Embracing the Mission Field of Family
By LESLIE LUDY
Several years ago, Eric and I sat across the table from a middle-aged missionary couple and listened to the heartbreaking story of their family. Before they met, both of them had committed their lives to serving God and sharing the Gospel. From the beginning of their marriage, they enthusiastically jumped into full-time ministry — teaching, counseling and discipling people who were in need of hope and encouragement. They were incredibly dedicated to their ministry work — so much so that they constantly had “down and out” people living with them in order to be fully available to minister to their needs. Their missionary work claimed all of their time and energy. Even as the couple began to have children of their own, their lifestyle did not change. Their children grew up never knowing who would be living in their home from one day to the next. They began to resent their parents’ ministry, feeling like they were always “sharing” their mom and dad with others. The couple taught their kids about Christ, but they were too busy to truly disciple them in the Gospel life or spend much one-on-one time with them. They believed their children would eventually embrace Christianity and understand the importance of their ministry work, simply because they were being raised in a Christian home and being taught Christian values.
Sadly, it didn’t happen that way. When they grew up, all four of their children rejected Christianity. They all choose lifestyles that were the opposite of everything their parents valued and believed in. With tears in their eyes, the veteran missionary couple warned us not to follow in their footsteps. “Don’t ever put ministry above your children,” they cautioned. “If you aren’t tending to the mission field in your own family, you aren’t truly qualified for the mission field anywhere else.”
Their words made a huge impact upon Eric and me. We had four children ages five and younger, and at the same time we were launching a discipleship training school, leading a church, and speaking around the country. After hearing the couple’s regret over how they had spent their child-raising years, we began to awaken more fully to the principle of 1 Timothy 3:5: “For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?”
We were freshly reminded that any ministry work we invested ourselves into should only be an outflow of the ministry work we were doing in our own home and family. Yes, we were called to “go into all the work and make disciples” as Christ commanded, but fulfilling the Great Commission needed to begin in our own family. If we excelled in leading our children into a vibrant, lasting relationship with Christ, we would be far more equipped to lead others to Him. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much” (Lk. 16:10). We realized that in order to be faithful to the calling God had placed upon our lives, we needed to be faithful first and foremost with the children He had given us. This didn’t mean that we were never to disciple anyone outside of our own children. It meant that the discipleship of our family was to be at the very top of our priority list, and that we should never let ministry work crowd out the nurturing and training of our own children.
Admittedly, discipling young children and leading them into a vibrant relationship with Christ is no easy task. It can often feel easier to share powerful Truth with the unsaved tribal native across the world than with the preschooler under our own roof. It’s one thing to read Bible stories to our kids and help them memorize Scripture, but leading them into a life-changing understanding of the Gospel is an incredible challenge that requires absolute dependence upon the Spirit of God.
Amy Carmichael, who rescued and raised hundreds of children in India, spoke about her desire to see Truth so deeply rooted into their souls that no amount of wind, rain, ridicule, or worldly wisdom could ever shake it loose. More than anything else, this is what I desire for my children. But that kind of discipleship is not accomplished merely by reading Bible stories to them and taking them to Sunday school. It requires the same commitment, devotion, and spiritual sharpness of a missionary who is in the midst of an epic battle for souls.
The family is one of the most important mission fields on earth. Let’s respond to this call and lead our children into the life-changing power of the Gospel — no matter what it takes.
I’ve discovered that sharing the Gospel with my children is far more effective when I allow God’s Spirit to equip me with creative ideas for how to communicate His Truth to them. It’s one thing to give them lectures about good behavior while they sit distractedly on the couch and fidget, but getting them truly excited about the things of God is a different story.
