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What should family discipleship look like? Kennon Vaughan shares a simple routine that anyone can do.
Dave: We had a somewhat embarrassing moment, as a father and mother, trying to raise sons that follow Christ; you know? We’re radio hosts about marriage and family; we had written a book on marriage. But the book on parenting was all about: “How do you make disciples of your own children in your home?”—right?”
Dave: So we had this conversation one day. You asked one of our sons to name the 12 disciples.
Ann: Oh, yes! This is when we were in the midst of parenting, and this—
Dave: How old was he?
Ann: He was 13.
Dave: Okay, this is really embarrassing. I was hoping he was like five. [Laughter]
Ann: No; this is the son that wasn’t raised in Christian school; the other ones were. Yes, I just said, “Hey, if you had to name the 12 disciples, how many could you name?” He goes, “I don’t know; maybe a few.” I go, “Okay; well, why don’t you start?” He goes, “Okay; Moses, Joseph”; [Laughter] I’m like, “What?!” I was so humiliated, thinking, “We are doing a terrible job. What are we doing in our house?!”
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: That was pretty embarrassing, and I blame it all on my wife. [Laughter] The good thing is that son is now in ministry/—
Dave: —full-time vocational ministry as a pastor. It doesn’t always require a prerequisite you can name the disciples when you are 13.
Ann: He could now.
Dave: Yes; but I mean, this is a big topic in the home; it’s like, “How do we help parents disciple their children and make disciples?”
We’ve got a great guest with us. He’s been on before; but we’re glad to have you back because you’re the expert at this, Kennon Vaughan. Glad to have you back on FamilyLife Today.
Kennon: Thanks. It is an absolute joy to be here with you guys.
Ann: Kennon, we were inspired when you were here the last time. You were talking about disciple-making; you were talking about your passion and your heart for this. I know that a lot of our listeners were inspired. We were like, “Man, this is so good.” So many families feel lost in knowing, “What does this look like? I don’t know how to do it.”
Dave: I do remember that interview; because we weren’t really having you on to talk about discipleship as much as Downline, which I want to hear you talk about a little bit; but man, oh man, we were both like, “Wow! That was so inspiring.”
Let’s talk about discipling our children; but before we do that, you are the president of Downline Institute/Downline Ministries.
Kennon: Yes, that’s right: Downline Ministries. The goal of Downline is to equip men and women to make disciples. You guys just said it well—I was inspired, too, of our time together—and just by you guys’ example.
Ann, just like you said, a lot of folks are saying: “I don’t really get that,”
Kennon: “What does it look like? What is it?” “I mean I see it’s Jesus is telling us to make disciples, but it’s just such a nebulous, vague term in the church today.” Downline exists to help you understand: “What did Jesus mean when He said, ‘Go make disciples of all nations’? How do you do it?”
My goodness! Even with our own children—my wife and I—five sons. I know we’re going to be talking about family discipleship here shortly. This is one of our greatest God-given stewardships—discipling these boys/raising them in the training and instruction of the Lord—so excited to dive into that.
The Downline Institute is a nine-month program, where we literally take folks that—generally, people don’t make disciples because they have no idea what it means, and they don’t feel like they know their Bibles—even longtime church-goers, generally, feel intimidated when it comes to navigating God’s Word. Over a nine-month period, we meet twice a week; and by the way, this is now available—not just in our live locations, which are found on our website DownlineMinistries.com—but we have a livestream class.
We walk Genesis through Revelation in nine months. We will literally start you in Genesis 1 and finish in Revelation 22 and give you handles on the big picture of God’s Word, which I have just been so fascinated and enamored, watching people fall in love with Jesus through the Scriptures. Then we do practical discipleship training: we define it; we talk about it, and the struggle of our own life/in the context of our own life, where we live, work, and play.
I want to invite every listener, who is out there—just feeling intimidated by that, not knowing how to do it—please come check us out at DownlineMinistries.com. We do have a FamilyLife promotional code. I just promise you this: “If you do it—I don’t care how old you are—it will absolutely change the way you live the rest of your life.”
Ann: I want to go take that class. Look at you!
Kennon: It fires me up. [Laughter]
Ann: Kennon, anyone that talks to you knows that you have this passion for discipleship; you started Downline. Where did that come from?—where did that passion and that zeal come from?
Kennon: Yes; I mean, just solely the mercy of God, who took me when I was in my early 20s, serving in youth ministry; but really, not knowing my Bible very well, feeling convicted that I needed to know it better to do what I was called to do. I loved the Lord; I loved these kids, but I really didn’t know how to be a leader/how to be a discipler.
