For the first time in its history, Western civilization is confronted with the need to define the meaning and purpose of the word family. We as Christians recognize that the family is not merely a sociological development, nor a product of human evolutionary progress, but God’s good design for human living–the family is most basic unit of human society, and for us as Christians the primary context of discipleship. Biblically speaking, the family is grounded upon the integrity of biblical marriage, as one man and one woman who are of like faith and both seeking to know and love God. This is lived out in front of our children. Moreover, the family is the context in which children are seen as gifts from God to be raised, educated, spiritually trained, and disciplined for their well-being. It is within these contexts that you and I, and our children, face the most intimate and consistent challenges of our faith.

When it comes to cultural wars and politics we do have a lot to say about the family, and we should seek to uphold God’s good design for the home. But let me propose to you that the primary battlefield for the family is to be lived out in the context of our homes. In other words, the battle for family is not primarily fought in the public square or even in the voting booth, but in our family lives, at the dinner table. And I think most of us would agree that it is in the context of the home that we become most weary from the battle. It is in the laboratory of the home that one’s character becomes refined. It is within the family that one is confronted with the ugly reality of our selfish sinful nature and our need to believe and apply the gospel most often. This is the essence of discipleship.

A disciple is a student of Jesus who is learning to believe and apply the gospel to all of life. And in the context of the home we are most tested and refined.

Discipleship is a Parental Responsibility

a.      Formal and Informal

For many American Christians, discipleship of children is equivalent to dropping them off at church. Similarly, for adults, discipleship is often equivalent with attending a class at church or walking through a study with other believers. Let me share with you a startling statistic.

According to researchers within the Southern Baptist Convention, 88 [The actual attrition figure is closer to 70% with about half returning within a few years] percent of children in evangelical homes leave the church at the age of eighteen.[1]

Why is it that almost 9 out of every 10 children walk away from the church when they leave the home? There can be many reasons. Now, some may be tempted to think: we need better children’s and youth programs. But I don’t think this is the most important answer.

On average, pastors and church workers may have your children under our spiritual care for an hour or two a week. This means that the other 70+ hours of your children’s discipleship is left under your guidance. Consider the context of discipleship in the book of Deuteronomy 6:4-7:

[4] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

This kind of discipleship requires relationship, time, and gospel intentionality. Consider the formal and informal context of discipleship here for ancient Israel:


The words “You shall teach them diligently to your children” have the connotation of repeating and impressing spiritual truths with the aim of sharpening. As many of you parents know, teaching involves constant repetition, especially when it comes to the faith. God’s people are a people who are called to pass on the story and doctrines of the faith. The family unit is the primary school room for life and faith. All throughout church history there has been a focus on formal instruction within the family known as catechesis.

Catechesis is an organized system of grounding and growing God’s people in the gospel and its implications for all of life. Think of it like this, your goal as a parent is to instruct, teach, nurture, and form the spiritual lives of your children. Catechisms follow the format of question and answer. Here is an example from a Baptist Catechism.

  • Question: What is the chief end of man?
  • Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

In other words, your goal in life is to display God as glorious to the word around you. To live in such a way that others see that he is your treasure. The point is this. Parents, you are charged to teach your children the ways of God. To proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to your children.


Consider that “Jesus himself taught primarily through dialogue, sayings, and stories. He occasionally taught in synagogues, but more often he taught in homes, along the road, and in open air.”[2] Most of Jesus’ teaching happened in informal contexts as he was sharing life with his followers – as they walked and talked, day to day, moment by moment. You can imagine Jesus speaking with Nicodemus during a gust of Middle Eastern wind storm, explaining that the Spirit moves like the wind. Or Jesus telling the parable of the fig tree as he stops alongside the road to examine the fruit of a fig tree as he and his disciples are on their way to the next town.

This is teaching genius at its finest. In fact modern educational theorists will tell you that people who learn by hearing, being shown, along with experience retain 65 percent – as opposed to the 10 percent retention rate of those who learn by hearing alone. This type of holistic discipleship happens in the everyday situations of life. The assumption here is that the most effective discipleship takes place not through programmed teaching or training courses but in unplanned conversations – living and talking about life – when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and rise.

