I grew up in Indiana, and like every other kid in the state, I grew up playing basketball. Indiana legends like Pistol Pete and Larry Bird inspired all of us as we shot hoops in the driveway. It’s been said that when Larry Bird was in high school, he got up every day at 6a and shot 500 free throws. This discipline is why Larry Bird had one of the most reliable free throw shots in the NBA, and is still considered a legend.
I’m not sure how many high school students would enjoy getting up at 6a. I doubt Larry Bird did either – that’s not why he got up early. He got up early and took those shots, because he knew that over time, discipline would lead to success on the court.
As parents, we strive to instill discipline in our kids. We enroll them in sports, drive them to drama practice, buy them musical instruments, and push them to excel academically. Think of the time and money we invest in all these things. We do it because we know (or hope) there will be a payoff one day, as they develop character and discipline along the way.
If we make sacrifices for sports, drama, music, and academics, how are we doing at helping our kids develop discipline in their spiritual life? This question is not meant to shame you, but ultimately to encourage and challenge you. No matter how things are going, you can take a simple step today to help your kids develop spiritual disciplines. These will be the disciplines that have the most lasting impact on their lives. Let’s consider some ways this can happen at different stages of development.
At this stage of life, most kids have not yet come to a saving faith in Jesus. However, habits they learn in their formative years can set an incredible foundation for when they start to follow Christ. One of the best things you can do for your preschooler is to pray with them each night. Your prayers are actually teaching them how to pray, and reinforcing the truth that prayer is an important part of following Jesus.
Here’s something to consider when you pray: be intentional. Think of one thing about God for which you can praise Him; think of one thing God has given your family for which you can thank Him; and think of one request you can make to God. Saying a simple but intentional prayer, which includes praise and thanksgiving, teaches kids that prayer is not only about making requests, but ultimately about connection and worship.
At this stage of life, many kids place their trust in Jesus and begin to follow Him. Whether or not your child has made a profession of faith, developing habits that help them learn about, love, and follow Jesus is worth your time. If your kids are anything like mine, they’re notorious for asking questions about everything. Maybe I’m the only terrible parent who gets exhausted and sometimes answers, “just because” to their endless “why” questions. But in my better moments, I’m ready to engage with their many questions, which are actually incredible teaching moments.
Here’s something to consider as you teach your kids: be purposeful. Being purposeful may look like taking some time in the evening to read a storybook Bible or devotional with your kids. (Check out my recommendations at the end of this article.) Being purposeful may look like memorizing the Bible together. My daughter and I memorized 1 Peter 1 together a few months ago. Guess what? It wasn’t just good for her; it was good for me! Being purposeful may look like discussing the Parent Cues your kids get each weekend in gK!, or taking advantage of car rides to have meaningful conversations. When my daughter was in Kindergarten, we shared one thing we were thankful for every morning on the ride to school. Those are some of my favorite memories with her.
Middle and High school
Admittedly, I am not yet the parent of a teenager, but I do spend time with teens for a living! So here’s what I’ve learned in my years of student ministry – your teens need you, and your teens need the church. When the home and church work together, it can be an incredible thing in your student’s life. Through the years, I’ve heard many parents talk about the huge impact a small group leader has had in their student’s life. Often, these leaders are able to have certain conversations with students that parents aren’t able to have as easily. Yet even as our student ministry team connects with your kids, we train them to partner with you since you are the primary disciple-maker.
Here’s something to consider in regards to the church: be consistent. Pastor Mike regularly says the church is the center of the Christian’s life, and Jesus is the center of the church. One of the best disciplines you can instill within your teen, is to prioritize church community. Choose a service and be there as often as you can. Structure your schedule around your kids and teens being in programming with their peers. Invite other adults to influence them as well. Some of the most meaningful relationships I had as a teenager were with small group leaders and youth pastors. In fact, one of the main reasons I’m in ministry today is because of these relationships.
Some legends get up at 6a each morning and shoot 500 free throws. Others, take the time to pray with their kids at night, even when they’re exhausted. They turn off the music in their car and listen. They lead their families to church week after week, month after month, year after year. These are the true legends – the ones who leave a legacy not just for the next century, but for eternity.
Recommended Reading List
The Biggest Story ABC (toddlers)
The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible (preschool)
The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross (preschool/elementary)
The Jesus Storybook Bible (preschool/elementary)
The Gospel Story Bible (elementary)
The Ology (elementary/preteens)
Big Truths for Young Hearts (elementary/preteens)
CSB Essential Teen Study Bible (preteen/middle school)
ESV Gospel Transformation Bible (high school)