I never had a spiritual father in my life. By God’s grace, I heard a man speak, named “Soup” Campbell; and I saw in him Jesus like I had never seen. The way he exposited John 15 one night—it was like the Lord was speaking to me—I wanted to know the Lord, and I wanted to know His Word like this man. I pursued him—he gave me his number—told me to call him.
The story is kind of funny. I called him the next day; he told me to call him in a week. I called him in a week; he told me to call him in a month. I was pretty sure—
Dave: Really true?
Kennon: True story. At that point, I assumed he was just kind of blowing me off; but a month later, just by the Lord’s leading, I called him one more time. I fell over myself, apologizing for continuing to bother him; but said, “Man, I don’t know my Bible. I don’t know the Lord like you do. I want so bad what you have/that intimacy with Christ that you just reek of.”
He said, “Well, come to my house tomorrow morning at 5 am.” I showed up there at 4:45 in the morning, and he was standing in the front yard. I thought, “This is just an awkward situation.” I walk up to him; no pleasantries. He had me sit down on his front porch and said, “Hey, Kennon, you and I come from two very different worlds.” I could look around and know that was true. He said, “I don’t really care how smart you are or how talented you are; but if you can be faithful, I can show you how to be a man of God.”
Kennon: I had never had a godly man in my life. My father was a dear man; we were best friends. He passed when I was 16 of brain cancer, but I had never had a godly man ever kind of grab ahold of me and say, “Come on; follow me. I’ll show you how to follow Jesus.” That relationship completely changed my walk with Christ, my life, my love for Christ, my intimacy with Christ, my knowledge of His Word, and love for His Word. It was discipleship.
God birthed in me a passion to help other people be discipled and make disciples. That journey is when I began to realize how confusing that term is: how people don’t know, how the Scriptures are so intimidating. Just in God’s divine providence, He connected me with one great man after another. Howard Hendricks became a great mentor of mine; in seminary, helped me kind of think through what experience and gifts God had given me and how to steward those to help.
Really, I’ll be honest with you—our dream at Downline is to see a restoration of biblical discipleship in and through the local church—it’s nothing less than that. We want what “Soup” did with me to become the norm again. I think that was Jesus’s plan; it was His lifestyle; it was His command. We want to help people follow Jesus.
Dave: Well, what “Soup” did with you, obviously, is what we, as parents, want to do with our own kids—
Dave: —right? You, as a dad; you’ve got five sons.
Dave: In some ways, I found it easier to disciple my congregation as a pastor than my own sons; but you’ve got to do both. Talk about how you do that in the home.
Kennon: Yes; and just what a great, vital, and overwhelming question.
Ann: How old are your boys?
Kennon: Yes, my boys are 13, 11, 10, 8, and 3.
Ann: You’ve been married how long?
Kennon: We just celebrated our 15-year anniversary.
Kennon: Thank you. God has blessed us with five boys.
Your question, Dave—it’s something that Kathryn and I have to think through—not just because I’m in vocational ministry with the discipleship bent and job in pastoring people, but because this is the primary stewardship God’s given us. I mean, discipleship starts in the home. It’s so easy to be a pastor, and in Christian ministry, and spend your time discipling everyone else and not your children. Frankly, it’s/sometimes, it’s harder at home.
Ann: It’s really hard.
Kennon: It sure is. I mean, you can’t just put your best foot forward; it’s not just an hour a week.
Ann: You can’t fake it.
Kennon: No; those kids know me. Those boys know exactly who I am. By the way, that’s where I would say it starts. The beautiful thing about God’s design for discipling in the home is the authenticity that is built in.
You guys have already alluded to something—I loved it in your intro story—about your son, who didn’t know the disciples. As much as I hope my 13-year-old—I was thinking in my head, “I’ve got a 13-year-old. I wonder how he would do?”—as much as I hope he would be able to name three or four, what I hope even more is probably what your son had; in that he has the gift of seeing his father, whole-heartedly, love and follow Jesus—because that is the most important thing that we can give them—is what it looks like to pursue Christ in our own daily walk.
Of course, that has practical out-workings in a marriage that they see pretty much everything in front of their eyes unfold—in sin, like I’m far from perfect: I’m going to lose it; I’m going to be selfish; I’m going to make bad decisions—there are so many opportunities for them to see me struggle with: my flesh; difficult situations with circumstances, with persecution, with tragedy.
I want to make sure that, just like “Soup” did with me, Dave, I’m saying, “Hey, guys, follow me. Jesus is the good Shepherd. I’m an under-shepherd, and I love you guys; but the greatest thing I can do is point you towards Him. I’m going to do it imperfectly, but it’s going to be my greatest endeavor to do so.”