Redeem every opportunity to point your children, and your spouse to the glories of God’s grace. It is in the context of everyday life that one learns to believe and apply the gospel. The adage, “discipleship is caught more than it is taught” is instructive here. So in the moments between your waking and laying down, use every opportunity to speak of the creator God, the Savior Jesus, and the Spirit.

b.     Grace and Truth

Essential for discipleship and training is both truth and grace. When we are presented with:

  • Truth: we are confronted with the law of God. Because of our nature we see that we have, do, and will fall short of God’s law. The law shows us who we are, the truth is that we are sinners in need of grace.
  • Grace: we are confronted with our inability to fulfill that law, Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the law given to us, and our need of God’s grace to empower obedience.

We must start with the biblical description of humanity that we are ill-informed of the things of God on our own. In fact, in the book of Proverbs children are depicted as being ignorant and as going their own way without discipleship. Grace and truth are inseparable in family and discipleship relationships. We are to give grace in showing one another who we really are based on the truth of God’s word. We are to present the truth that it is only God’s grace that enables us to be what he has called us to be. As a test case consider Proverbs 22:6,

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Most often, this passage is treated almost like a mathematical pattern. If we do a + b then the result will be c. Right? If we train or child in the right path, then he/she will never depart from our training. In keeping with the nature of the Proverbs, this is not a conditional promise; it is a wise saying. In other words, these words describe, in a general sense, the way God has made the world to run. When we fail to understand the nature of these passages will look to them as guaranteed patterns. Essentially, we say to our children, based on what I have told you go and do the right thing. But what happens when our children do not do what is honoring to God? I think its important that we heed these words from J.I. Packer:

“Even with our best efforts to teach our children God’s mighty deeds and righteous commands, we have no guarantee that they will grow up to truly know the Lord. But if we fail to teach them what we have known and seen of God’s ways, we will be without excuse when God calls us to account for how we raise our children.”[3]

Proverbs 22:6 is not a formula for perfect children, but a call to parents for diligence in instructing our children. So the goal in the discipleship of children, and of one another, is a balance of grace and truth. We need the warmth of love and grace alongside the firmness of justice and truth. This is only possible when one understands the gospel. It is by God’s grace that we have received the truth of the good news. It is also God’s grace that enables us to get back up when we don’t live in accordance with that truth. Moreover, it is by the grace of God that we are able to live according to the truth.

The point is this. Unless you taste grace you will only give law. This helps us avoid only giving grace, which is much like the “self-esteem” movement that tells us everything is ok even when it’s not. It also keeps us from only giving truth, which becomes a religious task master that will crush our children without grace. These are important things: the formal and informal context of discipleship, and a discipleship that evenly handles truth and grace.

Discipleship is Visualized in the Home

If we were all standing in the lobby looking out the clear glass windows into the parking lot, I might ask you, “tell me what you see when you look outside?” You might begin by describing the grass and the trees and the vehicles. Now wouldn’t you find it odd or strange if I asked, “Well, did you see the window?” We don’t talk about the window. Instead, we see through the window. And yet, in the end, it is the window that is passed on and transferred to those we disciple. Especially children, they see through the window that we have given them.[4] Most often, the person your child becomes (the person you have become) is primarily, the product of two things.[5]

  1. Life experience
  2. Interpretation or interaction with that life experience

This is why I said earlier that the battle for family is not primarily fought in the public square or even in the voting booth, but within the four walls of our homes. Allow me to push a little here. It’s time to stop blaming culture and blaming America (neither of which has been Christian), it’s time to inspect our own hearts and our own homes. I think that the same is true for the Christian family. We are misguided if we think it is more important to fight for Christian family values in the public square than to live and model the Christian vision of family in our own homes. So I want to look at Ephesians 5:22-6:4 as a test case for the Christian family as the context of discipleship.

