The First Priority for Discipleship (an excerpt from The Disciple-Making Parent)
When Paul looked back on Timothy’s upbringing, he started with Timothy’s most powerful influence—the examples in his life:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it... (2 Timothy 3:14 NIV)
Timothy, like all second-generation Christians, was influenced to follow the Lord by the living faith of the people in his life. His mother Eunice, grandmother Lois, and others had made a positive impact on Timothy. Even before the apostle Paul mentioned the influence of Scripture, he commended the examples around Timothy.
This principle is repeated throughout the Bible. A leader’s example is the first and greatest teacher. When Jesus called his disciples, he called them first to spend time with him (Mark 3:14). During this time, they would be observing his life. Later, he would send them out to imitate his ministry. Likewise, Paul commended himself as a spiritual father whose life should be imitated. Timothy and Titus were urged to focus on their own walks and the examples they set. The very nature of being a spiritual leader is bound up with his or her example. We learn primarily by imitation and modeling. We don’t even realize it is happening.
The same surprising emphasis is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-8. Before God commanded certain activities of the parents, he focused on the affections of the parents. The first duty of family discipleship actually has nothing to do with children at all:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5-6)
Before God commands us to teach our children, he reminds us of the need we have to love God and to carry his Word in our hearts. It is impossible to pass on something we do not possess. Example has always been and will always be the most powerful teacher.
Absorbing Our Example
Your life will affect your children in at least two ways: first, throughout their time with you they will be absorbing your example and then, they will be evaluating your example.
J. C. Ryle expands on how younger children are absorbing our example:
Fathers and mothers, do not forget that children will learn more by the eye than they do by the ear. No school will make such deep marks on character as home. The best of school-masters will not imprint on their minds as much as they will pick up at your fireside. Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told. Take care, then, what you do before your child.
You can read the rest in Chapter 4 of The Disciple-Making Parent.
As you read this you might have been discouraged, thinking of your failure. Don’t be! God always uses imperfect examples. He gave these children to you! Ask the Lord to help you live by the power of Christ in you! Your children will remember your faithfulness in loving the Lord and fighting your sin!