How to Disciple Your Toddler: 8 Simple Ways

Parenting a toddler is like a marathon—one long test of endurance and stamina. The days and nights collide into each other as your toddler bounces of the walls in excitement and joy. Each new day provides another opportunity for another adventure, filled with new discoveries. Though exhausting, toddlers bring such incredible joy and excitement to the home. As the dad of an almost three year old, I've noticed that these young years provide an incredible opportunity for discipleship. After all, as Christian parents we are called to evangelize and disciple our children.child_prayer2_744581311 Yet, in my experience, many parents struggle with specifically how to do that. After all, toddlers are just learning language. How much can you really disciple? Well, more than you think. As you parent a toddler, you do not pull out your Millenial charts on the book of Revelation, but rather you set the foundation for future discipleship. If you are building a new home, you cannot start putting paint on the walls before you prepare the foundation. Lay the foundation first; the time for paint will come eventually. The toddler years provide an incredible opportunity to lay a solid foundation that will prepare your child to understand the Gospel as he or she grows.

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So how can you disciple your toddler and lay a solid foundation? By no means am I a toddler expert. Though I am a pastor, I'm just an ordinary dad trying to figure out how to shepherd my family, daily trusting on Jesus for help and guidance. But for what its worth, here are some helpful suggestions on how you can take advantage of these early years.

1. Read Bible Stories to your Toddler

A simple, but sadly neglected way to disciples your toddler. Read the Bible to them! Find a great book like  the Jesus Story Book Bible to read to them each day. Teach them to be excited about God's word and learning about Jesus. As they get older, you can teach them more and more, but start the habit now! Yes, help your child understand the Bible stories and the meta-narrative of Scripture, but at this young age you are primarily trying to embed a love and thirst for the Scriptures as your child grows up.

2. Sing to Your Toddler the Christian Classics

It is amazing how much children can learn through song. Sing "Jesus Loves Me" and the "B-I-B-L-E" to your toddler. My wife Kaitlyn started a tradition with our little boy each night. After our nightly prayer, we sing a few songs (We have a set list of the same few songs every night). He loves to sing and we love to sing with him. Teaching him the lyrics to the Christian classics continues to cultivate his heart, preparing for the Spirit to work.

3. Teach Your Toddler to Pray

Your toddler can pray. As you make prayer a habit each day, encourage your child to pray. We try to do that by teaching our little boy to thank God. Even at a young age, when his language skills were undeveloped, he was able to thank God for mommy and daddy. Sometimes he would even thank God for the wall. You know toddlers; they say crazy things.

4. Show Excitement about Church

Toddlers get excited about what you get excited about. If attending church is the low-point of your week, your children will pick up on it. However, if you make church and worshiping the Lord a big deal, then you will teach your toddler to love Church and the people of God. Set an example not just in your attitude, but in your attendance. Make it a priority to go to church with your children. Go as frequently as you can to any midweek activities. You want to cultivate a love for church within your child at an early age.

Yes, when your kids get older you may have to make them go to church (and godly parents will), yet you want your child to want to go to church. Build that foundation early.

One of my little boy's favorite days of the week is when we go to church. He loves it. In fact he asks to go just about everyday. I pray that my son will always have a desire to be around the body of Christ and worship the Lord.

5. Reinforce your Child's Sunday School Lesson at Home

If you go to a good Bible-believing church (and I hope you do!), your child should be learning the Scripture at Sunday School (or whatever your church's equivalent is). Most churches send home a handout reviewing what your child learned that morning. Help disciple your child by reinforcing what your child is learning at home. Go over it a lunch and over the week. If there is a memory verse for the week, help your child learn it. Reinforce the main point of the lesson. The church is not their to disciple your children for you, but to assist you in the work. Utilize their help!

6. Memorize Scripture

If your child can name every train from Thomas & Friends (like mine can), your child can memorize Scripture. As your child's language is developing, why not go ahead and hide God's word in their heart? Though we are just beginning Scripture memorization with our little boy, he enjoys it. It warms your heart to hear him quoting Genesis 1:1 while he is quietly playing in his room.

Pick out simple Bible verses and repeat them often. Perhaps during your family devotions or at the dinner table or before bed. Your toddler is like a sponge and will soak up God's word.

7. Demonstrate the Love of God

Your child's understanding of God's love will be based on your example. That's an overwhelming truth. As parents we are called to image God's love to our children. As our children watch the way we speak and act, we will either reveal or obfuscate the love of God. When we respond to our child in rage, anger, and frustration, we confuse our children about God's grace, mercy, and love. There is a time for discipline, and that should not be neglected. But, our children, above all else, should see the love of God in us and through us.