As the Church submits to Christ, wives lovingly submit to your husbands (5:22-24)

[22] Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. [23] For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. [24] Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Let me acknowledge that the issue of male headship in the home is a sensitive issue. It is one of the unfortunate legacies of feminism that tends to view male ‘authority’ in adversarial terms (as dominating the wife). Feminism is movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. Now, I think all of us would agree that women should have all the rights of men.

But where the movement has gone wrong is to demonize God’s order for the family. Now, historically I think we can show that the feminist movement arose as response to the abuse of the biblical doctrine of male headship – from inaccurate teaching and poor examples.

  • Nowhere in the bible are we taught that women are unequal to males.
  • And nowhere in the bible can any man find any justification for the abuse of women.
  • Male headship does not mean male domination.
  • The point is this: even though cultural sentiments are not aligned with biblical teaching on the roles of men and women, we must be obedient to God’s word as disciples of Christ.

Just because some men have mishandled male headship we as Christians should not reject God’s design for the family. We need to understand the role of wives in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, we see the church submit to Christ, which is the foundation for a wives submission to her husband. The primary focus in this passage is on the churches’ submission to Christ as response to His sacrificial love. But in this pattern we see the model for wives in God’s design for marriage. What does a wives submission mean in the family relationship?

Many of you hear the word ‘submit’ it brings forth ideas of ‘slavery’ or ‘control’, but this is not how ‘submission’ should be understood in marriage. This passage does not demand that you absolutely surrender your will to your husband. Also, this no way implies levels of inferiority- but calls the wives to recognize and respect that God has placed the husband as the head of the relationship, as the authority figure. It might be important to know that the word translated submit literally means ‘to willingly order under’, so the biblical model for marriage is orderly- You submission to your husband functionally allows order.

  1. Submission does not mean that you cannot influence or help guide your husband.
  2. Submission does not mean that you give up independent thought.
  3. More importantly, submission does not mean putting your husband in the place of Christ.

Wives, submission is an inner quality of gentleness that affirms the leadership of the husband. This is a deliberate choice of the wife to “order under” the husband as the functional leader in the relationship. While both are created equal in the image of God, the wife must recognize that God has placed man in a position of authority in that he will be held accountable for the family. Following God’s pattern for marriage – for wives, submitting to husbands, is part of your role as a disciple of Christ. It also allows for the husband to be obedient in his role as head of the house, which is tied to his identity as a disciple of Christ. Men can’t disciple women who will not follow. This is one of the reasons Paul addresses women first in this passage.

Women, the way you respond to your husband in the marriage relationship visualizes to your children how the church is to respond to Christ.

As Christ loves the church, husbands sacrificially love your wives (5:25-33)

Not only has there been change the trajectory of God’s design for the family in relation to women, there has also been a subtle shift in our cultural understanding of manliness. This can be observed in television sitcoms centered on the family.

“Originally sitcoms were based on a set of characters where… the lead male characters were seen as the lovable bread winners…Men were originally coded as being strong and providing safety. They solved problems, fixed machinery, and drove cars. As the society moved away from this ideology the representation changed. The women became the characters of strength, and male figures became a source of comedy.”[6]

The point is this, in our culture the man is often seen as the absentminded and weak willed, no longer the strong and loving leader in their family. Now, this is not a call to “bang your chest about being the leader” in the home. Leadership in this passage, according to Paul is about loving sacrifice and washing your bride with the Word. Some of you might feel the need to over compensate and demand leadership. If you have to tell someone that you are a leader, then you are not acting like a leader. What Paul calls for here is not a demand for leadership, but strong servant leadership, a life of living sacrifice.

[25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. [28] In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body. [31] “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [32] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33] However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.       

