Parenting as Discipleship
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Adam GriffinAdam Griffin (DEdMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor of Eastside Community Church in East Dallas, Texas. He previously served as an elder and spiritual formation pastor at the Village Church. Adam co-wrote Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones with pastor Matt Chandler of the Village Church in Dallas, Texas. Adam lives with his wife, Chelsea, and their three sons Oscar, Gus, and Theodore, in Dallas, Texas.
Adam Griffin joins us to talk about a parent’s responsibility to love and disciple his or her children. This doesn’t mean setting a perfect example, but modeling repentance and forgiveness when we fail.
Parenting as Discipleship
Bob: Who is most responsible for the spiritual training of your teenager? Is it you, as mom and dad, or is it the youth pastor at church? Adam Griffin says discipling our children is a team effort.
Adam: The typical student minister is this 20-something, who can relate to kids; and he’s super cool. There’s not a problem with that, per se, unless you’re missing out on what the Bible’s called us to. The Bible’s called us to equip the saints for ministry, including parents for the ministry they’re called to, which is ministering alongside their teenagers. I believe church has a role there, but so does family. If we start to get those things mixed up, or we start to outsource to each other, then sometimes the kids get missed entirely; because the parents are counting on the church to do it, and maybe the church is counting on the parents to do it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 3rd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How can parents and local churches work together more effectively for the spiritual development of children?—and what is our particular role to play as parents? We’ll talk more about that today with Adam Griffin. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you think there’s a difference between parenting and discipleship? I mean, are they two different ideas?
Dave: Wow, way to start deep.
Bob: Isn’t that an interesting—
Dave: That’s deep.
Bob: —I was thinking about this; because of what we’re talking about this week, family discipleship. I thought: “Is parenting just making disciples? Is there more to parenting than making disciples?” I guess there’s the nuts and bolts of teaching somebody how to tie their shoes; but at some level, that’s discipleship—it’s skill for living—right?
Dave: I mean, when you ask that question—at first, I thought it’d be an easy one, Bob; thanks!—but I thought, “No, I think it is very closely the same thing. If you understand as a Christian father/mother that your job is to make disciples, from Jesus’ command to us, then they’re very similar/almost the same thing. Obviously, there’s the parent aspect—you’re not their friend; you’re their parent—but you are called—right?—to be a mentor—and you’re discipling them one way or the other.
Dave: “Are you thinking through, ‘This is my mission’?”
Ann: I think, for the Hebrew culture, it was one and the same. Parenting is discipling—it’s like Deuteronomy 6—“…as you talk about going along the way, as you lie down, as you rise up,”—that it’s always a part of you, talking about Jesus—and that goes right along with: “That is parenting.”
Bob: Adam Griffin is joining us this week on FamilyLife Today.
Dave: The expert; we can get the right answer! [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right! Adam, welcome back.
Adam: Thanks; it’s great to be here!
Bob: Adam is a pastor in east Dallas. He is an author/has written a book with Matt Chandler called Family Discipleship.
Actually, I guess “disciple” just means “student”; right?
Adam: Yes; I think the one distinction I would make—I think you’re exactly right; you are always discipling, no matter if you believe in God or not—you are discipling your kid in something they’re learning to follow. The difference for the Christian is we don’t just want a kid to follow us; we’re trying to make a disciple of Jesus Christ. That’s going to take some intentionality, to say, “I don’t want you to grow up and just be like your dad,”/”I don’t want you to grow up and just be like your mom. I want you to grow up and be like Jesus. That means—since I am going to fall flat on that/I’m not going to make it all the way on that—I’m going to have to, also, demonstrate how your mom or your dad is going to be following Jesus as well.”
Bob: How long has you been married?
Adam: I’ve been married for ten years.
Bob: Ten years; three boys at home, who are ages eight, seven, six.
Bob: Did you and your wife start off with a business plan for: “When we have kids, this is what we’re going to be doing”? Did you have a discipleship plan in place?