This is a heavy weight for us Dads in particular. God reveals himself to us as Father. Therefore, when your children begin reading in the Bible that God is their Father, they are going to think about you. Model for them the love of God well. Far to many children cannot understand the concept of God as Father because either they don't have one or their father was a selfish and abusive prick. We need godly Dads who can model the love of God to their families more than ever.

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8. Teach Your Children to Live Under Authority

Our radically individualized culture believes all authority is filled with corruption. As a result there is a hyper-suspicion to anyone in authority over us. Whether it is the government, our teachers, our pastors, our boss, our our parents, we tend to be skeptical of authority. This allergy to good, God-given authority begins in the family. Dad and Mom must model a biblical vision for authority and leadership over their children, and that includes discipline. One of the biggest lessons you can teach your child is that authority is part of God's good design. Therefore they must submit to it and respect God-given authority. As a result, teaching your toddler that Daddy and Mommy are in charge is a crucial spiritual lesson for your children to learn. If you hope to disciple your children in their teenage years, you must first teach your children to live and learn under your authority. After all, how are they going to submit to the authority of Christ over their lives if they haven't learned to submit to Mom and Dad?

Prepare your Child's Heart

No parent can convert their child to Christ, only the Spirit can do that. Yet, careful cultivation of your child's heart can lead to a powerful work of the Spirit in your child's life. The general adage from Proverbs rings true, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV).

Take advantage of these sweet years, when your child is hungry to learn. Set a solid foundation for future spiritual nurture by discipling your toddler now, all the while praying for a great work of the Spirit to save the little soul under your care.

5 Potential Dangers of Youth Christian Camps

I wrote earlier this week on some of the benefits summer camps can offer your youth or children’s ministry. Often times they do provide great opportunities for discipleship. However, despite their benefits, summer camps have potential to be dangerous. Most of these dangers can be avoided by selecting a good camp and through some careful pastoral care along the way. Yet, these potential dangers must be spotted less they because to cause destruction in the spiritual lives of your students. So to help I’ve identified five potential dangers of youth summer camps.

1. The Christian Bubble

One of the dangers of Christian camps is that it is a week long Christian fantasy world. It is a bubble and while in that bubble it is easy to live for Jesus because everyone is living for Jesus. Many young people can become adapting to the Christian camp bubble and can often put on their Christian mask to fit in with the crowd. In addition to the temptation to hypocrisy many Christian young people have a hard time adjusting going home at the end of the week.

Many of these young people live in difficult situations such as unchristian homes and lost friends. Sometimes a Christian camp is like training a solider at a kids laser tag party. At the Christian camp it is easy to follow Jesus. Everyone is doing it, no one is trying to hurt you, and it is a lot of fun! However the real Christian life is a spiritual war zone with real danger and temptation lurking in every corner. Many students fail to make any real changes in their lives when they get home because living for Christ is much more difficult in the battlefield of life than the laser tag game of Camp.

2. Spiritual Manipulation

This one varies from camp to camp, but spiritual manipulation is common and a regular occurrence at many of them. Because the students are in the Christian bubble and emotions are running high, it is easy to twist some one’s arm into making a forced decision for Christ. With loud worship music and a dynamic speaker who cares more about notches in his evangelistic belt than your students, spiritual manipulation is common. Unfortunately in our pragmatic church culture we are so tempted to forcefully fabricate a work of God so we can feel better about ourselves. All the while we miss that conversion is a great work of God. It is the Spirit who saves, not us. As a result no amount of manipulation will ever bring someone to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who converts as we faithfully proclaim the Gospel and call for a decision, which camps should do. Yet I want my students to respond to Jesus not to the camps “worship experience”.

Another danger of the heavy spiritual manipulation at camps is their tendency to cause the faithful Christians in your group to doubt their salvation. I can’t tell you the amount of counseling I’ve had to do with some students who evidently follow Jesus who begin to question their salvation. The perseverance of the saints is a wonderfully encouraging and comforting doctrine, yet the spiritual manipulation tends to just damage the faithful Christians and often fails to see genuine conversion in the lost.

3. Conviction is Confused by Emotionalism

I had one of my students tell me one time “Why does this girl get emotional and cry every year at camp only to go back living in sin as soon as she returns home?” Camps can be very emotional experiences. The last night at camps tend to be the most emotionally intense. It is so easy to confuse an intensity of emotion as a true spiritual experience. Yet an intensity of emotions is no sure sign of a work of God as Jonathan Edwards helpfully explains in his book Religious Affections. Similarly, Thomas à Kempis said:

“Don’t think highly of yourself, or consider yourself to be especially loved if you have strong feelings of devotion or sweetness, for it is not by these feelings that a true lover of virtue is known. Nor does the spiritual progress and perfection of a man consist in these things.”