Husbands, God has placed you in a position of headship, and authority, but it is not to be abused. It is an authority given to you so that you will nurture, protect, honor, and love your wife. We often hear of men using these verses to abuse the idea of headship, and lord it over their wives- to control and dominate them. But notice what the text says, Husbands, “Love your wife, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”The primary focus in this passage is on Christ’s sacrificial love for the church. Christ willingly died in love for the church. This serves as a sacrificial pattern that should be demonstrated in the husbands love for his wife. Obviously, this requires completely selfless love. As the passage reads, “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.”Therefore, the husband places the needs of his wife above that of his own. Biblically speaking the husband serves as the:

  • Physical Leader: protector and provider.
  • Spiritual Leader: setting the direction for the spiritual formation of everyone in the home.

This is how God designed it, that the wife would submit to the husband- the husband would love the wife as he loves his own self. When this happens- she will willingly submit, because she knows he is seeking what is best for both. Therefore, headship is not a right to control or to abuse or to neglect. Rather, it’s the responsibility to love like Christ in leading and protecting and providing for our wives and families.

Husbands when you get home your job for the day is not done. I am not saying that you come home and take over the job of managing the home, but that you get involved. Don’t plop your last tail on the couch and zone out watching tv, mindlessly search the internet, or stick your head in the paper or a book.  Be intentional with your time at home to love your wives and raise your children. Men, the way you treat to your wives in the marriage relationship should visualize to your children the sacrificial love of Christ for the church.

In the Lord, children honor your parents (6:1-4)

According to Paul, the authority given to parents over children in vere 1-4 is directly related to their Christian discipleship.

[6:1] Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. [2] “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), [3] “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

Note that Paul addresses children in this letter. Some people have asked us as a staff why we don’t have children’s church here at West Campus. This is one of the many reasons. Throughout Christian history, children have been an important part of the church body and have been included in its ministries – not relegated off to their own mini-church. New Testament letters like this were read aloud among the Christians – and that Paul addresses the children leads us to believe that he expected the children to be in the room.

Children, obey because it is right. Children, this is the first and only of the Ten Commandments to contain a promise. The promise is that things will go well for you and you will live long in the land, if you honor your parents.

  1. Things will go well for you because you are following God’s ordained pattern for life in his created world.
  2. The promise that you will live long in the land points to eternal life in the age to come, the new Jerusalem (heaven).
  3. Paul is not teaching that you will receive eternal life is you are obedient, what he is saying is that honoring your parents is evidence that you know and love God. Honoring your parents is a spiritual fruit that gives evidence of your salvation, that the Spirit indwells you.

But this is a command, not just for the individual child, it is also for the Christian community. In virtually every civilization in human history the obedience of children has been seen as foundational to a stable society. This commandment was not just given for your good, but for the good of the community as a whole. Children, hear me. Your Christian parents presumably want what’s best for you. They will make mistakes. But God’s grace is sufficient to cover where they lack. Moreover, you are called as a disciple of Christ to submit to God’s good order for the family.  Which means you need to trust that your Christian parents have in mind what’s best for you while you are under their care.

Parents, we will answer to God for how we raise our children, they are entrusted to us for an appointed time. Let us make every effort to redeem every moment with gospel intentionality. Essentially, Paul is arguing that if you want to continue to exist as the people of God in the midst of a pagan land, you will have to do so by training and disciplining our children. Whitney Houston was amazingly right and logically obvious when she sang, “I believe the children are our future”.

Parents, your primary goal as temporary trustees of children is to pass on the faith to the next generation. “God has designed your family – to the youth group, not the youth choir, not the children’s ministry, not the Christian school, but your family as the primary discipleship program for your children.”[7] Now let’s look at verse 4, men, it all comes back to you for leadership and direction in the discipleship of your children.

 [4] Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Fathers, avoid any attitudes, words, or actions that have the effect of provoking your children to anger. This could be excessively severe discipline, harsh demands, constant nagging, subjecting your children to humiliation. In other words, be as sensitive as you can to your child’s needs and sensibilities. Children are persons with dignity in their own right. You as the parents have been entrusted to them by God as a sacred stewardship.

