Practical Ways to Disciple Kids: Jared Kennedy
When it comes to ways to disciple your kids, do Christian school or church attendance have it covered? Author Jared Kennedy extends practical ideas to pass on to your kids the hope that you have.
About the Guest
- Connect with Jared Kennedy on Twitter @JaredSKennedy, or catch more of his thoughts at his website: The Gospel Centered Family
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When it comes to discipling kids, is church good enough? Jared Kennedy gives practical ideas to pass on to your kids the hope that you have.
Practical Ways to Disciple Kids: Jared Kennedy
Ann: The parents in it are thinking that.
Dave: I know that what we wanted and in this generation it’s crucial as ever, is how do we lead out kids to Christ, and how do we mentor them into being fully devoted Christ followers as they become men and women?
Ann: Yes. And I’m seeing parents are more fearful about that than ever before, because maybe it feels like culture is weighing in and pressuring their families more than ever. I’m sure it’s always been that, but they’re feeling it more and more.
Dave: Yes, I know we were running to the bookstores, listening to tapes. Tapes.
Dave: You hear that? Tapes. [Laughter]
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We have Jared Kennedy in the studio with us. You’ve written a book called Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission. Obviously, that has to do with the church, but this is also a family issue. So welcome to FamilyLife Today, Jared.
Jared: It’s so good to be with you, Dave.
Dave: I’m guessing this has been something you’re passionate about your whole life? Or since you became a dad? What?
Jared: Yes, since I became a dad, for sure.
Dave: Which is 18 years ago.
Dave: You act like you’re surprised, like “I don’t remember it.” You’ve been a dad a long time. Were you always passionate about family discipleship, even before you got married, or is this something that grew as you got married?
Jared: I think it’s definitely something that grew as I got married, and I think it’s something I grew into. When you have kids, you feel the anxiety of “Oh, I’m responsible for these little girls.” And then it’s something you learn how to do over time. There were definitely men in my life who modeled what it looked like to pour into their children, and that I learned to emulate and model my fatherhood after.
Jared: I lead a ministry called Gospel-Centered Family, and we do coaching for children’s ministers and youth ministers, helping come alongside the church to see them partner with families to raise up kids who will follow Christ.
Dave: Wow. This is exactly what we opened with. You’re the person, you have the resources, the knowledge, the wisdom to help young families. That’s where we want to go today. Your subtitle is Practical Strategies for Discipling the Next Generation. So obviously we need them.
Ann: You’ve been married twenty years. You have three daughters, and we have all these resources and books on the table. This is important to you to get tools into families’ hands, it sounds like.
Dave: Where did that passion come from, to not just pour into our kids, but literally write books and give parents resources that can do that?
Jared: I think like I said a minute ago, there were guys who modeled that for me.
Dave: Talk about that. What kind of guys?
Jared: There was a guy named Rob Plummer, who’s an older guy, a little older than me. His kids are just a few years older than ours. As a young couple, we were in his small group at church, and he modeled what it looks like to read stories to his little girls and sing with them before bed.
Rob was just so intentional with his daughters, and his wife gave my wife, Megan, a Christmas devotional that walked through promises of Jesus from the Old Testament up till Christmas. So, we started reading that with our three-year-old, and the Lord used that to awaken in me this desire to see my girls grow up in the faith and know Jesus. So that was a big part of that start for me.
Dave: So that three-year-old, is she now the 18-year-old?
Jared: Yes, it changes as kids grow up, doesn’t it? It looks a little different.
Jared: When my kids were young, it was a bedtime routine. We would pray, we had prayers that she would say back, and we had stories we’d read, and music we would put on the CD player. I’ll date myself.
Dave: CD? [Laughter]
Jared: When they were really young, just as part of the bedtime routine at night. Now that they’re older and we have track practice and cross-country practice and things going on during the week, we have really set aside Sunday afternoon as our time to sit around the family table and have a weekly devotional together with our teenagers. We’re not using a story book like the ones I’ve written. We’re reading from the Scriptures. We’re reading through Esther, just working through that and talking through the passage together as a family, in a really conversational way.
Dave: That’s great.
Ann: What’s it like now with teenage girls, because they range from eighteen to thirteen? Do they ever give you the “Ugghh, Dad!” or has this been a routine - that this is what you do, this is a practice that you really honor?
Jared: Even with routines that your family honors, you still get the “Ugghh, Dad!” [Laughter]
Ann: I’m glad to hear that.
Jared: Developmentally it’s normal for teenagers.
