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Putting Kids in Their Proper Place: Part Four

Below lies our long-awaited fourth post on the discipleship of our children in Missional Community.  Thanks again to Dan Holder for putting his thoughts down for us, Lord willing this will help all of us see the wonderful role we have of witnessing to the person and work of Christ with the children in our groups! _______________________________________________________________________________

In part 1 of this series, we looked at a few examples of children playing an active role in the spiritual life of the adults. In part 2, we considered an intentional exposure to adults in the context of community with maturing believers that develops the identity of our kids as followers of Christ and missionaries to our world. In part 3, I tried to provide practical ways kids can be included at various stages of development. Part 4 is the conclusion of this series and I hope to answer a question that some parents may have had while reading previous posts. “What if my kid does not want to do that?” or “How am I supposed to get my kid to do that?”

I grew up being active in the world of athletics. It is taken for granted and I have wondered why it is so universal that the coach of any team will have at least three times to speak with the team. The pre-game, half-time, and post-game conversations are pivotal times for coaches at nearly every level, nearly every sport, for nearly every experience level of coach. One of the top priorities of a coach is the development of the players. Therefore, the coaches want to have an audience with the players at the right time to best help the players improve. Keep this coaching analogy in the back of your mind and let’s consider the analogy that Paul uses for discipleship in 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

Disciple your Kids

7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. [1Th 2:7-12 ESV]

There are four key words chosen by Paul that I would like us to consider: gentle, exhorted, encouraged, and charged. These words are used to share with us a more complete picture for the interactions that Paul had with the Thessalonian disciples. Notice that the best way he could describe these words was inside the analogy of a parent-child relationship.

Gentle means mild or kind. When we speak to our kids about missional community are we mild and kind? Do we set aside any amount of time to communicate or is it quick, harsh, absolute commands and directives? We are all tempted to be impatient and tempers will enter each of our hearts from time to time. Let us consider the ways in which God is gentle with us when we are gentle with our kids. After all if we want to see a change in our kids, will it not be the result of our kindness? Consider the combination of righteous judgement of our sin with God’s gracious kindness that is meant to lead to our repentance in Romans 2:1-4.

Exhort means to beseech and implore. There is a sense of urgency and clarity to what is being asked. The greek uses two words that mean “to be with” and “to call.” So, the real picture here is not just that the call for discipleship is clear and important but also that we are pursuing the call together. In the case of kids going to missional community, the parent is by the side of the child being called into greater maturity for the purpose of discipleship. As parents, do we convey our commands with an “I’m gonna getchya when you screw up” tone or do we convey a “Let’s work together for your good” tone? Which one of these do you want to hear from your Heavenly Father?

The word for encourage here can also be translated as “to comfort” and in this case also includes the idea of incentive. This kind of encouragement is like cheering for them, convincing them you are for them, and hoping for them to see victory in this challenge. Encouraging words that help them see why following the exhortation is good, helpful, and possible. Why is it that you are asking your child to behave a certain way? Is it to protect your reputation (I have done this way too often) or is it to help shape them into the image of Christ? Can we explain to our kids why it is good to behave a certain way?

The final word is charged. It carries with it the concept of testifying as a witness in court. In the context of the courtroom, you are making sure that you say what is right, clear, and understood. Measurable details are important for witnesses to share. In talking with our kids, do we use clear specific language? Do we make sure that our words are understood?

Have the Conversation

We sometimes hear that more is caught than taught in parent-child relationships. While I think that rings true and is a fair warning to watch the way we live out our lives before our kids, I think there is more. We need to teach explicitly. We need to get out ahead of our kids. As parents, we have all had moments where we have “predicted” the future for our kids and saved them from smacking their head, falling down, or touching something dangerous. Moms are especially good at this. When you are headed to church or missional community, what do you expect to happen for the next 2-3 hours?

Now, back to the coaching analogy. If we are concerned with the growth of our children as disciples, then we need to have these conversations. Like the coach who sets aside time for the pre-game, halftime, and post-game conversations, we need to have the conversation with our kids before, during, and after missional community or church or the grocery store - or any number of other environments we take them to where we know it may be a struggle. Below I hope to provide a model that any of us could use with our children of any age to have the conversation by merging the structure of the coaching analogy and the discipleship tactics of Paul. Note: By model I mean like the mannequin at the store. You look at it and it might look good but you don’t often buy the exact same outfit in the exact same size and wear it all together.

Pre-Game

Parent: Do you know that mommy and daddy love you and want what is best for you?
Child: Yes
P: Do you know where we are going tonight?
C: Missional Community?
P: Yes, that’s right! You are so smart and getting smarter everyday. Do you remember what we do there?
C: Play, eat food, see our friends.
P: Yes, last time we went to missional community, I saw you talking with your friends and playing with your friends and I really enjoyed seeing you do that. It was so great just to be there with you. What do you think is the hardest part about being there?
C: I don’t know. (Depending on age they may or may not be able to identify this.)
P: Because I love you and want what is best for you, I want to see you try a couple new things tonight. Tonight, I want you to join me during the Bible discussion time. You can sit in a chair or on the floor next to me. I want you to sit and listen to the discussion and you can even let me know if you want to say something to the group. As adults we do this to grow as disciples and I want you to do that too. I’ve noticed that you have been sitting very nice while watching shows, when we are at church, and even in school. I know you can do it at missional community and I will be right there with you. Would it help you to have some paper to write on or draw on while you are sitting?
C: Yes, that would help.
P: Ok, I will make sure that you have it. This is really important. If you are having trouble sitting in the group, I will have to take you out of the room and you and I will talk and try again. If you still are choosing not to be a part of the group and sitting nice, then when we get home . Can you tell mommy and daddy what we expect tonight?
C: You want me to sit by you during discussion and draw on the paper?
P: Yes, and listen as much as you can to the discussion. What if you don’t sit nice?
C: I will .
P: That’s right. Do you know that mommy and daddy don’t want to give you ? But we will do that because we believe this is what is best for you and because we love you too much to let you act that way. Let’s ask God right now to help us love others tonight by sitting nice and listening.

