any problem our friends might have. I’m not anti-Avon. I might even want some products! But I don’t want my friendship with you to be based on your desire to sell my products! Sharing our stories of real life, being real with our friends means that when we do speak about Jesus or how our faith helps us, it comes across as real rather than a sales pitch.
So what might this actually look like? What can we actually do to disciple the disciplers?
- Communicate with parents.
Let parents know and preferably also experience what we are doing with their children in a group. This needs to be more than a leaflet or email with details (although that might a good place to start!). Knowing about an activity or Bible story is completely different to experiencing it.I was on a Mums weekend away a couple of years ago and asked the four ladies I was sharing accommodation with if they would be up for doing a Shabbat meal on the Friday evening, as we do each week in our home. They all agreed, curious but open. It was pretty simple for me to make a nice meal including fresh bread and wine, and we shared the meal and rituals together. Within a month, two of the Mums contacted me asking for a resource so that they could do something similar with their families, which, two years later, they are still doing!
If possible, do things where adults are invited to join in, not just stand or sit around the edges. Find ways to share what you’re doing In the group in a way which invites parents to join in, such as sending a playlist of the songs you’re using this term, or a book of the Bible stories.
- Be available to chat.
As with the discipling mentioned in Deuteronomy 6, the conversations which turn out to be important ones are rarely in a group or a meeting setting, but in the edges of those times. It’s important that instead of clearing up (yes, I hear you – someone needs to do it, but it can wait!), we prioritise being available to chat with parents, not just about the content of the session, but as friends. Let’s get to know parents, hear what’s happening in their lives, be interested and authentic on our friendship.
- Be a resource curator.
This is the easiest place to start, which is why I’ve put it as number 3. It’s easy to have resources and give them to parents, but frankly, most of them won’t get used unless it’s the right thing for them at that time. You know what it’s like – all those fliers which fall out of the weekend papers or magazines – where do they end up? Do you even read them to see if they might be useful?! However, once we’ve opened communication and started chatting with parents, we’re in a much better place to suggest resources which might help them. Even better, we’re in a place where they might ask us for them!
Being a curator means choosing the right thing for the right time, not just going scatter gun and hoping something sticks. Be like a personal shopper assistant – an expert in your subject area, knowing where to go to get resources on a wide range of topics. Get on the mailing lists of publishers and Christian book shops so that you hear about new resources. Gather a library of your own so that you can lend things to people (ask for budget to do this). Join groups on social media so that you can ask others for their recommendations and hear about what works for different types of families. This will make you a really useful resource to people!
This week I launched a resource you might like as part of that library. It’s a new Faith at home mini-mag called: Mountains. It contains 12 fun, easy-to-do activities for families to explore Psalm 121 together, including Psalm Bingo! You can get a copy for only £4+£2P&P or a pack of 10 for £24.