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Coaching Parents to Get Involved in Generational Discipleship
By David Womack
I will never forget the overwhelming emotion I experienced the first time I saw and held my firstborn daughter. It brought a fresh experience of love, both familiar and brand new. It also brought a real sense of how unprepared and ill-equipped I was for the challenges of being a father. It is amazing how we love our children and grandchildren instinctively. We don’t have to be taught to love them, but we do have to learn how to express our love and how to love them well in ways that nurture the best in them. There was no doubt how much I loved each of my girls, and there was no doubt how much I needed help to be the father they needed. Like a young, inexperienced athlete who wants to play the game but doesn’t have the skill or experience, I needed a coach to help me learn and develop the abilities to play well.
Many of us have or had coaching to some degree from our own parents and grandparents. Maybe you were blessed with parenting mentors who discipled you. Wouldn’t it be great if every new parent had a coach to help them do their best at parenting?
The church has a wonderful opportunity to step into its corporate responsibility and develop the ministry of coaching parents. I use the analogy of coaching because it fits well with the ministry of helping parents, as well as discipleship. I enjoy college football and try to watch my favorite team play. As my love of the game has grown, so has my appreciation for coaches and what a good coach brings to the game.
While a coach has numerous responsibilities, his primary focus can be distilled to four primary areas:
Develop young athletes to play the best they can
in the position for which they are best suited.
Develop athletes to play as a team and create a team culture.
Develop a game plan to leverage the talents and abilities of athletes individually and collectively.
Develop the process for accomplishing all of this; every successful coach has his own unique way to get it done.
These same points are applicable to the church and mirror what ministry leaders are called to do.
Disciple people—each believer (develop the individual player).
Disciple the church—a community of believers
(develop the team).
Promote discipleship—create the culture of
discipleship (develop the game plan).
Develop the process to keep it all going (manage
the ongoing priority and process).
Four questions ministry leaders should be asking:
Am I developing the players—the parents?
Am I helping the parents in my church become better disciples and better parents? Most parents want help, even if they don’t ask for it. It’s awkward to ask for help because that is an admission of inadequacy; it is uncomfortably vulnerable. Ministry leaders can leverage coachable moments when a parent is open to coaching, such as at the birth of a child, or when they are facing problems. There are opportunities to coach through relationships. Our job in ministry is leveraging every opportunity to help people grow in Christ.
Parents are entrusted to our care, so we should take an active interest in them and in their role as parents. Think through every ministry, every ministry leader, and every activity of your church—how can it be used to connect with and help parents? Train your teachers and ministry leaders to be proactive in getting to know the parents in your ministries, both the parents who come to church and the ones who don’t. (They require different strategies.) There should never be a disconnect between the leaders and teachers of your church and parents in your church. We put a great deal of thought and effort into how we greet and connect with guests. How can we apply the same thought process to parents and families?
Encourage them and love on them. Talk up parents in your church. Do things specifically to show parents they are important: special service, events, meet and greets, etc. Share success stories from other parents and families to inspire. Brainstorm with your team how you can love on the parents in your care
Equip them with resources. Find good resources parents can easily use to help them build relationships and lead their families in discipleship. Don’t just put resources in their hands; put them in their heads and their hearts. Show them how to use the resources and why it matters. Build training into things you’re already doing. Teach the leaders of your adult classes and groups how to take the last five minutes to discuss what they’ve learned with their children and grandchildren; this is application. Teaching older generations how to engage with younger generations is a big win for any church.
Empower them. Coaches train and develop game plans for a reason—game day. For parents, the stakes are higher. Teach parents to seize the teachable moments. Give them conversation starters and talking points. They also need conversation closers; coach parents how to pray with their children for specific needs. Prayer should be the natural closer to most conversations. Coach parents to get over the awkwardness of talking and praying with their children.
A key part of empowering is accountability—as an encouragement, not an expectation. Don’t forget them; follow-up and continue to mentor. Some parents only need a little encouragement; they only need to be shown how and coached a little. Other parents need ongoing hands-on coaching; they may be missing the fundamentals or carry baggage from their past. Commit to the task of coaching, mentoring, and shepherding parents. As they grow and mature, involve them in helping other parents. Intentionally invest in parents, and don’t forget the unique challenges of single parents and grandparents raising their grandchildren. Develop your players!
Am I developing the team—the culture of the church?
Am I developing a pro-family church culture where families can flourish? To stay with the coaching metaphor, if parents are the players, the rest of the church is on their team. Do you have a culture of team pride and ownership of the families in your church? Family should be a big deal in every church. After all, family is God’s idea. Parents and grandparents should be heroes in every church. We must create a community mindset rather than an individual mindset. Does my church have a culture of church and homes engaging together in discipleship? Do everything you can to create a family culture in your church, not to the exclusion of other groups, but intentionally ensuring family is an important part of your ministry and church culture. Develop the team.
Am I developing the game plan—do I know what success looks like?
Do I have a plan or vision for how parents can be helped? What should a family be, and what should a family of families be? Teach the biblical model of family and discipleship (generational discipleship). The Bible has much to say about families so preach it, teach it, and model it. We find real families in the Bible. One of the greatest ways to showcase God’s redemptive love is by demonstrating how He has worked in families. Everyone benefits from what the Bible says about family, because everyone is connected to a family. If someone is estranged from their family, he needs to know how to be reconciled. If another has come out of a dysfunctional family, she needs to know what God intended the family to be and given the grace to grow toward that picture. If someone experienced abuse, he or she needs to know there is healing in God’s love and goodness.
We need to understand how dear families are to God’s heart and see family as the gift God intended it to be. We learn this best when we understand the biblical view of fatherhood, motherhood, marriage, home, and family, and learn to work through dysfunction in a home as a family. It would be more productive if we would share this with our people before they were married, became parents, began growing their families, and experienced problems.
Our game plan should also include what the Bible says about discipleship. Teach the church a biblical view of salvation and discipleship. Teach basic skills and disciplines for discipleship: how to study the Bible, how to pray, and how to serve. Teach how parenting, family, and discipleship should work together. Exegete key passages such as Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:4-9, Ephesians 5:22-6:4, Colossians 3:18-21, and 1 Peter 3:1-7. These go-to passages for family and marriage (and many others like them) all have a discipleship component. Develop the game plan and show your team what success looks like.
Am I developing the process—how are we making it happen? How do we know if we’re making it happen?
Do I have a process to keep discipleship moving? Am I hoping it happens or making it happen? We all agree the church nursery is important, so we create policies to protect children and workers, we staff the nursery adequately, we sanitize surfaces and toys carefully, and we provide oversight to ensure everything is in order. Why would we do any less with any ministry of the church?
We must establish an ongoing process to ensure everything gets done to the standard of the organization. Then we must evaluate according to that standard. It all converges in everyone being their best. Invest the time, energy, personnel, and budget to ensure you have the right process in place. Ask yourself, am I making it happen? Develop the process.
The future of the families of your church will, in part, determine the future of your church.
It is hard work to reach and disciple families. We can neglect the work, fail our families, and then expend more energy trying to reach new families. Or, we can do the hard work of discipling the families we have, so they can help reach and disciple new families. Our D6 team would love to help. Check us out at d6family.com.
About the Writer: David Womack is the husband of Teresa; father to Tera, Tayla, and Tana (not a great naming strategy); and "gandaddy" to Trevor, Samuel, Kimber, Ezra, and #5 on the way. David helps churches and families with practical solutions for discipleship, and currently serves as the director of customer service and sales at Randall House in Nashville, Tennessee.