How to disciple families for a multi-generational impact

Family discipleshipLast week I shared 6 questions every pastor must ask about their family. Each of these questions come out of my own experienced over the past year or two. Some of them are questions others have spoken directly to me, others are ones that I have noticed about myself in my own fatherhood journeys.

An LISM reader commented on that post and asked this:

Tim, have you ever hosted a Family Discipleship Workshop with your church family? I can’t help but think it would be beneficial to not only discuss why family discipleship is important, but to spend a good chunk of time actually making a plan. I think most parents (and ministers) want to disciple their family but struggle with the “how” and “what” to do. Do you have suggestions on how a church might conduct a workshop like this?

I appreciate the heart behind this question. Of course we all want to do whatever is in our power to strengthen families around us.

Reconsider Parent Workshops

However, I wouldn’t reduce something like this to a weekend workshop. I have been to workshops like this and have seen that just giving parents tips, tricks, and ideas often does them a disservice. It’s not equipping them — it’s short-circuiting the process. When a family takes our ideas home and finds that the struggle continues, they become discouraged and revert back to their normal way of life, often being less likely to try it again in the future.

It’s important to understand that the struggle is necessary. Instead of trying to reduce the struggle for families, we should encourage the struggle and encourage them through it.

The Struggle Starts with Us

But what does that look like?

The best thing we can do is to work through that struggle in our own families first. I’m not talking about giving it a week or two to think about it, but actually diving into it for a few years.

  • Evaluate how you make decisions and why you make the decisions that you do.
  • Take a hard look at what your family’s actions. Are they aligned with what you believe is truly most important?
  • Invest into spouse to ensure that they are set up to succeed in your family.
  • Formulate and execute a team vision for your family that capitalizes on each family member’s spiritual giftedness.
  • Learn what works best for discipling your spouse and children.
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

We don’t have to be perfect at all these things, but we at least get to a place where our family has something of substance to offer. Then we should invite other families to join our family life. We need to model for them why we do what we do and how it works for us without implying, “This is how you can do it, too.” Obviously, every family is different, so let them discover that through the struggle just like we did. They’ll take much more ownership of their family and their vision that way, too.

Helping Other Families in the Struggle

Here’s what a few families have modeled for my wife and I that have really helped us with our struggle of family vision and discipleship.

  • Meet with the dad to regularly to hear how the struggle is going. Don’t offer tips and tricks. Just listen to him, encourage him, and ask good questions that help him discover what’s happening in his heart and in his family.
  • Invite his family into your family’s rhythm by joining you for dinner every week for an ongoing basis. Treat him and his family like observers, not as pupils who should be taking notes.
  • Take his family on your family’s weekend camping trip or invite them to spend the weekend at your house. (When was the last time you had a good ol’ fashioned sleep over anyway?)
  • I know a family that invites other families to live with them for 3 months at a time to really model family relationships, parenting disciplines, spiritual development, marriage communication, and more.

The point is to spend time together and let your family rub off onto theirs. This does a far better job at ensuring the parents will succeed in family discipleship than giving them a weekend crash course.

And if you do it with the vision of pouring into families who will then turn and pour into other families, you’ve multiplied your family’s impact and will eventually impact more families than you would through a weekend workshop anyway, both in this generation and in future generations.

QUESTION: We all need to surround ourselves with families who are further ahead than we are. Who can you invite into your family to help you grow?

Posted on May 13, 2013

  • Mark Ashby

    Great post Tim. I have a question that is beyond the family. This same formula can be said about youth ministry conferences and one day events.
    We, as youth leaders, get a lot of ideas and not always a lot of follow up or through is given outside of buying merchandise/ books/ etc.
    Can you write an article on how to do this or maybe you already have? I think this is a great article though and I will be sharing it. Thanks for this uplift this morning.

    • Hey Mark, not sure what you’re asking here, but yes, I think there’s a lot of room to think outside of programs and events as a solution for what we’re trying to do.

  • Thanks for such a thorough response Tim. I agree with everything you have said here. We take ownership through struggle and learn best through modeling. I don’t know if I would throw out the workshop idea as if it is the enemy to lasting change. I envision a time for parents and ministers to sit down together with questions similar to the ones you asked of ministers and their families in a recent blog. I agree that it wouldn’t be especially helpful for ministers or others there to tell each person how to answer those questions for their individual families. I do think it would help families to take ownership of a family discipleship plan if they would just sit down and really consider what discipleship looks like in their context with some really helpful guided questions. Of course, I do think it would help to have families who have grown children to be on hand to provide counsel/mentoring for the younger families that have no clue. If time is not set aside for the purpose of making a plan, then it’s not going to happen by accident. Just my opinion.

    • Oh yeah, I agree. Having families sit down and wrestle through questions together is valuable. I guess I was picturing more of a one-way workshop where someone puts a lot of stuff up on a screen, tells you what you should be doing in your family, and leaves. Families having discuss the struggle together is totally beneficial, though.

      • So, what do you think would be some helpful questions for families to think through in developing a discipleship plan?

        • Easily the #1 question that trumps them all is, “What is family?” Sounds simplistic enough, but what you deeply believe about family will determine everything else.

          Check out this Google doc my boss at Epipheo wrote for some solid initial thoughts on that question.

  • Great Post! I love the idea of mentoring, and getting involved with someone who is further along with you. In our culture giving up more time to do that can be difficult, we like our freedom and privacy!!

  • Pingback: How to disciple families for a multi-generational impact « iYouthPastor()

  • Michael Head

    Great Post!! Thanks

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