Dave: How have you dealt with the imperfect part?
Dave: You’ve got the boys—they’re watching you—your wife is watching you. I’m looking over at my wife; she has watched all of my sin and imperfections, and so have my sons. What have you done?—because I know you haven’t lived it perfectly. How do you live that out?—and how do you/do you apologize?
Dave: Do you say, “I’m sorry”? Do you—
Kennon: —all the time. When my oldest son was about five—and I was starting to lose my temper, speak to him in an unloving, selfish way—maybe, I was embarrassed by his action; I realized it was more about me than him. When I saw some of those, I thought, “I’ve got to do a lot of covering up, and lot of justifying, and a lot of defending, and a lot of rationalizing in my own mind; or I’ve got to be honest with him and tell him I blew it.”
There are so many times I will fail my sons as a dad; I know that. There are few ways I want to make sure I don’t fail them; one is I want to be a regular repenter before them.
Ann: So this is what you are modeling.
Kennon: Absolutely. Look, they are pastor’s kids, too; they kind of live in a fish bowl. I pastor a large church in Memphis; and sometimes, I feel for them in that. Everybody expects them to be godly beyond their age—and that’s tough for them—it can be.
I want them to be unafraid of being a Christ-follower—not Christ—but a Christ-follower. Part of that means a life of confession of sin, repentance from sin, and trusting Christ to grow us through it. Even when God convicts me on things that don’t have to do specifically in a way that I might have sinned against them or led poorly in the family—just sin in general—that is the fodder for our family devos. That’s the time we are praying in the evenings, where I say, “Guys, let me tell you what I am struggling with. I’ve been really offended by a brother, and I am struggling with forgiveness.”
When you talk to kids, they are so sweet. They are pretty innocent; and they are going, “Yes, yes. That is hard!” I’m like, “Hey, you know what? That’s even hard for me. You’re not going to grow out of that, but let’s look at what Scriptures say about it. Pray for me; I need to forgive a brother. I need you to pray for me. This is going to be tough for Daddy.” You invite them in to followership of Jesus.
This is a radical, countercultural lifestyle—that’s not what you are going to see/that’s not what is celebrated—but it’s what we value with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. We’ve got to be—our little church community starts with us—and it extends to our Harvest community and then to Christians all over the world—but we’ve got to hunker down together, and link arms, and follow Jesus, letting them in on the reality of the struggle with your flesh and with being obedient to Christ.
Ann: Has there been a time that you can recall when you’ve gone back and apologized to your kids for something you’ve done?
Kennon: Oh, yes; regularly. And I appreciate your asking me a question that forces me to be vulnerable and deal with my own shame. [Laughter] Yes, most recently, you know, I got into a tiff with their mother. Do you guys ever have that? Have you graduated from that?
Dave: No, we’re perfect.
Kennon: Okay, good; no, but I did. I spoke harshly with her—not berating her or cussing her out or anything like that—
Ann: —but your tone; yes.
Kennon: —but I raised my voice with her; yes, my tone. I knew it as it was happening: “This is wrong.” I was convicted in the moment; sometimes, God does it afterwards. That’s one, where I sat them down and said, “Hey, guys, I just need to talk to you about what happened down there. Your mother is the jewel in my crown, and she is the greatest treasure God has given me. She is the most delightful and faithful wife and woman, and I could go on and on. You guys know how much I love her; but I lost my temper, and I spoke with her in a way that was completely inappropriate. That dishonored her; it dishonored the Lord; and it dishonored you guys.”
I asked them, “How could I have handled that?”
Ann: Did they answer?
Kennon: Absolutely; they said, “First, well, you know she was right.” I’m saying, “I don’t need you to correct me right there.” [Laughter]
But no; they said, “You could have prayed about it first.”
Kennon: These are things I’ve confessed to them in the past. They are learning; and of course, they are going to learn—but they see more than what you say—but: “You could pray about that first,” “You could have talked to Mommy gently,” “You could have admitted where you were wrong.”
They began to see the patterns, from my confession to them, of how to conflict well in our relationships and how to do so selfishly and poorly. That was a time I apologized to them. An apology is not just an acknowledgement; it’s asking for forgiveness. I said, “I need you guys to forgive me on that. Even if you need time with that, take time; but I need you to forgive me.”
There is great accountability in that. When you’ve got to ask your son’s forgiveness, it’s going to help me the next time when I lose my temper, which will happen with them or with my wife, to handle that in a way that honors the Lord and honors them.
Ann: That’s really good.
