Discipleship at home: For "Early Childhood"
Published on 24 November 2020
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
In these powerful verses, Jesus commissions all Believers to “Go and make disciples”.
If we flip to the beginning of the Gospels, we read about Jesus first choosing His own twelve men to disciple. As the chapters go on, we see that although they were all so different and imperfect when they first encountered Him, Jesus valued discipleship so much that He never gave up on them. Their flaws and insecurities never deterred Him from seeking to bring out the best in them. By the end of the book of Matthew, they had transformed into great men of faith, ready to be commissioned by Jesus to spread the Gospel all over the known world. How did they get there? Three years of daily discipleship with Jesus. Three years is all it took!
You may ask, “How does this apply to my child?” Well, I am glad you asked.
Early Childhood-aged children are those who are four years old and younger. During these years, babies, toddlers and kindergarten children rely on their parents for absolutely everything: feeding, burping, sleeping, changing, cleaning—the list goes on and on. It is in these pivotal years they are taught to do the basic necessities for life such as toilet training, walking, feeding themselves, talking, writing and expressing their emotions— the fundamentals, so to speak. But just as young children need to be taught essential physical skills in their most impressionable years, they also need to be taught spiritual skills.
The Bible tells us that Jesus took three years to train up His disciples. Is it possible that even our youngest children could learn some of the same lessons that Jesus taught His disciples in that time?
“Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it”
Children under the age of four can be quite underestimated. If they are capable of learning many basic practical skills at this age, why not spiritual basics?
You as the parent, are the greatest influence your child has in their life. They love you, want to play with you and cannot live without you. While they are so young and impressionable, I have some tips to help you disciple them.
Repetition is key
Children LOVE routines and find safety in them. Routines offer a sense of security to them, knowing what is about to happen next. At Planetkids (the children's ministry of Planetshakers Church) on a Sunday, we have a runsheet which is the same every week. Although the principles we are teaching change, the overall format remains the same. Those children who come every Sunday are able to tell you what is coming up next. In fact, on the odd occasion that we forget to do something from the runsheet, the children are the ones who remind us. Weekly routines help to build expectations. The children know what to expect and the repetition of each activity helps them to understand what type of behaviour is expected of them. For example, the children know during praise time, they are allowed to dance and express themselves passionately and joyfully, but during the preaching time, they must sit still and listen carefully to what is being said.
If you are able to add anything into your child’s daily routine, let it be the three powerful and foundational Biblical habits of praise/worship, Bible reading and prayer.
1. Praise and worship
Your kids may not understand the words of a song or be able to sing them properly, but you CAN teach them to use their bodies to praise Jesus. Have praise and worship music playing in your home or car and demonstrate what it is to praise God. Before you know it, your kids will be nagging you to play ‘Jesus music’ all the time!
2. Reading the Bible
Find a time that works for you—morning or night. Maybe read a Bible story to your kids over breakfast or just before they go to bed. It is so important that they are learning faith principles through the exciting stories in the Bible.
I remember as a child, every night when my mum would tuck me in, she would pray with me and get me to repeat and eventually learn the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13). She would also get me to pray out loud. Without me even realizing it, this is something I STILL do every night. I have a chat with Jesus before I go to sleep. This is the power of repetition and routine!
It takes time. When you want to implement something new into a routine, children take time to understand the new element. They may also test you to see if you are serious about keeping it. But never give up. If it is something you value, your example of doing it with them and ensuring it happens daily or weekly, shows your child the importance of it. Stick with it!
Keep it simple
When a child is learning to walk, you don’t waste time explaining the biology of how legs move. This is way beyond their level of maturity. You simply teach them how to put one foot in front of the other. Lessons are short and simple and constantly modeled in the everyday life of the teacher. This is the same when teaching your child Biblical principles.
An example? If you want your child to know that God is their Creator, start off by telling them that God made the world and all the plants they see out of the window. Wait until they get older until you teach them the days and order that God created everything. The nitty-gritty’s can wait. Discipling your young child is as easy as explaining God’s role in their everyday life and what He is like. When they pick up a leaf, tell them He made it and that He loves everything He makes. These are simple but profound spiritual lessons that will lead to greater revelation in time.
Whatever Biblical principle you want to teach your child, keep it short and simple. Before you start to teach, ask yourself this question: “If my child can only learn one thing from this, what is it?” Make sure that the answer is only a couple of words long and once you have your starting point, you will be well on the way to establishing an important spiritual principle in their lives!
Power of the Holy Spirit
Never ever underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit! I love that the Bible never puts an age limit on relationship with God. The same God who speaks to you in ways that YOU can understand, is the same One who speaks to your child at THEIR level of understanding.
An important thing to teach and model is how to be still and listen so that the Holy Spirit can talk to you. Of course, in addition to hearing from the Holy Spirit, we must teach our children to obey Him without hesitation! Once you have spent time praying with your child, ask the Holy Spirit to speak before sharing with each other what you felt Him say. In this way we teach our children to listen, hear and obey!
The Bible is clear that God is LOVE and that He is a good and perfect Father. As such, teach your child that when He speaks to them, what He says will always line up with who He is. So if God is GOOD, they shouldn’t expect to hear Him say horrible, angry things to them. In this way, we teach our kids to discern between God’s voice and the lies of the enemy.
Your unique pattern
Lastly, I want to encourage you to seek God for your own blueprint for how to disciple your child. Each child is unique and has a unique purpose and calling. Something that works with one child may not work with the other. Our job is to steward them, seeking God’s will for their discipleship carefully until such a time as they are able to walk in relationship with God, independently and devotedly. When we dedicate them to the Lord, we can trust Him to raise them as His own as we partner with Him.
God created your child. Be confident that He wants the absolute best for them and to help you raise and disciple them to know Him and to walk in His ways for the rest of their lives!
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name!
Psalm 100:4 (NIV)
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