Discipleship is the greatest test for the Christian family today. In today’s busy world, many parents feel overwhelmed and aren’t sure what to do—or even where to begin. In Dedicated, Jason Houser is joined by Bobby Harrington and his son Chad, as they unpack the simple, practical, and essential practices of spiritually parenting and discipling children in the home. An inspirational training manual to equip parents, Dedicated will empower parents to pass along their faith to the next generation.
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By Jason Houser, Bobby Harrington, Chad Harrington
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2015 Dr. Bobby Harrington, Jason Houser, and Chad Harrington
All rights reserved.
DEDICATED TO DISCIPLESHIP
IN HIS BOOK The Great Omission, Dallas Willard describes "the great omission" in the Christian church today. It's a lack of discipleship. Willard writes, "The governing assumption today, among professing Christians, is that we can be 'Christians' forever and never become disciples." Discipleship is the great omission of Jesus' Great Commission.
We often assume that discipleship is something the church does. Maybe it's a program or a small group we join. Perhaps it involves attending an adult education class or a weekend retreat. But discipleship is more than a program, a process, or an event. In fact, it's more than just something the church is responsible for. Discipleship begins with the family, and it is the core calling of Christian parents.
Let's start with a specific definition of discipleship. Some of the top discipleship leaders in the country, in collaboration with Discipleship.org, came together and created a definition that we believe is biblically solid and simple:
Discipleship is helping people to trust and follow Jesus.
Matthew 28:18–20 is a great source for this definition. It serves as a helpful framework for understanding what the Bible teaches about discipleship (or "disciple making"). The verse is easy to remember, and we encourage you to memorize it: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"
This passage, commonly referred to as the Great Commission, gives us a framework for discipleship. It is based on what Jesus had been doing with his disciples over the course of three years of ministry together. Now, before he ascended to his Father, he told them to go and do for others what he had been doing for them. They would have immediately understood what he was asking them to do. Because Jesus did everything in the context of relationships. His teaching, his ministry, his patterns of daily life—all of these were lived out before his followers. In many ways, the relationship between a teacher and his disciples is similar to the close relationship between a child and his or her parents, so we as parents can learn from Jesus as the master teacher.
This text reveals four key elements to making disciples.
1. Helping people. We have to initiate and be intentional because we are to "go" and "make" disciples (v. 19).
2. Trust. Disciple making is about repentance and conversion with the accent on grace: "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (v. 19). Baptism represents our acceptance of a new life, where we rely on the grace of Jesus Christ.
3. Follow. Disciple making is also about obedience and sanctification (increasing holiness): "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (v. 20).
4. Jesus. Jesus is the object and focus of discipleship. He does not leave us on our own, trying to accomplish all of this by ourselves, because he promises to be personally present for the entire process, with us to the end.
Again, our definition for discipleship is helping people to trust and follow Jesus. When it comes to parenting, there is a specific, important focus. Two key passages define what a dedicated parent is.
Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (emphasis added).
Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (ESV, emphasis added).
These passages emphasize that dedicated parents train their children to trust and follow Jesus. So with these verses in mind, we have taken our definition of discipleship, added an emphasis on training, and applied it to parenting.
Discipleship for dedicated parents is training your children to trust and follow Jesus.
This is a simple definition but not a simplistic one. The full meaning of it is wonderfully life-altering, and we will develop it as we work through the rest of this book.
In his 2005 book Soul Searching, author and sociologist Christian Smith points out that only a third of families with teens talk together about God, the Scriptures, prayer, or other religious or spiritual matters a few times a week or more. When I (Bobby) was raising my children, the research showed that God, the Bible, or religious things were seldom discussed in most homes. Only 10 percent of church families discussed faith with any degree of regularity; in 43 percent of homes in the denominations surveyed, faith was never discussed. George Barna's 2003 research demonstrated that "in a typical week, fewer than 10 percent of parents who regularly attend church with their kids read the Bible together, pray together (other than at meal times), or participate in an act of service as a family unit." It is hard to find up-to-date statistics. But in my experience as a pastor today—including the extensive networking that I do to help churches around the nation with discipleship—I believe that there is even less discipleship going on in the homes of churchgoing families today. Very few children and teens are experiencing regular Bible reading and devotions at home. Very few parents are actively discipling their children.
Both of these studies identify parental influence as the most significant factor in the spiritual development of children. In his study, Smith comments, "A lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people's religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents." But the statistics also show that many parents are failing to model a life of discipleship for their children. We cite these statistics not to discourage you or cause you to throw this book aside and give up but to help you as a parent to understand that you are not alone in your struggle.
Parents need a realistic understanding of what it means to be a spiritual parent, where they count the costs and plan for the long haul if they want to be successful. The basic definition of a spiritual parent is this: a parent who makes the spiritual well-being of their children their top priority. Again, this isn't easy; it's both difficult and challenging. Still, the reward is great. And remember, you aren't alone. You will have the power, inspiration, and help of the creator of the universe.
WHY READ THIS BOOK?