Jared: I think you have to let that roll off your back as a parent. “This is what we do as a family. We’re going to do it anyway.” Different kids have good days and bad days, good days they’re more into it, and days they’re less into it. I think as kids get older, giving them more choice in the matter. A couple of years ago, I said before our oldest leaves the house we’re going to do the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and kind of work through all three of those before she leaves. I just want to make sure she has that foundation.
But in between each one, I would let them pick the book of the Bible we’d read. The more choice you can give older kids, the more that can be directed by them, whether in prayer requests or the actual devotional you pick, the more ownership they have in that as they grow, too.
Ann: So Jared, as you hear parents talk about this discipleship process, one of the things we’ve heard over the years is, “We have them at a Christian school. We bring them to church on Sunday.”
Dave: Which is all good.
Ann: All great. But they’re giving that responsibility more to those institutions instead of at home.
Ann: What’s that make you feel when you hear that?
Jared: The Scriptures celebrate those things, so it celebrates a community of faith that surrounds your kids and sees them raised up in the faith. But it also gives the primary responsibility for discipleship to parents, to mom and dad, too. I think of Psalm 78, which says, “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed the Law in Israel.”
So Jacob and Israel in that context are the covenant community. It’s the whole people of God who have this responsibility to pass on faith to the next generation. And it says, “And He commanded the fathers,” and we know from back in Deuteronomy 6 what that looked like. It says, “As you walk along the road, as you sit down to eat, as you lay down at night, as you get up in the morning;” those daily family rhythms that moms and dads have the responsibility to pass on truth to their kids.
I think what we see in the Scriptures is not an either/or with that. You need a good, godly local church that you’re a part of. It’s great to have a Christian school and other leaders, godly older people in your kids’ lives that they can look up to as coaches and teachers that are models of the Christian faith.
But we also have that personal responsibility as mom and dad where we don’t want this to be something we never talk about. You want to be intentional about confessing your own sins to your kids, intentional about teaching as well your children so that they grow.
Dave: Psalm 78 and Deuteronomy 6 are foundational passages for FamilyLife®.
Jared: That’s true.
Dave: They have been for decades. When Ann and I got first exposed to FamilyLife we were at a FamilyLife marriage Weekend to Remember®. Dennis Rainey, the former President, spoke, and we’re both pretty new in our faith. We’re about two years in, we’re engaged, we’re going to get married.
Ann: At that time.
All I know is when I heard Psalm 78, which you just quoted and it’s in your book, Deuteronomy 6—we wrote a parenting book, and we based the whole book on Deuteronomy 6. It was powerful because I’m new in Christ, but it also was overwhelming, as a young man, thinking “I don’t know how to be a Christian husband. Man, when I’m a Christian dad I will have no clue.”
I’m looking right here at what you just read. Psalm 78:5 says, “He decreed statues for Jacob, He established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach our children so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.” So, you see this legacy.
The reason I’m bringing it up, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, is when we had our first son—we had three boys that are now married, and six grandkids—when CJ was born, I felt overwhelmed.
Jared: Yes, for sure.
Dave: I’d never seen this. I had a dad that walked out when I was seven. I thought, “Never been in a Christian home, never seen it. I don’t think I can do it. What are we going to do?” So my question, sort of what we started with is “I don’t know what to do. Where do I start?” If you had a young family that is inspired—because I was like, “I’m doing this. I’ve never done it. I’m changing the Wilson legacy. This is going to be a different legacy. But help! I don’t know what to do.”
Where would you tell them to start? There’s a young family listening right now, thinking “This is my passion, but I’m not sure what the first step should be.” What would you say?
Jared: Think about how old your kids are, and what kind of routine is going to work with those kids and adopt one routine. Not ten; one. [Laughter]
Jared: One routine. I think if my kids were in middle school, that might be writing a Bible verse out and putting it on the dashboard of my car, and we, on the way to school, try to memorize that Bible verse every week. If your kid is a toddler, that’s probably the bedtime routine at night, which they need anyway.
Jared: They need that routine in order to get to sleep, so let’s say prayers together. Let’s read one Bible story together in the evening, and let’s make that our routine each day. If your kids are in high school and it’s hard to get together around the family table because of all the extracurriculars, pick the day that you can be together, whether that’s Wednesday evening or Sunday afternoon, and “This is our time that we’re just going to commit to this being our time together, and we’ll do something together.”
Dave: That’s good.
Ann: Jared, what about the family—let's say it’s a couple that has teenage kids. They’ve never done any of this. Maybe their faith is even new at this point, and they’re thinking, “Is it too late? Can I start now, and what will the kids think? What does that conversation look like with the kids?” Have you talked to any parents that have been in that spot?