Dave: You mentioned already about praying together/devos.
Kennon: Yes, yes.
Ann: I want to hear about that.
Dave: Yes, talk about that a little bit; because it sounds like there is a lifestyle of discipleship that you’ve already commented on. What’s that look like in the Vaughan home?
Kennon: Just this lifestyle of following Jesus together. Sometimes, we want to compartmentalize discipling our kids to a study. I’m not going to minimize the importance of studying God’s Word and having it central—but I would love to encourage folks to think through the grid of Deuteronomy 6, which says, “Hey, when you lie down and when you wake…”—like the pillars of your home are going to be God’s Word, and you talk about them all along the way.
Kathryn and I have thought about: “How do we put Deuteronomy 6 into practice?” Mornings and evenings, I think, are so big/specifically mentioned in Deuteronomy. I love building traditions into our home: daily traditions, annual traditions, seasonal traditions. I think that is a great way to build a gospel legacy and a home of worship; but we want to kind of put some pegs in the ground in the morning and the evening, so we start our day with a little family devotional.
Ann: So you are doing morning devotionals.
Kennon: Morning devotionals.
Ann: No matter how old these kids have been, you’ve—
Kennon: That’s right. Listen, don’t be overwhelmed by that; it’s not: “Well, you’re a pastor; of course...” No messy two- and four-year-olds don’t care about systematic theology, [Laughter] so you’re trying to have a moment of gospel-focused worship.
The way Kathryn and I structure it is we have our own time with the Lord earlier than our family devotional, which oftentimes allows there to be some real relevant/something that God has put on my heart or her heart. We also have a Bible reading plan we’re following. The stage we’re in—this changes year to year—but the stage we’re in: at 7:40 every morning, we’re at the table for family devo. That gives us about a 20-minute window.
Ann: So they are eating.
Kennon: They finish up their eating by then, and they clean their dishes. We are around the table for: I read a little bit of God’s Word, and we talk. If God’s putting something on my heart or Kathryn’s heart that we want to discuss, we can totally go that direction; but we’re reading through.
We just did a study on the names of God; that was really fun—just take one—talk about it and: “How do we see it?”
Ann: Okay, walk us through a little bit.
Kennon: It’s something I cherish. I’ll read God’s Word, which usually takes three or four minutes—
Ann: Okay, so it’s not too long.
Kennon: No; again, for us, long wouldn’t work; so it’s good to be relevant. Read three or four minutes; and then I’ll ask a couple of questions, which are: “Did you understand that?” “What questions did you have?” “What did you hear that made a lot of sense?” “What did you hear that made no sense?”
Then, depending on what the study is, there is usually some leader guide questions that we’ll talk about—God’s faithfulness in Joseph’s life—“What do we do when we have/when things don’t go the way we want them to go?” Then I’ll ask them: “Hey, Luke, have you ever had that happen?” “Caleb, what do you think?” You let them ponder it. They don’t always have the answers—the right answers—but I want to engage them in a discussion. This is a low-hanging fruit discussion; we’re looking for big gospel rocks.
Here is what it does—I don’t ever feel like I’ve got to nail the discussion and bring out something profound and everyone gets saved—I feel like we’re starting our day, talking about a truth from God’s Word. What happens is: now, we are noodling it all day; that’s what Deuteronomy 6 says: “It’s in there.”
And then, what is so fun—you know, when you’re picking up carpool or you’re taking them to sports practice, and they refer back to a devo—
Kennon: —and you find out how on-time God’s Word is; like, “Dad, do you remember what we read this morning? I saw that today. I saw an opportunity to help a guy in need like the good Samaritan said. I was just thinking about it because of what we said.” It was a kid that was silent in devo—and boom!—God is bringing it to roost in his life.
It’s a peg we put there every morning, even when we don’t just see this tidal wave of fruit that morning. We may have disinterested tired kids that are giving us very little; but we try to keep that engaging, conversational, centered in God’s Word.
Then in the evenings—the other side of it—this is my favorite moment of the day when everything finally winds down—the last thing I do; I’ve done this since my oldest kid was about three years old; so we have about a ten-year tradition working—is we get on our knees, and we pray together.
Ann: —the whole family.
Kennon: Well, me and all the boys. Kathryn does a thing, where she walks and prays the armor of God over them. She’s got her own kind of cool tradition, but I get on my knees. I’ve done this since my oldest was about three, and he was just climbing on my back. I’ve still got a three-year-old climbing on my back; but it’s fun to watch them go from being a distraction, to being a worshipper, to participating in prayer. It’s really fun. My oldest goes first; then we go right down the line, and then I finish.
