God calls Christian dads to do our part in making our children disciples of Jesus––followers who love God with all their heart, being, and substance and who view reality and live lives in light of Christ’s supremacy over all things. Discipleship in this sense is not restricted to “spiritual” matters but encompasses all of life. Discipleship is about education in its most ultimate sense––the act of shaping a proper world-and-life view and passion that glorifies God. This is my goal as a father.
My wife Teresa and I are now in our twenty-third year of marriage, and God has blessed us with six kids––three black, three white: three boys, three girls. We have boy and girl twins who are 7, two more sons who are 8 and 13, and two daughters who are 15 and almost 18. The words in this study come to you as a dad who is still growing. All successes in my home are due to grace alone, and all the failures are themselves being overcome by grace. Parenting that honors God requires not only high intentionality but also radical dependence.
In seeking to give guidance for a father’s role in raising boys to be godly men and girls to be godly women, I want to let the biblical text speak first, and then I will offer examples of how my wife and I are applying in our home what we are learning. My hope is that this will rightly balance faithful exposition with practical examples. For the sake of this article, I will only focus on one Old Testament text.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 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. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–9)
Principle 1: Making disciples of our children is about helping them treasure God’s supremacy over all things in all of their lives.
When Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “You shall teach them” and “you shall talk of them,” the plural pronoun refers to “these words” in verse 6, which at the very least refers back to the Supreme Commandment in 6:4–5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus would later call this “the most important commandment” (Mark 12:29–30). There is only one God, unique in his perfections, and we are not him. He is creator; we are creature. He is sovereign; we are dependent, and this dependence demands our life-encompassing love––love with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might directed toward the supreme sovereign, the only savior, the ultimate satisfier. Every thought and desire, our entire being, indeed all that is identified with us is to cry out “Yahweh is God, and I love him with all!”
Note the spheres where this radical God-centeredness is supposed to control. Moses first pleas for personal appropriation (Deut. 6:6)––“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” The old covenant simply called for the law to be on the heart; in the new covenant Yahweh actually places it there (Jer. 31:33). But a person’s call to heed the most important commandment moves beyond personal appropriation to personal application both in parenting (Deut. 6:7) and public witness (Deut. 6:8–9).
Note also the lasting significance of Deuteronomy’s injunction within the new covenant (Mark 12:29–30). Although Moses is giving old covenant instruction, Jesus’s comments regarding the most important commandment identifies that his own law fulfillment does not alter our call to have the Lord capture our affections. We are to impress these truths on our children, which leads me to the second principle.
Principle 2: Parental instruction should be both formal and informal, impacting every setting and situation.
Deuteronomy 6:7 implies two types of training with distinct verbs and clauses: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” The overall context and the meaning of the first verb suggest that the switch from teaching to talking expresses that parents ought to use two forms of instruction in their disciple making––formal and informal.
1. For more on this distinction between formal and informal training, Peter J. Gentry, “Equipping the Generations: Raising Children, the Christian Way,” The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 2.2 (2012): 99–100.
I understand “formal teaching” to be any teaching that is planned. What the ESV renders as “teach,” the NIV translates “impress,” and the Hebrew term likely bears the meaning “repeat,” suggesting formal, repetitive training. The text asserts that every home needs structured times of instruction, and it may be the closest clear directive for family devotions in Scripture. Likewise, Psalm 78:5–8 says,
[The LORD] established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Our goal in helping our kids celebrate a big God who has worked in mercy for mankind through his Son is that they would set their hope in him, remember his works, and follow him. Thus, we create formal contexts of instruction.
Certainly, these formal settings would include things like Sunday School classes and youth group. But in these contexts, the leaders simply serve as surrogate parents and should simply be reinforcing what Dad and Mom are already doing at home. Scripture sees the primary responsibility for shaping Godward kids to be the parents. In my home we have formal or planned contexts for discipleship daily, weekly, annually, and at major life transitions. What follows are practical ways in which I have sought to implement these formal settings of teaching into my children’s lives.
There are numerous daily practices we have installed into the life of our home. First, our children practice daily personal devotions. God’s Spirit works through his word, and for this reason Teresa and I desire that our children daily encounter God’s power as they read the Bible. In the earliest stages I read to my kids while they colored a picture related to the passage. At times they would also listen to the Bible on tape. In time, they would read a chapter of Scripture, and now it multiple chapters, usually sitting in quiet with God for 30 minutes or so. We also have designated daily prayer targets. For example, day-by-day through each month we cycle through praying for a family, a missionary, and/or a church leader. We also pray for immediate family members each week, and we pray for safety and help every time we would get in the car or see an accident. From these practices we hope that our children will learn how desperately we need God’s help at all times and for all situations. Lastly, each night we seek to honor God with our children’s bedtime routine. Our principle aim here is to listen to our children and pray for them.
Besides these daily habits, we also implement two different weekly times for instruction. The first of these is that on Saturday mornings for about twenty minutes I and my kids read through books of the Bible together. We each take turns reading, and we ask each other questions. We have gone through many books like Ruth, Colossians, Proverbs, 1 Peter, and Revelation. Despite the challenges of interpreting a book like Revelation, these times supply an opportunity for the kids to learn that God is big and will win in the end.
We also enjoy something we call “3-D,” which is short for “DeRouchies, Devotions, and Delicacies.” While the one day of the week may change semester by semester, these mornings my little DeRouchies gather together and enjoy thirty minutes of my teaching and Teresa’s delicacies. Sometimes I teach through Scripture (e.g., Proverbs, the Minor Prophets, the story of the Bible), a chapter I have written (e.g., ways to see Jesus in the Old Testament), or a course I have taught elsewhere (e.g., Christian Discipleship). Othertimes, I teach through other people’s books I want my children to understand. Some of these have included Gary Morgan’s Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day, Bruce Ware’s Big Truths for Young Hearts, Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, and Marty Machowski’s Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotionals to Draw Your Family to God. Instead of reading directly from these books for thirty minutes, I first read over the material and then summarize and present it to my children how I deem best.