Jared: Yes, I have talked to families that have been in that spot. One of the stories that I like to tell is the church that I’ve been a part of for the past sixteen, seventeen years is a church that’s near the University of Louisville. We have lots of young college students. I can’t tell you how many testimonies of young believers in our church are, “I was not raised in a Christian home, but something happened when I was in high school. My parents got saved,” or “My parents suddenly got serious about their faith, and I hated it.” [Laughter]
“I did not want this new routine, but I realized something happened to my dad,” or “Something happened to my mom, where they were more fervent in their prayers for me, they were more fervent in us having times where we got together and we read the Bible together. A couple of years into college when I felt lost, I looked back at that, and said, ‘I want what they had.’”
Just know the Lord works in all kinds of ways and it is not too late for your children to believe. I think we also just need to know that, yes, our kids’ salvation at the end of the day is not up to us, that the Lord is the one who does the saving. It is the Holy Spirit’s work. We have a responsibility that we’ve been talking about to be the primary disciplers of our kids, so we want to be obedient to God. We want to be intentional in that, and that is typically maybe the ordinary means by which God raises up godly kids.
We have a daughter who’s severely autistic, and for various reasons she doesn’t fit a normal developmental pattern. If you have a kid, for whatever reason, whether rebellion, or through your family’s faith story, or through developmental challenges that they have that doesn’t fit a normal pattern, know that that’s not too big for God. God is bigger than that situation, and He’s faithful to work. Be faithful to Him, and know that even when we’re not faithful, He’s faithful to work in each situation.
Dave: How important would you say—and you’re living it right now—is the parents’ modeling, living out their faith with fire, with passion? When you go back to Deuteronomy 6, it says these commandments should be on your heart.
Dave: And then he says, “Teach them to your children when you walk along the way, and lie down,” so he starts with the parents. You’re in that stage; you still have three kids in your home. How important do you think it is that mom and dad, or it could be just dad, or just mom, or it could be a blended family, all kinds—that their kids are looking at you, that you’re actually living what you’re trying to teach?
Jared: I think so much of our faith is more caught than taught. I think them seeing your passion, but even in the times when you’re not passionate, them seeing your willingness to confess sin and your repentance, them seeing your willingness to continue to do what’s right even when you’re experiencing doubt or pain, to continue to go to church, continue to press in to community even in the times that It's difficult, that model means so much for the next generation.
I want to be careful, because at the end of the day I want to say, “Salvation belongs to our God, and He works through all situations,” so I don’t want to put guilt on parents that maybe haven’t been all the way there in the past, but be faithful now. Be obedient and know that so much of our faith is something that is caught. Sometimes it’s not caught right when we want it to be caught as parents, [Laughter] where experience is caught years later. But be faithful and know that you have a faithful God Who loves you, too.
Dave: Maybe you’ve seen this statistic as well. This was years ago. I was a pastor of a church, and we have our kids’ ministry and our youth, and we’re really pushing our kids to get in the different ministries of the church. I saw a stat that said the chances of your kids staying close to Jesus after they leave your home are much higher if, when they go to the youth group, they come home and they see it in their home as well as the youth group, and it’s much lower if they don’t see it in their home.
In other words, it almost was like, “Oh, church ministry to kids isn’t that important.” It is, obviously, but them seeing their parents or the same values being lived out in their home that they’re hearing at church is extremely important, right?
Jared: Yes. Absolutely. In fact, those studies—there have been a few different ones—Barna, Lifeway, Fuller—I think there are four different factors that they see as the top factors.
Dave: Let’s hear it.
Jared: The first is parents who model that godly faith for their kids, exactly what you’ve said. The second would be that your kid has a relationship with some older adult in their life who is not their parents, who models that faith too. I think that points to the importance of that partnership with your local church; godly children’s ministry leaders, godly local church leaders.
I remember Miss Edwina in my church, who led our little Bible drill group, and her faithfulness to pour into young kids. And a lot of those young kids are in ministry in various ways now, because even when our parents weren’t there, there was a godly Christian adult that was there.
The third, honestly, is what they listen to, and so having godly Christian music, worship music that’s playing in the minivan and that’s around when your kids are around, that is actually a factor, because music sticks, and music teaches, so finding some good worship music that you’re putting on at various times is something that will stick with kids, even beyond your house when they’re listening to other things later on potentially.
And the last is them learning how to read the Bible and study the Bible themselves.
Dave: On their own, yes.
