We landed into the life of parenting unexpectedly. We had always wanted a family and I especially mused (a lot) over what life would be like when we had little people around our feet! But in our second year of bible college we faced the unexpected news that we were going to have our first baby.
We were delighted but completely underprepared.
I was a midwife and Andy had previously been a teacher. Surely we would know how to bring up a child; it couldn’t be that hard, could it? As a young adult I entered into this journey with arrogance. It didn’t take long for me to realise that the only perfect parents are those without children, standing on the outside looking in. We were definitely on a steep learning curve!
We spent the first six years (3 children later) making it up as we went along. We used experience of our own parents’ methods, intuition, and the odd book to help us get through. Some things worked, some didn’t. We had three very different children on our hands, all with different personalities and different issues. My deepest desire was that we would bring up children who were loving, intelligent people. But, more than that, we’d raise children who would end up choosing Jesus when they left home (or hopefully before).
I realise now that these desires were so strong and my parenting strategy so weak, that there was an underlying stress caused by fear. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of disciplining, believing it would stop them from knowing they were loved. Fear of putting them off Jesus. I knew I had underlying ‘broken’ mindsets which were affecting my parenting, so that at best it was inconsistent and at worst, destructive. It was like fear was the driver, and I was in the passenger seat hoping that somehow we might end up at the right destination.
As we started to reflect on the calling over our lives, that of making disciples, I had a really helpful revelation which completely affected the way in which we now parent.
I started to realise that bringing up kids is another opportunity to make disciples. The culture in our home, which we create, is a discipleship culture. It can be a culture where mistakes provide opportunities to reflect and learn, rather than becoming something to fear. We can create a culture defined by continuous growth, rather than fear of failure. Each stage can be filled with “kairos” (Mark 1:15) moments that keep reminding us that Jesus is breaking in, engaging with us and enabling us to be more like Him.
The Jesus Model
Jesus is the best leader the world has ever seen, and His Father is the best parent. As we look to the ways in which Jesus led and made disciples, we can translate this into our homes and parenting in order to be more effective and better equipped. You may be aware of the Square – one of the Lifeshapes. We can learn the methods of Jesus as we look at the Square, and begin to apply these methods and principles in our parenting.
When Jesus first encountered his disciples he made a strong invitation for them to follow him (L1).
Mark 1:14-17 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news! As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
He was highly directive but there was something within Him they were attracted to, which they were enthusiastic to follow. As they journeyed with him further they started to realise the implications of following Jesus: opposition and rejection (L2). They started to doubt their calling and their ability to follow. At this point His words were kind; He reassured them and encouraged them to look to Him for security. He became more accessible to them and imitation became the key to His leadership.
Luke 12:32-34 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Then as the disciples journeyed with Him for a while He declared to the disciples ‘you are no longer servants but friends’ John 15:15. By then Jesus used less direction and lots of discussion (L3). It’s in L3 that Jesus sends out the 12 in Matthew 10. By this stage they knew who they were and what they needed to do. They had been in His company enough “to remember who they belonged to” as my Grandma used to say! But they still needed to return back to Him, so that they could regroup and process what went on when He sent them out. At this point there would be a growing sense of competency from the disciples, but their confidence would still be intermittent. One example of this is when the disciples were praying for the boy with epileptic seizures in Matthew 17:14-21. The disciples had already been sent out to heal the sick but on this occasion they couldn’t deliver the boy from this life affecting illness. They returned to Jesus to process why, and he enabled them to understand the key to ministry in that scenario, which was prayer and fasting.
And then finally (L4) he left them to it, promising His presence would always be with them by His Spirit. It was now their turn to take the baton and continue to run the race on earth. They had developed confidence and independence through a process of gaining deep identity and security; they knew who they were. Jesus sent them out with authority but reminded them that His presence was always with them.
Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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.’
Parenting is one of the biggest learning curves we’ll ever experience. By looking to how Jesus made disciples we can become better, more effective parents. We still make mistakes all the time. However, we can be equipped to recognise the seasons that we are in with each child, and tailor our parenting to where they are at. Using every opportunity for growth, and building a discipling culture in our family is empowering, both for us and for them. Fear no longer drives our parenting car. We do.
Over the next 2 blog posts we are going to look at how Jesus’ way of discipleship can directly affect our parenting through the different challenges, issues, and opportunities each childhood stage throws at us.
Andy and Annwen have 3 children, Caleb (11), Toby (9) and Elly (6)