(Image courtesy of http://www.focusonthefamily.com.)
A few months ago, I entered into a new season of life: I became a dad.  Along with becoming a dad came the responsibility to train and teach my family in the way of righteousness.  It is important for dad's to take their role as spiritual leader of the home seriously and be intentional about fulfilling the duty.

Discipleship is an important duty for the father to lead intentionally.  Discipleship is the term used to define Jesus' command to "make disciples" (Matthew 28:18-20).  Making disciples means "baptizing others in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that God commands" (Matthew 28:18-20).

The first part of this commission is charged with preaching the Gospel to your children, that they may believe and be baptized into the faith.

The next part is the act of teaching.  It is a dad's responsibility to teach their children of the great love of God manifested in Jesus Christ, and also to teach the correct attitude toward Him, which is to fear Him because He is holy.

The truths of God are not learned through indifference; they are learned through intentional teaching and modeling.  It is not enough to hand your kids over to the church or the Christian school to learn morality.  Training your child in the truth and fear of God is the responsibility of the father, accompanied by the mother.  Do not send your child off to their room to read the Bible on their own.  Read it with them and teach them what it means.  They need you to teach them these things (and many others).

As my child is only a few months old, I obviously still have much to learn and do in fulfilling my role in her life.  Here is the first article in several I hope to write in the upcoming years that will focus on practical ways to disciple your child.

1. Give your child a strong name
When my wife and I were choosing names for our children, I wanted names that meant something.  I was very particular in choosing names that had a strong meaning; my wife helped choose the names that sounded pretty.  For instance, Brielle (the name of our first daughter) came from the name Gabrielle, which came from the name Gabriel which is the name of an angel of the Lord.  Brielle, then, means, "God is my strength."  Just like my Old Testament fathers, I wanted to bless my children with a name that set them apart for God and His purpose.

2. Write your child a blessing
Along with naming our child a strong, meaningful name, I also followed my Old Testament fathers in writing a blessing for Brielle.  I wrote her a blessing before she was born and had it ready on the day of her birth to read to her.  It was an emotional time as I held our baby when she was less than a day old and read her the blessing I had written specifically for her.  In the blessing, I told her who she was, who made her, what God desired for her, and what her name meant.  It was really more of a prayer to God to guide her and take care of her throughout her life.  I now have the blessing printed out and set in a frame on her dresser.  I want her to know for all the days of her life who she is and who made her - and, of course, that her dad loves her.

3. Begin reading stories to your child
My wife and I started reading stories to our baby long before she could ever comprehend them; however, I believe that the environment a baby is around (even before they can remember things) is very important to their development.  Therefore, I want our baby to sense the love of God and her parents long before she can actually comprehend the love of God and her parents.  The same can be said of her physical needs that she communicates to us through her cries: she is not logically comprehending that she is getting fed because we love her, but she senses that she is loved because her needs are taken care of.  On the other hand, she is not able to communicate her spiritual needs to us yet, but we know she has them.  Therefore, we have begun reading the truth of God to her already with the hopes that she will sense His love along with ours.  (Plus, it's fun to read to your baby!)

Specifically, I have been reading her a chapter from The Jesus Storybook by Sally Lloyd-Jones and other books by R.C. Sproul during her nighttime feeding with mom.  These stories provide her with the sense of God's presence and love before she can mentally begin to learn the truths of God and His love.

Recently, I ordered another Bible storybook by Sally Lloyd-Jones which rhymes called Baby's Hug-a-Bible.  Rhyming will help with memorization and also with a baby's short attention span.  I will continue to read to her from Hug-a-Bible until she is able to recite to me from memory what is on each page, or until she can begin reading it back to me.  At that time, I will move on to the slightly more complex Bible storybook (the one I mentioned earlier).  I will supplement these materials with discipleship stories by R.C. Sproul and other solid Bible teachers.

Of course, all of the resources her mother and I read to her will mean very little if we do not demonstrate the love of God and the obedience that comes from faith in our individual lives and collectively in our marriage - if we do not ourselves know God and respond to Him with obedience out of our overwhelming joy.  All together, this is teaching and modeling; this is intentional discipleship.

4. Teach your child to pray
Many children are taught to close their eyes and fold their hands and bow their heads in order to pray.  These are important concepts to understand for babies and here is why: the purpose of closing eyes, folding hands, and bowing heads is to limit distractions and to focus all mind, body, and soul on humbling yourself before God.  Prayer is a holy action in which we enter the presence of God in our spirit.  We must be taught to control our impulses in order to enter humbly into the presence of God.  Simply performing the action of folding hands, closing eyes, and bowing heads is nothing more than a legalistic means to "spirituality".  But when used as a discipline to enter humbly into the presence of God, the Spirit of God will meet our humble hearts with power and grace.

All that being said, children learn best by modeling.  We, especially as fathers, must model how to pray to our children.  To learn more about teaching your child to pray, read to your children the short story by R.C. Sproul called The Barber Who Wanted to Pray.  The book is based on the small booklet written by Martin Luther entitled A Simple Way to Pray.

I look forward to discipling my children, and I hope that any wisdom I have received can be passed on to you, too, so that we may all be encouraged to lead our children with intentional instruction and modeling.  By God's grace, the faith will continue on from one generation to the next.

All the resources mentioned in this article and more are listed in a document entitled "Books and Bibles for Parents and Children" on the Beyond Mediocrity website under the Discipleship page.