As disciple-making parents, we are committed to doing all that we can to raise our children to love and follow Jesus Christ. We know that we cannot control them or change their heart. But we want to do all that we can to influence them.
Who is our premier example in this endeavor? Jesus! The twelve apostles as well as many other men and women turned the Roman world upside down. But did they do it without any preparation? The answer to that question is a resounding, “No.”
When we read the gospels, we learn that Jesus spent time ministering to the crowds and also preparing his followers to carry on his work. Jesus was a disciple-making Savior even before the cross.
The Strategy of Jesus
But how did he do this? What if we had someone who had studied Jesus’ life deeply to learn his disciple-making strategy so that we as parents could apply it appropriately to our children?
Enter Robert Coleman and his Master Plan of Evangelism, first published in 1963. When I read it 30 years ago, it was already a classic. Now with over 3.5 million copies sold, this resource has stood the test of time.
I want to take this post to summarize his content for us and think about how it applies to parents. However, don’t let this summary substitute for reading the relatively short book.
Coleman’s thesis is simple – Jesus had a definite plan in making his disciples and so should we.
What was that plan? It involved the following components.
Men (and women) were his method. Although Jesus did not neglect the masses, he chose and concentrated on a few. Few people understood his method at the time. Why didn’t he focus on the crowds? In Coleman’s words, “The multitudes can be easily won if they are given leaders to follow.” So he selected the Twelve.
Application – As parents, God gives us a few souls that we can shape immensely. What a privilege! We can have a small impact on a large number of people and a large impact on a small number. As we desire to make disciples of all nations, let’s not forget that investing in our children as disciples is paramount. Coleman tells us something that could come right out of the The Disciple-Making Parent. “It is slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious…” Much of parenting is tedious and painful but you and I are not just raising children, we are raising warriors for Christ.
Jesus stayed with them. He spent time with them. The very essence of his training program was that he called the disciples to be with him. “Knowledge was gained by association before it was understood by explanation.” He did not ignore the masses or even other individuals like Zacchaeus. But he did focus close up association on those who would lead after he was gone. He loved them and they had his heart (See Mark 3:14).
Application – As I argue in chapter 4 of The Disciple-Making Parent, example is the most powerful factor in spiritual leadership. It is difficult to disciple our children from afar – whether that distance is physical or emotional. They must see in us a living faith that commends the gospel to them. God gives children to us to be us. So let’s make sure we are connecting with them and telling them of our love for Jesus.
Jesus required obedience. His followers were not the most brilliant of men. But they had to be willing to follow him and obey him. The way of the cross involves obedience to the will of God. To love Jesus is to obey him.
Application – As parents, we train our children to obey us that it may go well with them (See Ephesians 6:1-3). Obedience to those in authority will bring blessing. This is true for us as we walk with the Lord. Charles Bridges once said, “The fear of God is that affectionate reverence which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law.” Is that not what we want from our children as our disciples? Affectionate reverence that bends itself humbly to our commands?
Jesus gave to the disciples what the Father had given to him. He gave his peace, his joy, and the keys to the kingdom. “Love is like that. It gives itself away.” But in giving himself away, he gave them the Holy Spirit. “Jesus was God in revelation. The Spirit is God in operation.”
Application – Ultimately, our children must also rely on the Holy Spirit to live the lives God wants for them. Though Jesus could give his disciples his Spirit in a way we cannot, we can pray that our children would know the power, conviction, direction, and influence of the Holy Spirit. Do we try and parent without the Holy Spirit? He is the one at work in our discipleship.
Jesus showed his disciples how to live. They observed how he drew people to himself, inspired faith, and called them to a decision. He did not ask them to do anything he had not done. He was able to say, “I have given you an example” (John 13:15).
Application – Are we showing our children how to live? They will imitate our example. Are we calling them to this imitation? “Our weaknesses need not impair discipleship when shining through them is a transparent sincerity to follow Christ.” In other words, as we sincerely desire to follow Christ we can encourage our children to follow us knowing we are not perfect. “Perfect” parents are not allowed. But sincere followers of Christ are.
Jesus assigned work to them. He said, “I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus called these men to follow him and then out of love sent them out to preach the gospel. An act of love was to call them into this sacrificial ministry. It was an act of love to invite them into what God was doing even though it would involve hardship in their lives.
Application – While our children are children, they can also be trained to serve. They should be trained to serve. We can give them important work to do to help the family and the church. We are all made to live for a higher purpose. Jesus said that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We should train our children in the blessedness of serving.
Jesus kept his disciples under constant supervision and review. “He did not expect more from the disciples than they could do, but he did expect their best, and this he expected always to improved as they grew in knowledge and grace.” He patiently redirected them and supervised them so they would go in the right way.
Application – It is obvious that our children need retraining, reminding, and more retraining. All of us forget. All of us get off track. As parents we can see the big picture and are rightly called to train our children. This involves not only instruction with words but training with action. That training involves supervision and reminding.
Jesus expected them to reproduce. They, too, were to make disciples. Life reproduces its own kind. Spiritual life will reproduce spiritual life. Just as Jesus had discipled them, they were to make disciples of others (Matthew 28:18-20).
Application – Just as we have reproduced and created these little ones, so our prayer is that they would not only imitate our faith but would help others. Technically speaking we not just praying for disciples but disciple-making disciples that will continue on long after we are gone.
Our prayer and call as followers of Jesus is to make disciples wherever we go. This involves our neighbor across the street, a new friend at church, and our children. Jesus gives us an example of how we can help others grow to be like him. The Master Plan of Evangelism is a helpful tool in thinking through the principles behind disciple-making.