As I look at this, I think it is gentle in tone, imploring in urgency, cheerful based on past success, and like a witness in a court the child has testified that s/he understands the details. Now get in there and pay attention to your child. When your child is doing the right thing affirm them. It’s amazing how whispering something like this in their ear can give them confidence to keep going.

P: Hey I see you sitting there so nice and coloring. That is a great picture. That shows me that you are being very respectful and that you care a lot about what is happening tonight. You are showing these people that you love them and that you love me right now. Thank you!

Halftime

Now that the discussion has begun, your child will choose any number of ways to behave. This part of the game will present challenges. I second guess myself. I am tempted to allow emotion to take over. I am tempted to “forget” that I made a promise to my child. Despite all this, if I seek to father my children as my Heavenly Father does, then my yes needs to be yes and my no needs to be no. (Matt. 5:37) I promised that I would pull my child out and that’s what I better do if the expectations were appropriate, understood, and are being disobeyed. This is what that conversation might look like if you pull your child out.

P: What did we talk about before we came tonight? What did I ask you to do?
C: Sit nice and draw.
P: Why did I want you to do that?
C: I don’t remember.
P: Thanks for your honesty. I want you to start to participate with this group to grow as a disciple just as daddy is doing in there. Were you sitting nice and drawing?
C: Sometimes.
P: Did you hear me tell you that I was very thankful for your choices during those times?
C: Yes.
P: What about the other times?
C: I wasn’t listening to you. I was disobeying.
P: Right. What should you say at this point?
C: Sorry. Will you forgive me?
P: Should I? Do you deserve my forgiveness?
C: No, but God always forgives you even though you don’t deserve it.
P: Right and because of that I forgive you too. We have about 25 minutes left. Do you remember what I said is happening if you choose not to sit nice and listen for the rest of the time?
C: You said I would get .
P: Right. I love you so much and I really hope that we can work together to not have to do that later. Remember that we can’t do this alone, we need God’s help, so let’s ask Him for help before we go back in there.

It is crucial in these conversations to ask questions so that the child is identifying the information. So often, I assume that my kids heard what I said but they never really did. The only way for me to know for sure is to have them tell me what they heard.

Post-Game

Obviously, this conversation could go multiple ways depending on what happened since halftime. I will model the positive ending later. However, I can’t tell you how important it is that you follow through on the promises you made in these conversations. If you promised a consequence and a consequence is not given, you will send the message that your words cannot be trusted. The consequence needs to be given when you are calm, at the appropriate time, and as you promised. Consider the words of Hebrews 12.

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. [Heb 12:7-11 ESV]

So, if God disciplines us for our good, then we must do so for our children. Consider discipline in other contexts. If an athlete is disciplined and trains hard, this is good. If a university student excels in their discipline of study, this is good. If an employee is off track and not adding value to the company but is disciplined and improves, this is good for the employee and the company. If a criminal is disciplined by the police, this is good. Discipline is good and healthy. In fact in Hebrews 12, the word used is not specifically about consequences. It is about the development of the whole person including issues that need correction. We all need discipline that is good for us and so do our children.

So, what would that conversation look like if it went well?

P: I am so excited about how it went at missional community tonight! You listened to my words! You sat nice! You even drew a great picture! I saw God changing you tonight. I saw Him helping you with self-control and patience. Did you notice that too?
C: I guess.
P: Remember that we asked God to help you and He did. I am so thankful to God and to you for tonight. Wasn’t it great to play with your friends afterward and didn’t we still have a lot of fun tonight? Man, I am so proud of you. You are really growing up.
C: But you did have to take me out and talk to me.
P: Yes, I did. Do you remember that we talked about forgiveness?
C: Yeah.
P: Well, God says that as far as the east is from the west, that is how far God removes our sins from us. How far is that?
C: Far?
P: They are gone. I just want to see you trusting God and doing your best to obey Him. You did that tonight.

Some might say that this is too far or over the top. Maybe it is. I challenge all of us to be so specific and so direct in our praise. After all, are we not already this specific in our correction. Where are we spending our words? I confess that I spend too many words on correction and too few on affirmation. Even with a comparable number of words and no emotion attached, which of the following is more gentle, clear, cheerful, and incentivising?

Don’t do that.

Do that again.

Putting it All Together

We want our kids to have front-row seats to the spiritual growth of the community of believers as we are raising them to be Christ-centered missionaries in our world. Parents have a unique role to discipline and instruct them toward this life of following Christ. So many of you are bringing your children into the body of Christ. You are showing them your desire to know Christ, to know Christ followers, and to make new disciples. You are having the conversation with your kids about the ‘why’ behind it. What an amazing and humbling privilege to be a part of a disciple-making movement that is putting kids in their proper place!