In his classic book on family discipleship, Faith Training, Joe White gives a wonderful visionary picture of what it looks like to train your children to trust and follow Jesus. White tells of his time with Gene Stallings at Texas A&M. Stallings went on to become the coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide and eventually led them to win the national championship. Upon hearing the news that Stallings had been selected as the national coach of the year, White called Stallings to congratulate him. Stallings responded with humility, saying to White, "If you want to measure my success as a man, don't look at my win-loss record. Look at my kids, and see how well they're doing with the Lord."
White then recounted another conversation with Stallings. "I quickly recalled a conversation Coach and I had when he was with the Dallas Cowboys a few years ago. He asked me that day what my goal in life was. I told him it was to live for Christ. He replied abruptly, 'That's not mine.' I said, 'What is yours, then?' He took a pencil and wrote down the following numbers: 29, 30, 31. Then he shoved the paper to my side of his desk and explained, 'When my kids are 29, 30, 31, I want them to be godly people with godly kids in godly homes.'"
Stallings nailed it! As successful as he was in the realm of athletic coaching, he understood that at the end of the day, his role as a parent was far more important than his career. Stallings could have easily neglected his role as a father to pursue a high-profile career in coaching, but he understood that God had given him three children, and he was the one responsible for discipling them and teaching them to follow Jesus.
The truth is that if we succeed in finance, teaching, or even ministry but fail at home, we will have failed in one of our primary, God-given responsibilities. Being a mom or dad may not have been one of your life goals when you were younger, but now that you have children, you've been given that privilege. Stallings understood that his success was based not on how well he did on the field but on what he modeled in the home.
Is the same true for you?CHAPTER 2
DEDICATED TO RELATIONSHIPS
THE RELATIONSHIP between a parent and a child can be one of the deepest and most intimate relationships we experience in life. As a parent, you see how your child's life begins, how he or she grows and develops, and you have a hand in shaping and guiding their choices. And yet, as every parent knows, there are no guarantees that children will follow what you say to them or that they will listen to your advice. Having a close and healthy relationship with your kids isn't automatic. I (Bobby) learned this truth the hard way. The truth is that if our children know that we love them, and if we regularly invest in developing a close relationship with them, they will want to listen to us and learn from us. They will learn to trust us and believe that we really want what's best for them.
This was a profound insight for me as my children were growing up. In part, this was because I had experienced the opposite with my own father. As a young child, I was very close to my dad. I knew he loved me, but as I entered elementary school, his workaholism and alcoholism got the best of him. He was too busy for a close relationship with me. Sometimes he would be out drinking and would return home violent or hungover. Since those years, my father has changed his ways, and I know he truly wanted to care for me, but all I knew during my childhood was that he was caught up in his own issues.
It's hard for a child to describe his feelings toward a father he respects and wants to please but who never shows up for hockey and soccer games. It is hard to listen to a man when you don't believe he really cares about you, especially when he is violent at home. Even the many wonderful things he does come through with a mixed message. I knew, as I grew older, that I didn't want to follow my dad or treat my son the way he treated me, and my heart grew hard toward him.
When I was in my early twenties, my dad repented and gave his life to Christ. And he truly changed. Over time, he was able to restore many things that had been lost in his relationship with my mom, my sisters, and me. A few years after he became a follower of Jesus, I had the privilege of working with him at his trucking company. We restored the love and closeness we had when I was a young boy, but I continued to struggle with my bitterness and resentment toward him. It remained difficult for me to learn from him, to follow his example, and to listen to his advice.
The impact of a parent cannot be overestimated. It has great power to teach a child to follow Jesus, but because of sin, it also has the power to bring damage and pain. Today I am grateful that God redeemed my father. Over the years, he has pursued me and built a relationship with my wife and my children. My children can now look at the legacy of his marriage, one that has lasted more than sixty years through many challenges and struggles. Our family history is filled with brokenness and heartache, yet it is also a story of repentance, restoration, and a lasting legacy.
When I became a dad, I determined that, with God as my helper, my children would not have the same experience I had growing up. I made it a point to bend heaven and earth to be there for them. I made a decision, when they were first born, to dedicate myself to them, even if it meant that sometimes people would not see me as a good pastor. I ordered my priorities to be a Christian husband, then to be the best father I could be, and to let everything else fit in after that. In our home, we sought to put relationships first.
In the previous chapter, we talked about the importance of discipleship. But we want to emphasize that discipleship is more than a program or something you do with your children before each meal. Discipleship is relational, which involves all of life. Having a strong relationship with your children is the basis of your influence as you disciple them.
That said, we need to recognize the reality that our modern culture and many of our technological advancements are working against our desire to have healthy, close family relationships. Microsoft's Linda Stone has referred to our culture and time as the age of "continuous partial attention." Our families are busy doing many things, yet often we are only partially present for them. As a parent, you may work sixty hours a week, and then you spend a few nights at home alone with the kids. But think about what you are doing during that time. Are you fully present, or are you tired and preoccupied with other things? This isn't just a problem for busy parents. Many of our young children are growing up fixated on smart phones and apps. They spend more time in front of a screen than they do talking with and listening to other family members. You will see a mother talking on the phone while her children eat dinner, or a father watching television with his children, oblivious to the people in the room with him.
