As parents, our most important— most basic— job is to disciple our children to Jesus. 

With three (soon-to-be four!) teenagers at home and 17 years of parenting behind me, I’ve grown in my understanding of what it means to disciple my kids. 

I came into parenthood with some very specific expectations, and for years felt I was a failure for not meeting them. In hindsight, however, I see that by taking advantage of “in the moment” type moments, my kids have learned what it means to trust and follow Jesus.

Never forget that that’s the aim of all our efforts: that our children would know, trust, and follow Jesus. Exactly how we do that looks different from family to family— but the end goal never changes. 

I thought I had a pretty good idea of what discipleship would look like

Before becoming a parent, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what discipleship would look like in our home.

When I trusted in Christ as a 24-year-old grad student, my friend Will met with me weekly and discipled me. He taught me how to read my Bible, pray, memorize Scripture, and share my testimony. 

My weekly meetings with Will had a huge impact on me, so I assumed that as a parent, I would disciple my kids the same way.

For a long time, my expectation was that we’d meet most nights around the dinner table as a family of six. We’d pray together, share highs and lows from the day, and then I’d teach them some great nugget of wisdom. 

They’d break out their journals, take copious notes, and maybe even spontaneously break out in worship songs. 

We’d also meet at a coffee shop or for breakfast weekly for a deep-dive Bible study together.

My reality hasn’t lived up to my expectations

In reality, between youth group, games, practices, life group, and ministry commitments, we get to eat dinner together one or two times per week. Our sporadic meals together feature arguments over who’s day was hardest, a barking dog, and reminders on things we need to do and places we need to be later that night. 

The weekly breakfast doesn’t happen because the kids need to be at school for sports or I scheduled a pastoral care meeting with a couple.

My reality hasn’t lived up to my expectations. In my lesser moments, I felt like I was failing my kids at the most basic level. For years I wouldn’t blog or speak about parenting because I honestly believed we were failing as parents since our discipleship didn’t live up to my unrealistic expectations.

Our discipleship didn't live up to my unrealistic expectations.

Take advantage of teachable moments

And yet, somehow, our kids know the Lord, love the Lord, and genuinely desire to become more like Him. 

Even though our discipleship didn’t look like I expected, our four sons were still discipled along the way.

Consider Deuteronomy 6:7—

“You shall teach [God’s Word] 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.”

And 1 Peter 3:15—

“Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

As I reflect over the past 17 years, I see that we discipled our kids to Jesus during teachable moments. For our family, discipleship usually didn’t take place in premeditated ways but “in the moment.”

Here are three “in the moment” ways you can disciple your kids:

Bring someone with you

Look at errands and shopping as a way to get some quality one-on-one time with your child.

Kristen and I always made this a priority whenever one of us ran to the store. You’d be surprised at the opportunities that come your way to share your faith, engage with someone in need, or learn from someone else’s good (or bad) example.

Some of my best conversations with my kids have come during quick trips to the store, so look for discipleship opportunities in the mundane moments of life. 

My friend/boss/pastor Jonathan “JP” Pokluda says discipleship is “when we intentionally spend time with someone to help them follow Jesus.” 

When we bring someone along with us— even just to the store— we’re intentionally spending time with them to help them follow the Lord.

Apologize and ask for forgiveness

Earlier today I got frustrated with one of my kids. I complained to my wife about him and carried a grudge against him for hours. 

This evening, I apologized to him for my bitterness and sought forgiveness for my bad attitude and for whining about him to my wife. 

I don’t always do well with this, but apologizing and asking for forgiveness shows our kids what it means to be humble and to consider the needs of others (Psalm 51:17, James 4:6, Philippians 2:3-4). 

Parenting provides countless “in the moment” opportunities to apologize and seek forgiveness. Be sure to take advantage of them.

Admit your weaknesses

Your kids might be surprised to know that you know what it’s like to struggle with lust, body image, or people-pleasing. Let them know that you understand what it’s like to compare likes and shares on Instagram— that you know what it’s like to compare your clothes with someone else’s— that you know what it’s like to be jealous of someone else’s athletic abilities. 

When we admit our own weaknesses to our kids, we show them that they’re not alone. We readily admit that we’re not perfect and joyfully point them to the only One who is. We get to remind them who Christ is and who they are in Him.

They struggle every single day so we have opportunities to disciple them every single day!

With twin sons in their senior year of high school, I’m sometimes petrified that they’ll be out from under our roof in less than 10 months. They still don’t always replace toilet paper, they leave doors unlocked, and they act like they don’t know when a trash can is full. 

But I’m confident they’ve been discipled well in following Jesus. 

Very little of that discipleship took place in the ways I expected— much more of it happened on the fly, in the on-going, teachable moments of life. 

Always be ready to point your kids toward the Lord in the moments of life when you (and they) least expect it.