Being Disciples Makes Disciples

Life with a two-year-old is wonderful, but it is also difficult. I know that’s no surprise to many of you who have been there and done that. I know that some of you are already thinking, “Just wait…you don’t even know the half of it!” If you’ve never been there, try to imagine riding an angry bull through a china shop without breaking anything…except the bull can scream and say “No” and has zero control over its bladder. It’s like that…but a little more complicated.

The other day, my two-year-old daughter, Nora, was spending time doing one of her new favorite hobbies: throwing a temper tantrum. It had already been a long day for Mom and I, the kind of day where we were pining for the chance just to lay down in bed and stare at the ceiling in peace.

Nora hadn’t gotten what she wanted, and promptly expressed her displeasure with a passion. My patience had worn thin. I didn’t want to hear another second of it. My tone changed, I got louder, and I disciplined her sharply (I know that’s also no surprise to many of you who have been there and done that). I told her firmly that we do not throw fits like that when we get angry.

And before the words were done leaving my mouth, I realized my own hypocrisy. Here I was, disciplining my daughter in my flesh, telling her not to do the very thing I myself was doing. My daughter’s tantrum wasn’t right. But my response to it wasn’t, either.

As I’ve reflected on that moment with my daughter, I had to ask myself: what if Nora is just doing what’s been modeled for her? To be fair, she’s a two-year-old. It’s simply the Toddler Way to have tantrums. But the question remains: what is my toddler learning about handling anger when she watches how I handle my own?

I think that this small encounter holds an important lesson for each of us, whether we are parents, or we serve the younger generation as their mentors and examples. Today’s children are a part of a generation that has no tolerance for hypocrisy. As someone who works in student ministry, I am routinely amazed at the power of young people’s perception. It is not their natural impulse to “do as we say, not as we do.” Even the two-year-olds are much smarter, much more observant than we realize. They are daily being formed less by what we say, and more by who we are.

We have one recorded instance from the Gospels where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them something. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1). Jesus does not respond with a lecture about the philosophy and the importance of prayer. He gives them the prayer itself. “When you pray, say this.” But even more significantly, what provoked the disciples’ request to be taught? It was that “Jesus was praying in a certain place.”

Jesus didn’t have to verbally prod his disciples into believing that prayer was important. He showed them it was. That alone compelled them to ask for guidance.

Just as the disciples were watching, so is a younger generation among us. They will value what we value. They will embrace what we embrace. They will take on habits that we take on. They will do as we do.

There are some serious spiritual implications to this. How can we train up our children in the way they should go, if we will not first go there ourselves? How can we, for example, raise our boys to become Christlike men, if we will not be Christlike men? How will our girls learn to spend time with the Lord if their mothers will not do it? How can we convince our children to value the local church someday if we give it little to no priority in our own lives? Why should they believe anything that we seem to not believe ourselves?

Parents and mentors, the engine to making disciples is being a disciple. Our mission of making disciples simply cannot run if we will not do it ourselves. There will, of course, be moments to verbally teach and instruct along the way. But those words will hold much more weight when they’re validated by a life that can back them up. We cannot effectively help them with their oxygen mask until ours have first been put on.

We have a rich opportunity to see the young generation among us move the needle for Christ’s kingdom. And it begins with us.

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