Though each generation has its own challenges, it is fair to say that history has never seen a society quite like ours, in which both mom and dad are working full-time jobs while juggling the complexities of life. Our families exist on the border of chaos. Our American culture is often opposed to the goals and concerns of biblical parenting. Today we struggle to slow down and focus enough to really know people, even those in our own family, the people we live with.
The good news is that we don't have to succumb to our culture. You can be different! And in the process of raising your children to follow God, he will transform your life and the life of your family, helping you to become more relational and love your children with depth and intimacy like Jesus loves us.
JESUS AND RELATIONSHIP
Jesus gives us the best model for discipleship. He spent time with his disciples by listening to their needs, addressing the questions they had, and speaking to the issues they faced as he walked with them on the road from village to village. On one such occasion, Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Galilee, and they arrived at the village of Capernaum, where Peter lived on the coast of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 9:33–37). The walk was a twenty-five-mile journey, so they had plenty of time to talk. And Jesus had plenty of time to listen as well. After overhearing an argument between several of his followers, he took the opportunity to ask his disciples about it. At first they were quiet, perhaps even embarrassed. Jesus used this teachable moment to help them better understand what life is like when lived before God, under his guidance and authority—the kingdom life of a disciple. Jesus said, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (v. 35 ESV). Gathering up a child in his arms, he added, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me" (v. 37 ESV).
Examples like this fill the Gospels. The New Testament has many stories of how Jesus spent time with his disciples, listening to them and teaching them in the context of life together. In these accounts, we observe at least three aspects of relational discipleship. We learn that Jesus
spent time with his disciples,
listened to his disciples,
spoke truth into his disciples' lives.
The walk from Caesarea to Capernaum is a long trip on foot. I realize that you may not take your children on many twenty-five-mile hikes, but I'm willing to bet you will have a few road trips together as a family. Learn to redeem these times. As you spend time together, you have a unique opportunity to ask questions, to learn what your children are thinking about. Don't just plug in the movie or let the kids listen to music for a thousand miles. The key is to look for opportunities to engage your children, to make the most of these ordinary moments when you are together, just like Jesus did with his disciples.
Excerpted from Dedicated by Jason Houser, Bobby Harrington, Chad Harrington. Copyright © 2015 Dr. Bobby Harrington, Jason Houser, and Chad Harrington. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Dedicated to Discipleship, 17,
2. Dedicated to Relationships, 25,
3. Dedicated to Spiritual Parenting, 43,
4. Dedicated to Jesus, 57,
5. Dedicated to Family Worship, 69,
6. Dedicated to the Word, 89,
7. Dedicated to Prayer, 105,
8. Dedicated to Discipline, 127,
9. Dedicated to the Church, 141,
10. Dedicated to the Kingdom of God, 159,
11. Dedicated Today, 173,
Appendix 1: Dedicated to Marriage, 183,
Appendix 2: Dedicated as a Single Parent, 187,
What People are Saying About This
During my interactions with Bobby I have found him to be very passionate about the church’s mission for disciple-making. He is not just concerned that this happen in our gatherings. He is committed to seeing this happen in all of life. I’m grateful that he is applying his passion and experience to better equip the church to grow in discipleship in the home. I’m especially thankful to see a book coming out of his own experiences with his son. What a gift to have a father and son contribute out of their learning to further ours! Jeff Vanderstelt, visionary leader, Soma Family of Churches
A pesky question that is asked of most teachers is, “How do you help families do discipleship?” There are many answers. Frankly, however, most are disorganized and subjective. I like this book Dedicated because it is an organized answer based in experience. I like it because a father and son are involved and because I know that Bobby Harrington is the real deal as a man, husband, father, and pastor. Bill Hull, author, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker, The Disciple Making Pastor, and the Disciple Making Church
For years, parents have told us that the spiritual development of their children is their number one parenting priority. This book gives them a road map for how to make that priority a reality. Essential reading for every mom and dad. Bob Lepine, cohost, Family Life Today
Bobby Harrington is a man who understands that the mission of the church is to make disciples. He has spent the last several years helping leaders develop processes and strategies to do just that. He also is a man who has raised his kids to love and serve Jesus at the same time. His heart is to see every Christian become mature, and while the church plays a large part in that, he believes that every Christian parent’s role is to disciple their own kids. Bobby and Chad have put together a book that will help parents invest in their children. I am excited about what this book can do for you and your family. Jim Putman, senior pastor, Real Life Ministries
Passing on the faith within normal family structures has become the fastest growing omission in the contemporary church. This book is a practical guide to reintroduce this basic, relationally based, life-oriented catechesis into the life stream of the church. This is not just one of many important initiatives; the very future of the church depends on it! Timothy C. Tennent, President, Asbury Theological Seminary