Heavy emotions are an unreliable sign of true spirituality. As a result biblical, Holy Spirit wrought conviction is confused by emotionalism. Many students might be heavily grieved over their sin and weep, then they find themselves engaging in the same lifestyle as soon as they get off the church bus at home. Yet the Scripture is clear that “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10) True biblical sorrow and mourning over sin leads to repentance. An emotional experience at camp that doesn’t lead to true repentance isn’t godly grief but a wordily grief that produces death.

4. A Perpetuation of a Roll Coaster Christian Life

Many Christian young people (and adults!) immature in their faith often find themselves living an a spiritual roll coaster. Their spiritual life tends to center around big Christian events that lift them up to the mountain of spiritual ecstasies then real life hits and they go into a spiritual valley of disobedience only to zealously look for the next event, camp, or program to take them to the spiritual mountain top again. This is spiritual immaturity. How do I know? Because I’ve been there.

I’ve heard many a student say to me, “I can’t wait to get to camp this summer so I can get right with God!” Wait, what? Do students really think they can only follow God or experience the joy of His presence at camp? Unfortunately many do. Camps can perpetuate a roller coaster Christian life in which young people look to the next camp, retreat, mission trip, revival, or ski-trip to pump them with enough Jesus to make it to the next event. They hope the momentum of the last big event carries them up the hill to the next one.

This sort of inconsistency long term can be very damaging to our spiritual lives. We must help our students learn how to follow Jesus every day and not depend on big events to get them through. We must teach them the discipline of studying the Scriptures, the habit of prayer, and the priority of regularly attending worship and participating in the life of the Church.

5. A Cynical Attitude Towards the Home Church

Camps are purposefully contextualized to the generation they are trying to reach. As a result the songs, style, and format is uniquely geared towards communicating spiritual truth to that age group. Many young people greatly connect with the modern style and then get frustrated at their home church. You may hear comments like, “I wish our worship band was like this” or “I wish our pastor told more funny stories like that speaker does” or “I wish we had cool LED lights in our sanctuary”.

Camps can create a cynical attitude about the home church. We must remind ourselves and our students that what unites a local church together is not worship style, preaching style, or worship technology but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should teach the importance of local church who exists for their discipleship and to send them out on mission. Keep an ear out for any cynicism about your church and quickly squash it with the truth.

There are Benefits, but Be Cautious

Camps again can provide wonderful opportunities for discipleship, yet there are some potential dangers which leaders should be aware. Camps are often a mixed bag and it takes a youth leader with a pastors heart to help shepherd his or her group towards the Gospel while correcting any errors that come along the way. I pray that as many of you may be taking your students to camps this summer that the Lord moves powerfully. I pray that the Gospel is heard, believed, and treasured. I pray that your lost students would be saved. Summer camps are used best as a catalyst for long term discipleship and life long mission. Don’t squander the opportunity and carefully disciple your students not only at camp, but especially when you return home.

Are there any dangers I missed? How can we best minister to our students to avoid these errors? Love to hear you thoughts in the comments below.

6 Ways Summer Camps Disciple Students

It is now June and that means camps are beginning to start up. The Christian camp world has become a wonderful opportunity to get students away for the purpose of discipleship. I spent many years attending camps, working on staff at camps, and taking youth groups to camps. I have such fond memories of these camps as they provide so many opportunities for discipleship.

Yet these camps require a huge investment. Not only do they tend to be fairly expense, averaging around $300 a person for the week, but it is a huge time commitment especially for your volunteers. Is the rewards worth the investment? Is the spiritual fruit of camp worth the cost? I certainly think so. Let me give you six reasons why you should be taking your children and youth to such camps this summer with your Church.

1. Camps Provide a Week of Separation from the World

Camps are one massive spiritual bubble for the week. The student is completely separated from his or her normal setting. They are away from their parents, their routine, the TV screen, and their normal friends. When a person is participating in or surrounded by such worldliness on a regular basis there is often a dullness and unresponsiveness to spiritual truth.

The great thing about camp is that it gets students away from the noise of their life so that they might focus their attention on Jesus Christ. That separation attenuates their ears to what God is speaking and teaching to them.

