Parents, Don’t Be Afraid of Discipleship

March 31, 2022  - By Chris Ammen

Parents, Don't Be Afraid of Discipleship - an article from Well-Watered Women

What does discipleship look like in your home?

Your blood pressure may have just spiked. It's okay. Most Christian parents feel the same way when they hear this question—even the superhero ones. You'd never guess, but behind the social media posts about their Scripture memory flashcards and Bible reading plans, there's this nagging insecurity that it's not enough. 

It’s strangely reassuring that our nagging insecurities are actually right. Merely delivering information is not enough. The Holy Spirit has to regenerate our children's hearts. 

You probably know this to be true. And yet, you're still nervous. 

I am too. Here's why…

Every year in my work as a kids' pastor, I watch children make genuine professions of faith only to grow into maladjusted, unstable adults. Why does this happen? And why is it important to notice? 

I believe that what I've just described is an endemic crisis. It's not merely a mental health issue. It’s a kingdom issue, a gospel issue. This problem plays itself out in addictions, our inability to have civil discourse, and, when sin makes itself a generational disease, in families.

Can we do something about it? Yes, we can. 

Will it require a Spirit-empowered shift in how we think about discipleship? Most likely. 

Let's begin with one crucial question: what is discipleship?

Discipleship Defined

Tim Keller once said, "Discipleship is not just a matter of bending your will to Jesus' will; it's melting your heart into a whole new shape…Discipleship is not a heavenly behavior modification plan. Discipleship is our process of becoming more like Jesus—from the inside out."

For Keller, discipleship is not exclusively educational; it is transformational. Discipleship is not simply changing the minds of our children. It's the molding of their hearts, affections, and emotions as citizens of the kingdom of God.

Please don't hear what I'm not saying. Discipleship is instruction. However, presenting our children with the correct information (i.e., memorize this verse, learn this catechism) is not enough. Treating discipleship like an elementary classroom will never bear the weightiness of the task at hand. 

What did Jesus say about discipleship?

Remember: the word discipleship never occurs in the Bible. But that doesn't mean Jesus didn't do it. 

In Matthew 22, Jesus gives a short course on the goal of discipleship. There, an expert in the Bible asked him about the greatest commandment. Jesus' reply? "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37, 39–40).

Jesus was crystal clear—the heart, the emotional control center of your whole personhood, is plainly in view with spiritual formation. Loving God and loving our neighbors are the ultimate goal of discipleship, and this type of mature, sacrificial, dignity-bestowing love requires a lot more than sword drills.

Engaging in Emotion to Be Shaped by the Spirit

In the sacred space between what we can teach the brain and what melts our hearts is where the Holy Spirit has to work. When the Spirit begins to shape our hearts, we see a more honest, balanced picture of ourselves and the world as it truly is. We discover that we are limited in our abilities, wisdom, and knowledge. As a result, we don't see the world with the clarity we once thought possible. We can then be gentle with ourselves in our failings and compassionate toward those we disagree with. In our fallen world, we experience hurt despite our attempts to protect ourselves. As one of my friends says, "Hurt hurts, but I'm not surprised by the hurt." We can be honest about how we wound others and the pain we carry. Then, we can confidently step off the treadmill of self-sufficiency and move with grace towards others. 

So emotions are God-given gifts that help us navigate life in a broken world. Emotions tell us when something is desperately wrong, and then they aid us in pursuing what is good and beautiful. When we allow ourselves to feel, we begin to experience empathy for our neighbors in their fear, hurt, and sadness. By experiencing our own pain, we learn to love others in theirs. 

To do this, we must allow Jesus to lead our children and us into the wilderness of our emotional world. There, we discover the ugly, painful truth about who we are. But, by entering the sometimes scary world of understanding our own emotions, we are able to be faithful to the kingdom call to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). 

Practical Tips for Emotional Discipleship

  1. Get honest about your emotions. Talk to a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor. Be open with your spouse. Understanding your own heart leads to a better understanding of your child’s heart.
  2. Develop a rhythm of asking your child questions: How are you feeling? What made you feel fearful today? Notice your child. They often wear their emotions on their sleeves. Take note of how they are experiencing life and talk to them about it. Show empathy and grace and feel alongside them. Open God’s Word together for biblical examples of dealing with your emotions. 
  3. Share your emotions with your child. You cannot raise an emotionally healthy child and remain stoic around them. Tell them about your sadness, joys, and loneliness in age-appropriate ways. Invite them into your world and let them see you working through your own problems in real-time. Through sharing your own sanctification, your child can learn the process of going to God in times of trouble. 

Take these good steps, and then—pray. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. You might do all of the right things and still face adversity in this area. It's okay. We all need to grow in loving God and others, and being committed to Spirit-led growth in this area is walking in the grace necessary to follow Jesus’ command. 


Meet the Author

Chris Ammen is the founder of Kaleidoscope, a kids' Bible company aimed at helping children and families love God with all their heart, soul, and mind. Check them out at


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