Ann: So you all pray out loud.
Kennon: We all pray out loud. It/I just cannot tell you how powerful this is. I really can’t put it into words—I don’t have, you know, a routine—I just pray. I pray about what I’ve seen God doing in my life and in that day; and thank Him for His faithfulness; and taking Him my struggles or family decisions we’re wrestling with.
It’s so fun to see. For them, they get to hear me/my heart; they know what Kathryn and I wrestle with through those prayers. It is the sweetest thing in the world when you watch a three-year-old go to a thirteen-year-old, listening to him pray. It goes from—just the thank Yous “for my brothers and for food,” and the beautiful, sweet learning gratitude—to he’s struggling with things; he’s wrestling with things; and he’s asking God for help. He’s doing it, vulnerably, in front of his brothers; because that’s all he’s known from the time he began to pray.
When they are all praying, now, we all know: where each other’s heart is with the Lord, how to pray for each other, how to support each other, how to love each other. You just hear the dependence on God deepen in all of our lives together. That’s the evening peg.
You’ve got these pegs: God’s Word in the morning, intimacy with God in prayer in the evening. I’ll just tell you this—because I don’t want to make it too hard—you don’t need a seminary degree to have a 20-minute time of talking about God’s Word in the morning and 15/20 minutes in the evening to be on your knees before the Lord together. If you do that, I can make you the promise that it will affect so many of the conversations in between your morning peg and your evening peg. If you do it every day, it becomes a lifestyle, where the gospel is at the center—Christ is at the center—and there are going to be so many opportunities in the as-you-go time to talk about things through a biblical grid.
Ann: I wish we would have done that; that’s so good!
Dave: I mean, that is actually just beautiful. As you were saying that, I literally pictured in my mind families—moms and dads listening right now; single moms, single dads listening—saying, “That’s a vision I can accomplish”; because it isn’t a seminary degree; it isn’t a Master’s degree. It’s really a fire in mom and dad’s heart that just overflows to say, “Let’s put a peg in the morning and a peg in the evening.” I’m hoping that families are going to change a daily routine just as a result of listening today.
Bob: I think any of us, who have tried to engage with our kids on spiritual issues on a regular basis, have experienced what most parents have experienced: kids who tune out, don’t act like they are paying attention, don’t act like they care or like they are even listening. Yet, we are planting seeds.
I can’t tell you how many kids I talk to, once they’ve grown, who have said, “This was a priority in my family.” Just that statement of it being a priority is what mattered. They may not remember a specific devotion or a specific thing you shared; but they remember that it mattered to mom and dad that the family get together and acknowledge God on a daily basis.
We have resources, here at FamilyLife, that can help you disciple your kids. I’m thinking of the video series we created on the Art of Parenting®, which covers a lot of topics, including family discipleship.
Then let me draw your attention, again, to what Kennon Vaughan was talking about earlier, the Downline program. That is a great resource to help moms and dads, single people—wherever you are—in your walk with Christ. This will help you understand the Bible better and go deeper. Downline Ministries has a virtual institute that is available; it’s kind of like enrolling in a one-year Bible training or Bible college program. It will help you get a big picture on all that the Bible teaches. You can find out more about the Downline Ministries Institute when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There is a link there. Keep in mind: If you choose to enroll, “FamilyLife” is a key word that can provide you with savings on the enrollment. Again, all the information is available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Find out more about Downline Ministries and the Downline Institute.
There is a group of listeners I just want to say, “Thank you,” to, those of you who are regular, monthly givers—Legacy Partners is what we call you—this team of monthly supporters is the group that has made today’s conversation possible. Here, in the last weeks of August, our team is praying that in every city where FamilyLife Today is heard, God would raise up two new families to join us as Legacy Partners so that this program can continue to be available, not only in this city, but in cities all around the world. You make that happen when you become a FamilyLife Today Legacy Partner.
If you can join with us today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Dave and Ann Wilson’s new book, No Perfect Parents. We’ll also send you an all-access pass to more than a dozen messages from Dave and Ann about marriage- and family-related themes. Some of those messages have been featured on FamilyLife Today; some of them are brand-new messages you haven’t heard before.
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You can sign up online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Join us in praying that God would raise up new Legacy Partners in every city where FamilyLife Today is heard. If you’re one of those new Legacy Partners, we look forward to getting to know you better and helping you win in your marriage and in your family.
Now, we hope you can join us, again, tomorrow. Kennon Vaughan is going to be here again. We’re going to look at some of the very specific things he’s doing, as a dad, for family discipleship in his home. I hope you can tune in for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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