Adam: You know, when we first had our first son—and I bet this is the experience of a lot of Christian parents—we’re like, “We’ve heard all these stories about family devotionals and family worship; but now you have an infant, who doesn’t speak English/who can’t use the bathroom. How do you disciple a kid when you can’t have a conversation?”
We talked about and had some great mentoring from my brother and some people in our lives, who said, “You know, when your children are born, their needs are very simple. That includes, spiritually, their needs are very simple. You’re going to change them when they’re wet; you’re going to feed them when they’re hungry; you’re going to put them to sleep when you’re tired; and you’re going to pray for them when you’re near them. You’re going to think about them. You’re going to read Scripture and bless them, and understand that they’re not participating much in it.”
As a parent, you get to start very, spiritually, simply with a child. As they get complicated and they get older, hopefully you also grow in your ability to lead that child as well. I feel like that’s true for the Griffin family.
Bob: Part of what you were doing, even when your kids were little, was you were building into your own rhythm. You were habituating for yourself praying for your kids/reading Scripture to your kids—and making this a part of the organic practice of—“This is just what we do, as a family.”
Adam: Absolutely. And it changed the way for me, personally, even without them involved—a part of the milestone plan I have for my boys: I have a journal Bible for each one of them that I read through; I put notes in, and prayers in, and little insights into the Scripture that change the way I was interacting with the Lord; because I’m now reading the Word, thinking about, “What do I hope my sons know of God?” Even before they’re old enough to hear it from me, I am creating something that I’m going to give them that’s going to remind them of all the things their dad wants for them in the Lord.
Dave: You have three Bibles you’re doing that in right now?
Adam: That’s correct; yes.
Ann: I like the idea, as we’re talking about this, I think our walk with God does shift; because it becomes out loud in a way. Maybe you had your own quiet time and your devotional time—you’re reading Scripture alone—but suddenly; I realized, “I need to talk about this out loud with them, what’s going on in my head. My prayers aren’t silent anymore; they’re out loud, in front of the kids, no matter what we’re going through.”
That could be just a simple step—like you’re just vocalizing more what you’re feeling—you’re praying; you’re seeing things. We would drive to school and I’d be like: “Look at this tree! Is God not amazing in the fall when it’s this bright red?” or “Look at it snowing!” and then we’re praying on the way to school. It becomes more of a rhythm of: every day, we’re just bringing God into the everyday.
Adam: Absolutely. I think the dangerous side of that is that we might tempt parents to fake a version of that—to say, “Hey, maybe you can put on a façade that makes it look like you’re some kind of super-Christian or that you are really impressed with a tree that you’re not,”—[Laughter]—no! There’s a version of that that we’re not trying to foster; we want people to genuinely be following the Lord. If you are an adult, who’s genuinely following the Lord, why don’t you do that in proximity to your kids and invite them into how that’s happening?
Bob: Let’s talk about that; because one of the big problems that we’re seeing with kids, who grow up in Christian homes and then hit young adulthood, is that a lot of them are spinning out. They’re reporting back to us they were aware of hypocrisy in the home. If mom and dad really love their kids, and want their kids to follow Jesus, mom and dad need to be serious about their own faith walk.
Adam: Yes! If you want to love your kids well, the first step is loving your God well. If you feel like, between you and God, there’s something there that’s not great, then you need discipleship in your life. You, as a parent, are not supposed to be this arrived—just because you had a kid now, you’re a full-grown adult with no problems—no; you, too, need the Lord. I want to see a genuine walk with the Lord from any mom or dad, who’s trying to disciple their kids. That includes somebody who’s fluent and quick to repent: both to their kids, who they sinned against; but also to the Lord for where we made mistakes.
Bob: As a parent, you’re looking at your kids. I think all of us, as parents, have a longing for our kids to do well; we want them to thrive; we want them to do better than we’ve done in life. We typically look at our own spiritual development and think, “Well, this is about my walk with Jesus.”