Our children also benefit from annual cycles of instruction. For example, we celebrate Christ’s coming by meditating on the incarnation in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. These meditations have included John Piper’s Christmas poems, considering what the gospel is, and key Old Testament messianic prophecies (e.g., Gen 3:15; 22:17–18; 49:8–10; Num. 24:7–9, 17–19; Deut. 18:15–20; 1 Sam. 2:10, 35; 2 Sam. 23:1–7; Pss. 1–2, 18, 22, 45, 110; Isa. 7:14; 9:6–7; 11:1–12:6; 42:1–9; 49:1–13; 50:4–11; 52:13–53:12; 61:1–4; Jer. 23:5–8; 30:8–9, 21; Ezek. 34:22–24; 37:22–28; Dan. 7:13–14; 9:24–27; Hos. 3:5; Amos 9:11–15; Mic. 5:2–5; 7:14–17; Nah. 1:15; Zech. 3:1–10; 6:12–15; 9:9–11; 12:10; 13:1, 7–9; Mal. 3:1–3). It is also around Christmas time and their birthdays each year that we take time individually to hear from our kids on how they are doing and to pray for them.
Major Life Transitions
Even less often than these annual cycles are teachings that come at major life-transitions. For example, when each child has neared age twelve––whether daughter or son, I have talked about sexuality and the bodily changes he or she is beginning to experience due to the onset of puberty. While we are always clarifying biblical manhood and womanhood within the context of the home and society, during these times, my aim has been to biblically depict the beauty of God’s good design for sex and to warn of the world’s immoral perspectives and acts. I make time for the child to ask anything he or she wishes and seek to keep doors of communication open in the days ahead. My wife also follows up, and together we seek for our kids to learn of such sensitive topics from us rather than the world.
Not only do my wife and I instruct our kids in godliness at designated times, as we ourselves increase in our own walk with Christ we are trying to be mindful to make a radical God-centeredness the point of all of our lives––whether we sit, walk, lie down, or rise (Deut. 6:7). All things come from God, and all things are designed to direct us back to God (Rom. 11:36). In the unplanned good times and bad, parents are to help our kids grasp that there is only one God and we are to love him with all.
The Good Times
My kids need to know that hot fudge sundaes and hot cocoa and basketball are about God. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). The goal here is that the everyday times in life––even the mundane moments––would be elevated one octave to the point of praise. Parents need to teach and remind their kids that life is about God and that even in their youth they are a part of his purpose. Reading books or playing a board game together, eating around the table, enjoying family movie nights, and tucking them into bed at night are all opportunities for the kids to hear about and see put on display the character and goodness of God.
Such informal times of training have left a mark on our children. In fact, my fifteen-year-old daughter wanted to express to others on her own accord how these informal times of teaching have blessed her. She shares how she really appreciates how her mom and I have shown intentionality in getting to know her and her siblings and their inward thoughts and feelings through the birthday dates and random talks. She also appreciates the time we take to invest in them and their interests. In her words, you and Mom are “setting for us a small display of the big amount of care and love that God has for his children.” Lastly, she told me, “Both you and Mommy make sure to nurture our abilities at different skills (building, cooking, gardening, etc.) so that someday we will be able to serve others and God by our ability to work.”
Teresa and I have also tried to help our kids recognize their part in their Daddy’s ministry. By honoring their Mommy they help me not have to worry about the home, which frees me to serve my students and others more effectively. This was brought home once when we got a missionary letter update from a girl to whom I had taught Hebrew that now serves as a Bible translator in Papua New Guinea. The stories she shared were beautiful; people were receiving God’s word. And by honoring their Daddy and Mommy, my kids had a direct part in equipping this young lady for this task.
The Hard Times
Yet informal training isn’t only for the good times. It continues in challenging times and seasons of suffering, when the family journeys through grief and deep pain. Loss of job, tension in a relationship, the suffering or death of a loved one––such realities are part of this cursed world, and in all we are to remember and fear God!
Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. (Eccl. 7:13–14)
I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. (Eccl. 3:14)
In hard times, parents must lead their kids to remember that there is only one God and we are to love him with all. We may not understand why God is letting things go so badly, but our hope rests in the fact that he is great and he is good and that he is for all who trust Jesus. One season of suffering our own family endured was the loss of a precious child that we were supposed to adopt. One of my sons and I were building a bunk bed for him and his new brother when we learned that this boy was no longer eligible for adoption and could not legally be my son. Our family grief was real. But the very present help of God was real. As we leaned toward him, he was magnified as the great Helper, and we were upheld by his care. Indeed, it was through that family journey of suffering that God brought each of my oldest three children to know God not only as creator but as their own personal Father.
May God help you as parents treasure Christ. And may you be intentional in both formal and informal contexts to help your kids see and savor the bigness and goodness of God in all things. There is only one God, and we are to love him with all!
Editor’s Note: This post is drawn from a 2017 seminar titled “Father’s Discipling Children” that Dr. Jason DeRouchie gave at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders. It originally addressed Deuteronomy 6:4–9; Ephesians 6:1–4; and Proverbs 22:5–6, and you can access the video, audio, and notes for the original presentation here. While Dr. DeRouchie has now been married over 28 years and his children have grown, the age markers have not been updated to keep the integrity of the original talk.