2. Camps Build Unity in your Group

Church unity is a constant struggle in most congregations. Youth group unity is just as difficult. Cliques and groups can so often form which divide students rather than unify them. Many of our students may not even like hanging out with each other. Yet, when you get them away for a week and they have no choice but to hang out with one another, it is amazing how friendships develop and grow. The cliques tend to fade and a unity in the Gospel grows.

In this sense camps can be great team building opportunities drawing your group of students together for the mission of God when they arrive back home. It is always wonderful to see the friendships that began at camp grow into a strong biblical relationship of accountability and spiritual growth.

3. Camps Provide Opportunity for Conversation

In my experience, students tend not prefer to talk much about spiritual things when they are at the church. (Isn’t that strange?). I find that before a church service or afterwards many are largely closed off or disconnected from deep conversation. Yet, when you are at camp and you are sitting on the bus, it is amazing how quickly the conversation turns to spiritual matters. Camps provide great opportunity for pastors and volunteers to disciple students. It provides a great atmosphere (since you are always together), to chat, talk, discuss, and pray. If pastors and volunteers capitalize on this opportunity it is amazing to watch the fruit from these conversations.

Last summer I was with the students from our church at camp and the power went out in the whole camp for about an hour at around 9 PM at night. Cell phones were dying and there wasn’t much light to see so everyone just sat around and talked. Participating in these conversations brought me great joy. I’d walk around and hear a group of our students talking about youth ministry, scripture, and sharing the Gospel with their peers. That sort of chatter is sweet music to any pastors ears and camp provided an opportunity for that to happen.

4. Camps Allow Leaders to Model Mature Spirituality

Discipleship does not happen in a sermon but through relationships. When you are living every moment that week with your students they have a unique opportunity to watch how you live. They can watch your life and see what it looks like for you to do a quiet time, to pray, to listen attentively to sermons and bible studies, or to sing and to worship with the band. If leaders steward this opportunity well they can demonstrate to their students what it looks like to faithfully follow Christ.

5. Camps Engage Students in Worship and Preaching

The programing at most camps are top notch. The quality of the band or the pastor tend to be very high. All of the worship and teaching is geared towards students. As a result it is often easy for them to connect and respond too. Our Sunday morning services cannot just be youth rallies. We must contextualize the Gospel to all people in our church and our community. Yet, to take a week and have the Gospel contextualized specifically to them can be very beneficial.

6. Camps Provide Great Evangelistic Opportunity

The Lord often and regularly saves students at camp. It is not unusual to see some lost students in your group come to faith in Jesus Christ. This is what we long for isn’t it? The separation from the world and the focus on worship and teaching is often used by the Spirit to covert and save. Having conversion take place at camp also provides a wonderful opportunity for pastors or leaders to disciple, follow up, and train while they are still at camp. Seeing God move and save is what so often makes camps a place of joy and tears as we worship what God has done in the lives of our students.

A Myriad of Opportunities

Camps really are a wonderful tool for training your students to follow Jesus. The spiritual fruit to be reaped is enormous in these unique, once a year opportunities. If you are taking a group of students to camp this summer, treasure these moments and do not squander the opportunities the Lord will present you with while at camp.

Yet, camps also have some potential to be dangerous for our students. Not only have I seen great spiritual fruit at camps, I have witnessed many dangers that can be harmful to our students. Later this week we will look at some potential dangers of summer camps.

If you are pastor or leader at your church, how has summer camps helped you make disciples? Is there anything missing from this list? Share with us in the comments below!

How Jesus Made Disciples

Making disciples is why the church exists. At the very heart of the Great Commission is to "make disciples." Yet there has been a growing realization that many churches are failing to train and release disciples. All the wonderful programing we have innovated from Sunday School to Small Groups, there seems to be a lack of disciple making. Many churches are brimming with activity but usually fail to see the rapid reproducing of the early church. Part of the reason is the Spirit came in great power in that first century church. However, I think part of the reason we have not seen the multiplication cause by true discipleship is because we have failed to follow the biblical methodology of Jesus for disciple making. I think Jesus' method of disciple making can be boiled down to three basic elements–intellectual, relational, and missional.

Intellectual

A huge part of Jesus' ministry was teaching. He would constantly stand before the crowd and teach for long hours into the day. The crowd ate it up and loved hearing this man who preached with authority, unlike the scribes and pharisees. (Mt 7:28-29) Jesus taught in a way the masses could understand, but he also taught some deep things that were difficult for his own disciples to grasp. As he spoke in parables, the disciples would fail to get the point of the nice story. Jesus was the patient teacher pulling his twelve disciples together for a small group discussion, explaining the meaning behind his teachings.