Now it’s bigger than that; now it’s about your kids’ walk with Jesus. Your walk with Jesus is going to be a key part of how well your kids do. It’s not just: “Does this work for me?”; but it’s: “I have to grow closer to Jesus; because I love my kids, and I want them to grow closer to Jesus.”
Adam: At the same time, we don’t want a kid-centered version of my walk with Jesus. I don’t want to read my Bible in front of my kids just so they’ll see it. I’m going to read my Bible because I am genuinely pursuing the Lord, and not hide that from my kids; but at the same time, not fake it just so they witness a version of it.
The marriage should be a place where we’re pursuing the Lord together: praying for one another and demonstrating that to one another in sincerity.
Dave: That puts a huge weight, in some ways, on the mom and dad; think about it. I remember—boy, it had to be 20/15 years ago—as a pastor of a church, trying to help understand our youth ministry: “How do we get these high school kids to be on fire for Christ? Maybe it’s not Sunday night we need; maybe it’s Monday night. Maybe we should meet three nights a week!”—I’m seeing all these different strategies
Then, when you look at the actual data, to say, “What kind of youth ministries produce adult men and women, who are walking with Christ?”—you know what the answer is? I’m sure you know; it’s youth ministries that, when they go home, they see it in their home. It really isn’t: “Meet Sunday night,” or “Meet Wednesday night,” “Do this in your meeting,” or “Don’t do this…”—I mean, those things obviously matter; you need to have a good church strategy—but if they go home and they don’t see it; or they see, like Bob said, hypocrisy—there’s a tendency that they do what they saw in their home.
Again, not that your church doesn’t matter—it’s a blending—but when I saw that, it’s like, “Oh my goodness; it’s on us [as parents].”
Dave: You know, we want to make disciples; we have to be disciples. Again, not perfect—but they need see a mom and dad, or a mom or dad, or a blended family that’s actually living this out—it’s going to help them live it out. Am I right?
Adam: Yes; I could talk about that all day—just the peer-centered student ministry idea we have, where: “If we just get them together with their friends, that’s the best version of ministry,” versus a home-centered student ministry that really thinks about: “If I want kids to know the Lord, as a pastor, I’m going to invest in moms and dads and students,” and “I want to see that together.”
The typical student minister is this 20-something, who can relate to kids; and he’s super cool. There’s not a problem with that, per se, unless you’re missing out on what the Bible’s called us to when you’re telling your church that: “This is how we’re going to minister to teenagers”; because the Bible’s called us to equip the saints for ministry, including parents for the ministry they’re called to, which is ministering alongside their teenagers.
I believe church has a role there, but so does family. If we start to get those things mixed up, or we start to outsource to each other, then sometimes the kids get missed entirely; because the parents are counting on the church to do it, and maybe the church is counting on the parents to do it. Then you have teenagers, growing up, going, “All I did was have buddies I got in trouble with at church. We went on trips; we did parties; but…”
Ann: I think, too, as parents—I know that I felt this as a young mom—there is a sense, at times, of failing so often that I felt unworthy. I think parents can feel that. They think, “Well, the church and the youth leader will be much better than I am at discipling my kids.” Yet God is calling us to show, authentically, what the Christian life is like.
I think, as we talk about the repentance piece, for kids to see our own mistakes—and it happens early; I’ve talked about this before—but I mean, Dave was traveling a lot with the Lions; he was a pastor, starting a church. We were so busy; he was gone a lot. It was a night—I think the boys were four, seven, and ten—somewhere around there—doing homework.
You know, Adam, this is crazy time, with three little boys. They’re busy and they’re active. I was at my wits’ end; I was thinking, “Where’s my husband? Why isn’t he home?!” That kind of takes you off on another whole spin. I had lost my patience. Something was spilled, and I got so frustrated that I put my hands in the air and was like, “Oh my goodness!” I kicked the wall; and my foot went into the wall/got stuck inside the wall.