I’ve found that one of the most powerful ways to help my kids go deeper spiritually is to spend time discipling them one-on-one. With six children to manage, I am often tempted to train them as a group, but I have found that my kids pay far more attention to what I am telling them and apply the truths far more deeply when they are treated as an individual. That’s not to say that group Bible teaching or family devotional times aren’t important, but I’ve found that nothing can replace personalized discipleship. Each week, my son Hudson and I go to a coffee shop or find a quiet corner of the house and spend about an hour talking about spiritual truths. To get a bit more creative with how this time is spent, I created a discipleship notebook. In this notebook, I outlined different key themes of the Christian life, such as “surrender” or “dependence.” For each theme, I listed a foundational Scripture, several discussion questions, and examples of Biblical characters or people from Christian history who applied that specific principle in their own lives. I also share stories of how God has personally worked in my life in that particular area.
When Hudson and I meet together, I explain the spiritual principle of the week, read a Scripture that articulates it, tell him stories of great Christians who lived it, and then share how that principle has affected me personally. Then, I ask him questions about ways in which he can apply the principle to his life.
Here is an example of what one week’s discipleship lesson might look like:
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’” (Mat. 16:24).
To “deny” self means to forget about yourself and your own wants, and think only about what Jesus wants.
Why is denying self important for letting the Holy Spirit make your body His home?
How do you act when self controls you instead of the Holy Spirit?
A Personal Example:
My story — the pressure to self-promote and “follow my dreams” in the music industry, and how God convicted me to live for His glory and not my own. (I share this story with Hudson in as much detail as I feel is appropriate for his age.)
Self-Denial in Action:
The Little Woman — Gladys Aylward’s story, surrendering to God’s call, not thinking about herself even during great hardships. (I share with Hudson what stood out to me about Gladys’s story after reading her biography.)
The Blanket Story — two Christians in a freezing cold prison cell and one man asks: “If that were Jesus, would I give Him my blanket?” Then he wraps his only blanket around his cell-mate’s shoulders. (I share this story with Hudson in my own words.)
Important Questions for Hudson to Grapple with:
1) Do I understand what it means to deny self?
2) Do I live each day listening to the voice of self or the voice of the Holy Spirit?
3) What kinds of things does self tell me to do? What kinds of things does the Holy Spirit tell me to do?
4) Are there any areas of my life in which I need to deny self and follow Christ? (For example, getting upset when I have to do chores, stop playing, or let someone else have the better place or the toy I was playing with.)
5) Take some time to pray and say “no” to self and “yes” to the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to enable you to deny self and follow Him each moment of the day.
I have found that Hudson is far more willing to open up and share what is going on in his heart when it’s just the two of us together. It also removes the distraction of keeping all the children quiet and focused, and helps us simply zero in on the truths we are discussing. Spending time with him alone also helps me take the Truth deeper than I can when there are preschoolers present.
If you don’t feel especially gifted in creating discipleship themes and lessons, and you can’t find a curriculum you like, don’t despair. Simply spending time one-on-one with your child and sharing the specific key truths that God has personally taught you in your Christian journey will make an eternal impact upon him or her. Our kids need to not only learn about Truth, but also to hear examples of how that Truth has personally changed their parents’ lives. This is one of the single greatest tools for leading our kids to Christ, because it helps them grasp not only the truth, but also the life-transforming power of the Gospel.
For the younger children, I usually get alone with them, read a chapter from a children’s devotional book, and then ask them questions about how God is speaking to their heart, and how they can apply the truths to their daily lives. If I can think of a simple example from my own life that relates to the principle that I’m studying, I share it. I then encourage my child to write down what they feel God is speaking to their heart, or to draw a picture of it, and keep it in a special notebook so that they can always look back and remember the different ways in which God was teaching and growing them.
It is astounding how vividly my children remember these one-on-one times of spiritual growth, and how much they refer back to specific stories that I’ve shared with them from my own life.
There is no specific formula for one-on-one discipleship. I encourage you to simply make time for it in your schedule and allow the Spirit of God to lead you and give you His creativity as you seek to share Truth with your kids. No matter how ill-equipped you feel, He will be faithful to guide you each step of the way! Remember, He desires them to be rooted in Truth even more than you do. Just as He equips each missionary who goes out to fulfill the Great Commission, so He will equip you to fulfill that same Commission in your own home — one step of obedience at a time.