A key part to their discipleship was being trained by the Rabi, Jesus. He taught about the kingdom, about money, about prayer, and the list continues. Jesus' taught his disciples everything they would need to know to lead and shepherd the early church.

As we look at churches today, some churches are strong in this area or weak. Some churches teach robust biblical doctrine in their classes and have a pastor who carefully preaches the word through expository preaching. This is a great gift and blessing. Knowing theology and learning the Scriptures is vital to any growing and reproducing disciple. Although education and the intellect  is important, without the other two elements you will have just a church full of pharisees.

Relational

Jesus built relationships with his disciples. He poured his life into theirs for three years. When Jesus called his first disciples he gave them a simple command "follow me". We are told that Simon and Andrew dropped their fishing nets and immediately started following Jesus (Mt 4:19-20). The disciples hung out with Jesus 24/7. Every day for three years these men enjoyed nightly long dinner conversations with the messiah. They spent their days following the dusty road behind the saviors shadow. They lived life with him. Everything Jesus did, they did. Everywhere Jesus went, they went.

This relational component is one that is largely lacking in our modern discipleship methods. Discipleship is more than just meeting once a week for an hour, whether it be at a small group or a church service. Part of discipling someone is to invite them into the rhythm of your life. The disciples learned a lot from Jesus' teaching, but they learned just as much from watching his life. They watched Jesus as he was hungry, criticized, tired, and sad. They saw how a Christian was supposed to live by watching the life of Jesus. Relational discipleship is often messy, takes time, and can be inconvenient. We are often private individuals and do not want someone up in our business. Yet, Jesus opened his entire life for his disciples to watch and imitate. We must do the same in our discipleship.

Missional

If we are missing the relational component in our modern discipleship methods than the missional component is not even on our radars. Jesus discipled with a purpose. He called out to Simon and Andrew and commanded them, "Follow Me". Why are they to follow Jesus? For what purpose is Jesus beginning this discipleship with them? Well Jesus tells us, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Mt 4:19) You see the reason we disciple is to train and release people to make more disciples.

Even in their three year discipleship, Jesus gave his twelve hands on ministry experience. In Matthew 10 we see Jesus send out the twelve under his authority to do ministry. He sent them out by twos on junior local mission trips preparing them for the Great Commission in which they were to go into all the world.

Churches often bring new Christians into the church for great teaching and maybe even some relational disciple making. Bringing them into the Christian subculture is easy. Releasing them into the culture as missionaries is much more difficult. In our discipleship methods, we are far to content producing well behaving Christian people than life giving soldiers marching to the orders of their king. A key component to our discipleship needs to be pushing disciples to participate in the Great Commission. We must encourage them to share the Gospel with their neighbors or the coach on their kids soccer team. We make disciples who are reproducing, going on to disciple others.

Making Disciples Like Jesus

If we can fire our discipleship process on all three cylinders, I can only imagine what God will do through our churches. We must train people intellectually in the Christian faith, teaching them the Scriptures. We must mentor and pour our lives into people in our relationships. We must challenge every Christian to be a missionary and reach their community and world for Christ. If we start making disciples as Jesus made disciples, perhaps we will recover the organic wild fire that was the early church.

Thanksgiving for Cross-Generational Community

This past Sunday the young adult class at Forest Hills Baptist Church hosted a huge thanksgiving lunch. It was a huge spread with some amazing food at the house of a young hospitable couple. This lunch made a lasting impression on me, not because of the food, but because of the amazing, beautiful picture of the body of Christ. Although the event was hosted by young adults there was a wonderful diversity within that house. There were college students, young professionals, young married, a baby crawling around, children playing with toys, some empty nesters, and two senior adults. It was a ecclectic group of people who were all having the greatest time eating, talking, and encouraging one another in the Lord. As I looked across the house and saw all the amazing cross-generational conversations, I thought to myself "This is the body of Christ!" What could have brought this diverse group of people together under one roof other than Jesus? One of the great holes in our modern method of doing church is hindering these cross generational relationships to develop. We age segregate everyone into such small categories that there is often very little if any interaction between age groups.

There is great wisdom that can be gained from across the generational gulf. Yet often in most churches there is generational tension between these groups rather than encouraging community. Discipleship happens within community and when we cross the generational gulf. When older men disciple younger men and older women disciple younger women (Titus 2), the church is built up as the beautiful body of Christ.

As I enjoyed that wonderful meal with good friends, for a moment I saw the glorious beauty of the body of Christ. I got just a small visible glimpse of the unity we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This unifying Gospel can cross even the widest generational gulf and bring the most unexpected people together.