Suddenly, it’s total quiet. They [sons] run to the wall; no one says anything. I am filled with so much shame, guilt, remorse—everything you can think of as a parent—and my youngest son says, “Mom, we had no idea that you were this strong!” [Laughter] The next thing I thought was, “My husband’s going to come home and see this,”—the pastor! I went to bed that night, and I—
Dave: Tell them what you did! Before you went to bed that night, she ran upstairs and got wallpaper and covered up the hole.
Dave: Just perfectly!
Adam: Just the hole?
Ann: Just the hole!
Dave: I would have never known; it was just the wall.
Ann: So Dave comes in. They all run to Dave and say, “Dad, it was the best night! Mom kicked a hole in the wall!”
Dave: They pointed at it; put their finger through it. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, it was terrible. But I think this is what parents go through; at least, I know a lot of moms go through this. I laid in bed that night and I thought, “I am the worst mom; I am the worst model. I shouldn’t even talk about Jesus; they’re going to turn away from Jesus, because I messed up so much.”
I had already asked their forgiveness: “You guys, I’m so sorry. This was wrong; I lost my patience. I shouldn’t have done that.” I prayed in front of them: “Jesus, I’m so…” But what you fear is they will think it’s their fault; they will think this is on them.
I remember I kicked myself for about a week. I think, as parents, we just get into this rut, like, “I can’t do it; I’m terrible.” Yet, I think that there’s a spiritual battle going on, where Satan/the enemy of our soul speaks lies; we have our own lies that we’re listening to. I think it’s important that—when your kids are quick to forgive, they’re quick to see, “Of course, you make mistakes!”—they see their own mistakes too. I think that’s good—that prayer and repentance—we’re not going to be perfect.
But don’t live—that’s what I would say to parents—“Don’t live in the shame and the condemnation. We are forgiven for that; Christ has forgiven us,” and “Our kids need to see us make mistakes and go back to apologize, and really, confess those.”
Adam: Amen. You’re talking about being an honest parent—and you’re talking about being a strong parent—I mean, you’re kicking walls down. [Laughter] When you say, “…kicking yourself for a week,” I’m like, “Man, that must have hurt.” [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, exactly! Worse!
Adam: Yes; but we’re talking about being an honest parent and being honest about the mistakes you make.
I should say, as a qualifier, there are versions of parental mistakes that I do believe can disqualify a person from being in a parental relationship of authority in somebody’s life. I’m not advocating that, no matter who your mom or dad is, you need to give them room to be in authority in your life. I think a lot of us can testify to that kind of background.
But when we think about the opposite—if we let our mistakes be used against us, or we harass ourselves with them, or torment ourselves with them—that causes us to inaction or to nonchalance to what we’re called to; we disqualify ourselves. Then what are we resigning ourselves to?—we’re saying, “My kids would be better without me,”—we know that’s a lie—“I shouldn’t be their mom” or “…dad,” or “They need a different mom,” or “…dad,” or “This is not the kid that I want; I want a different version of this kid.”
Like you’re saying: “These are lies that are so convincing”; it’s so easy to tend towards shame. Even though we could apply grace to somebody else, it’s really hard sometimes to apply it to our own heart, especially in parenting; because we care so much. We love our kids so much that we want it to go so well; so when we make a mistake, it hurts so badly. Nobody can help or hurt a kid like a parent can; parents are so powerful, so it makes it seem almost insurmountable when we make a mistake.
But the beautiful thing is: one, there is no lost cause for the gospel of Jesus Christ, including in any parenting mistakes that we might make. Our kids can be often more forgiving than we give them credit for if we invite them into that honest relationship. They get that level of anger, and they understand that. Maybe they hold it against us, too, in their immaturity; but we have to take those things to the foot of the cross and say, “Lord, You have called me to this, so I need You to empower me for it; because You are going to be perfect in it, and I am not.”