Heed the last words here: bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If there ever was a time we needed men to know their purpose and to be men again, it’s now. Our world is filled with great uncertainty and instability and leaders are hard to find. We need men who aren’t preoccupied with their amusements and appearance…We need men with consistent character: integrity, courage, perseverance and a willingness to sacrifice ad lead for the greater good.[8] We need men who are committed to the loving their wives sacrificially, and bringing their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

At the heart of mature [God given] masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide and protect women [and children] in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.[9]


  • The degree to which these things happen is indicative of the degree to which one is filled with God’s spirit and living in line with his word. In other words, living this stuff out is a spiritual issue.
  • We are given husbands, wives, and children to teach us unconditional love.  Like I said earlier, you do not realize how selfish and sinful you are until you are placed in such close proximity to another human being who has the same self-serving bent. Your family is one of the ways God sanctifies you in the process of discipleship. We learn to receive truth, and give truth. We learn to give grace, and accept grace.
  • Don’t walk out of here in despair over your failure to do these things. But with a new resolve to, by God’s grace, seriously consider God’s design and purpose for the family in discipleship.


1. Parents, have you turned over the discipleship of your children to someone else?

Perhaps it is time that you consider the structure of your children’s lives – even if it pertains to church activities. Are your church activities leading you to spend more time apart as a family? If so, it might be time to re-evaluate what activities your children need to be involved in.

Trust me, I grew up in a large southern Baptist church that had activities for children and youth 4-5 times a week. And very few of the people I grew up with are showing little spiritual fruit. The amount of activities your children are involved in at church does not directly correlate to how “saved” they will be.

Are you putting your children’s spiritual development in the hands of another person? Do you seek to partner with those who are teaching your children here?

Do you seek to disciple your own children with gospel intentionality? What ways are you formally investing in your own kids discipleship? What ways are you seeking informal times of spiritual formation?

2. Husbands and Wives, Parents: do you make it a regular occurrence to confess your sins and challenge one another?

If you are honest, you will read this passage from Ephesians and see how broken you are. But that does not mean you should ignore God’s commands. This is still the way God has ordered the family.

  • Women, the way you respond to your husband in the marriage relationship visualizes to your children how the church is to respond to Christ.
  • Men, the way you treat to your wives in the marriage relationship should visualize to your children the sacrificial love of Christ for the church.
  • Children, honoring your parents is glorifying to God because it approves his good design for the family. Plus, God has attached a promise to the command “obey your parents”.

This is where grace and truth come in to play. The truth is, how you act in the home directly effects the discipleship of those within your family. The truth is also that we fail often. But God’s grace is bigger than our failures. And it is by God’s grace that we see those failures and are empowered to live in accordance with God’s design for the family.

For this reason, regular confession of sin and challenge with God’s word are key to the holistic formation of disciples within the Christian home. Make every opportunity to point to the cross and empty tomb of Christ.

Husbands and wives, consider your relationship from your children’s perspective. Children have an amazing hypocrisy meter that is off the charts. Be honest with your sin, and be honest about God’s expectations.

A disciple is a student of Jesus who is learning to believe and apply the gospel to all of life. Which means we are always growing and learning new things – what we need to work on, where we need God’s grace and forgiveness. So I call you as my church, see your families as the primary context of discipleship and take your role seriously.

  1. [1] Report of the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life, 2002.
  2. [2] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church, 114.
  3. [3] J.I. Packer, Grounded in the Gospel, 37.
  4. [4] Peter J. Gentry, Raising Children, the Christian Way, JDFM 2.2 (2012), 96.
  5. [5] Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Childs Heart, 10.
  6. [6] Jodi M. Reese, Heterosexual Masculinity in the Sitcom Genre, Master’s Thesis for Georgetown University, 39.
  7. [7] Voddie Baucham Jr., Family Driven Faith, 118.
  8. [8] Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas, A Guide to Biblical Manhood, 4.
  9. [9] Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 35.

2 thoughts on “The Christian Home as the Context of Discipleship

  1. Great article! One small item to consider: the accuracy of the 88% figure that you cite has been debunked a couple of times. The actual attrition figure is closer to 70% with about half returning within a few years. Still not a number to be excited about–but a bit more reflective of reality.

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