Jared: On their own. So, I think those family worship times but also those youth group times in small group, that they’re not just times for games and cut-up, but they are times that we’re actually reading the Scriptures, we’re learning to ask good questions about the Scriptures, and read and apply the Bible to our hearts. That habit is something that sticks with kids as they grow older.
Dave: Yes, that’s important. One of the things that probably would be number five—we just did a program a few months ago with Tim Kimmel and Larry Fowler. They said grandparents have a huge impact on their grandkids. Their whole program was “step up. Realize you have a real role in their lives.“ I know we have grandparents listening, we have parents, we have young parents. The key is being there and walking beside them.
Jared: Yes, that’s exactly right. That older adult who’s not your mom and dad can be extended family, or it can be extended church family. I think those people investing in the next generation is such an important factor.
Dave: Yes. We literally prayed for men to be in our son’s lives, and God brought three different guys, one for each.
Ann: And we also were intentional. Dave and I went to some of those guys and said, “Hey, could you pour some time into our son?” I have a lot of friends, girlfriends, and honestly, we discipled each other's daughters, just because they need to hear another perspective. We had grown up with their daughters, so we had relationships with them. We would just kind of pair up with certain daughters, certain moms, and we would sit down. We’d talk to them. We’d go to lunch with them once a week, see what’s going on.
We’ve walked our friends’ daughters through a lot of different situations that were hard and difficult. I think as parents we can be praying, and we can also be intentional and looking for, “Hmm, this person seems to have a personality that my child would really vibe with.” I think those are great steps.
Dave: Yes. Ann would meet with these daughters. She was like their godmother. I loved it and I hated it, because every time she met with them, which I knew was awesome—she’s pouring into them—she’d always buy them something. That’s why I hated it. Every time it was like, “Do you have to spend money?” [Laughter]
Ann: It was for their birthdays. I would take them on a shopping spree.
Dave: That’s what she said it was. It was, “I’m going over to their house,” and she’d be getting something. We’re going, literally, to one of their weddings this weekend.
Dave: I’ve done all three of their daughters’ weddings as the pastor. It’s a powerful moment to have other people involved in your kids’ lives. In fact, I look back and I think some of the impact on my sons was greater than me, was these other men in their lives, and other families.
Shelby: We’ll hear more from Jared Kennedy in just a second with some practical advice. You know the whole family of God, the church, has the responsibility to pass on the faith to the next generation. I love the call to model honesty, confession, and repentance in the home. It begins in the walls of our houses. I know I’ve been learning that over and over again as the dad of both a middle schooler and an elementary schooler, so I’m deeply grateful for this conversation.
I’m Shelby Abbott. You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jared Kennedy on FamilyLife Today. Jared has written a book called Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission: Practical Strategies for Discipling the Next Generation. That book is available to you in the FamilyLife Resource Center at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you were able to listen earlier this week, you heard from Dean Inserra, who has written a book called Pure. It’s about why the Bible’s plan for sexuality isn’t outdated, irrelevant, or oppressive. That book is going to be our gift to you when you partner financially with us today, in order to make more conversations like the one you heard today with Jared Kennedy actually possible.
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Alright, here’s more with Jared Kennedy about what to look for when you start visiting colleges with your kids.
Jared: You know my oldest is 18, so we’re in the midst of doing college visits. One of the things that I learned from Mike Melissa Kruger, who works with me at The Gospel Coalition, just asking her questions about what they’ve done with their children. She said, “Whenever we did a campus visit, we also did a church visit.”
Ann: Good idea!
Jared: So, we planned that over the weekend where we could also visit a local church or a college ministry there. So, we’re here at Cru headquarters. I think what Cru is doing on college campuses, but then getting to know local churches near those college campuses, and beginning to build relationships between your kids that you’re sending off and the other believers that are in that community is an important bridge to build.
Ann: I would add, ask your daughter or son to research that. “Hey, we want to look at some churches. Why don’t you start looking up some churches that look interesting to you?” Because I know our kids are like, “Oh, now you’re going to tell me where to go to church?” [Laughter]
Jared: That’s so good.
Ann: We give them a say in, “What looks interesting to you, and I’d love to see that. Maybe we could all visit as a family when we do that college visit.”
Jared: That’s so good.
Shelby: If you’re interested in some personal coaching, Jared Kennedy does offer that on the Gospel-Centered Family website [gospelcenteredfamily.com], which you can find listed in the show notes. Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined again by Jared Kennedy, talking about how we want our children to see the end of their competence and start looking toward Jesus. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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