Now, like you, you get to point to this—I mean, I’m sure you’ve used this in a sermon illustration; it’s so perfect—the hiding of the sin behind the wallpaper. [Laughter] But now you point back to that, and now it’s a milestone for your family: “Remember the time Mom kicked the wall so hard she put a hole in it?” You get to point back to the faithfulness of God in that moment—that at the moment, you thought that was your low point—and now the Lord points back to that and says, “No; this was the high point, where I’m teaching you that you’re not perfect; but your kids are going to remember how much you cared about them.”
Ann: Can you come and live with us? [Laughter]
Adam: I’m auditioning today to move in. [Laughter]
Bob: Is there a Griffin milestone? Are there stories like that from your family, that you point—I mean, your family’s still young—but have you had some of those highlights?
Adam: Milestones, we talk about in the book, sometimes for families are the greatest thing that’s happened and sometimes it’s the worst. You know, a milestone for your family can be when you lost a loved one or your kids’ first funeral. It’s not always a happy experience.
There are things—I mentioned the journal Bibles—there are things I’m working on now for future—but there are also things we do together. I think our kids would point back to some of the vacations or trips we’ve taken as a family. As a pastor, I’ve gotten to speak at camps; and my kids will sometimes get to go with me. They’ll point to those moments of getting to sit in a room, where they hear me share the gospel with teenagers; and they get to spend the day with those teenagers, swimming in the pool or going hiking in the mountains. For them, that’s the environment that I want to make the most grand impression on them, as a family.
But I think, to what you’re talking about, Ann, I’m always afraid that the memories they’ll have are of my worst moments.
Adam: That I could have a hundred great nights with my kids; but the one night I lose my temper, they’ll grow up and be like, “I remember my dad yelling.” Every family has some version of dysfunction; so to pretend that there’s a family out there, who doesn’t, is also to believe a lie. Every family has some version/and every person has some version of dysfunction.
But I want my kids to remember what’s broken about me only in the sense of that I, too, in my humility, will admit that: “You’re right; that was a problem that Dad had,” or “That is a mistake that Dad made,” and to remember those in the context of repentance, as a man, who follows the Lord imperfectly.
Dave: I think what you’re saying—it makes me think how important it is—Ann said it—to confess and repent so your children can see it. Again, you don’t make up sin to do that; but I think real discipleship is authentic, honest, living in front of them. Don’t hide—and of course, it has to be age-appropriate as they get older; but being able to say, “I struggled with this today”; or maybe it’s something they see readily, like a hole in the drywall; but maybe it’s something that’s more private.
But especially, as your boys—I didn’t have daughters—as they’re old enough to process, as a teenage mind, to say: “Let me tell you something I doubted today with God,” and “Here’s how I reconciled it, and got to a place where I’m okay,” or “Boy, right now, I’m going through something so hard; I’m struggling believing God is good.” Start a conversation, because you know they are/they just don’t believe Dad or Mom ever thinks like that—but they do—and God’s there, and God meets them.
Bob: We had a guest on FamilyLife Today, awhile back, who said, “At family dinner, sometimes I will say, ‘Let’s talk about how we sinned today.’” He would always say, “And I’ll go first.” He’s trying to build a rhythm into what’s going on in the family, where confession is normal/where we’re open and transparent about what we’re dealing with.
By modeling it: “I’ll go first; here’s what I struggled with…” and “Here’s how I responded..”/”Here’s what I had to do…”—“Anybody else?” It’s not that everybody has to do a confession there; but he’s watched his kids start to feel comfortable, saying, “Well, I did this…” or “I was aware of that…”
Dave: That’s so much better than we did! I would always be like, “Let’s talk about how Mom sinned today.” [Laughter]
Adam: “Mom put another hole in the house!” [Laughter]
I think what you’re pointing out that he talked about—is one of the things we talk about as we define family discipleship in the book—is that the best version of it is mostly ordinary. It’s not some superlative version of Christianity on display in your house; it’s the normal—you make it normal in your rhythm.
If I were now, with my kids’ ages—or if you guys were with your kids’ ages—the first time you sit down and say, “Hey, we’re confessing sin at dinner tonight,” that would be very abnormal, maybe, and very difficult. [Laughter] But if there’s a way to build in a rhythm, where you don’t give up, it’s like anything else—the first couple times you try something, it’s going to be as difficult as it will ever be.
But the more ordinary it becomes/the more normal it becomes—to point out the beauty in nature, like you pointed out, Ann, this tree—if that becomes a normal part of hanging out with Mom; or to point out confession at the dinner table; or point out Mom’s sin, if we’re doing that on a regular basis—[Laughter]
Ann: Which I have to say, you never did that!
Dave: No, I never did that. [Laughter]
Well, I’ve shared it here on FamilyLife Today before—and I won’t go into it, but—and it’s in our parenting book—the first time we found porn on the family computer—and it wasn’t me. Ann initially came to me and said, “Is this you?” I’m like, “No, so that means it’s one of these three boys.”
Then, when the one confessed, it was that moment, like, “Okay, here we are.” I remember thinking my whole life, “What will I do in that moment?” I thought I would discipline or I’d—I wept; because I was like, “Son, I’ve been down this road; and here’s what the road looks like,” and “Here’s how a dad wins. Let’s journey together.” I think he was 13 at the time.
Again, looking back, I don’t know what he would say about that moment; but it was a moment where Dad was real: “This is part of living, and here’s a victory plan. You can’t hide this. If you keep this in the dark, the dark will win. Once it’s out into the light, Jesus can say, ‘Let’s heal, and let’s work.’” That’s a family discipleship moment.
Adam: Exactly right. I think what’s beautiful about what you just shared is—not this/you didn’t prepare a sermon about how you’re going to approach this with your son; you didn’t come up with a version of, “What’s the perfect thing that Dad did here?”—it was how you responded to sin. If we think about family discipleship as modeling, as spending time, as leveraging these moments, how we respond to sin is going to be an opportunity we are going to have over, and over, and over again—sin in our own hearts and the sin of our kids.
I think about, in Scripture, where Christ talks about leadership. He says there’s a version of leadership that the Gentiles do, where they use their authority is to lord it over others. We do that in parenting all the time: “I have authority; I’m going to lord it over you.” But He says the difference in Christian leadership is to think of yourself as a servant. We think about: “How are we going to serve our kids?” “How does my kid need to be loved in this tender moment/this opportunity, where he’s busted?” Is it going to be: “I’m going to come down like the hammer”?—maybe, in some things, it is—in this case, you’re going gently and empathetically, like Christ/like an empathetic high priest, saying, “I know what it is like to walk in darkness; and we’re going to walk in the light together, buddy.”
Bob: This is one of the reasons why I think your book is so helpful for us, as parents, is because you help us think through things that we might not naturally think about. We have to be purposeful and intentional in these areas, and we need some coaching. Your book, Family Discipleship, does that.
In fact, we’re making your book available this week to any FamilyLife Today listener, who would like a copy. If you’re able to help with a donation to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today, we’ll send you Adam’s book, Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home Through Time, Moments, and Milestones. It’s our thank-you gift when you donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
What you’re supporting, when you make a donation, is the ongoing equipping and discipling of moms and dads and husbands and wives, in cities and in locations all around the world. People are connecting with FamilyLife Today in so many ways; and you, as a listener, make that happen every time you make a donation. So thank you for your support; Adam’s book is our thank-you gift if you can make a donation today. Again, the book is called Family Discipleship; and you can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how we raise kids who can connect with their peers but may not always fit in; in fact, they shouldn’t always fit in. How do we raise kids, who know how to stand for their faith, in the midst of peer pressure and influence? That’s what they’re facing today. I hope you can tune in for that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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