I’ve devoted a couple of posts (here and here) to the idea of family discipleship. From Scripture, we’ve seen that families bear the primary responsibility for discipling their children. All Christian parents want to see their children grow up to know, love, and follow Jesus. However, not all Christian parents realize that God has designed the family to be the primary place where knowing, loving, and following Jesus is “taught and caught.” This is where family discipleship enters the picture. I hope, by now, that you’ve caught a vision for a simple-but-essential way to begin practicing the habits of discipleship within your own home.
But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who are single, or who don’t have kids? What about those of us who aren’t really connected to a meaningful family unit of any kind? Do such people have a place in this conversation? Yes, absolutely…Let me explain how.
In the Bible, one of the most common metaphors for the people of God is the family or household. Here’s an example from Galatians 6:
So, then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
Here’s another, from Ephesians 2:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… (Ephesians 2:19)
The Greek word for household – oikos – refers not to a building, but to a people, to the members of the family who live together in a house. When the Bible speaks of members of the household of faith, it means to suggest that Christians are bound together in the same way family members are bound together. God’s people are like a family.
So family is not merely a biological or sociological idea – it is a theological one. We should probably even say that it is primarily a theological one. A pers
on’s biological family is significant, but his or her place and role in the theological family of God is more significant. (This makes some sense of hard statements like Matthew 10:37: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me [Jesus] is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”)
What does this mean for family discipleship? It means that all members of the household of faith – the theological family of God – have a role to play in discipling other members of the household of faith. As Paul stated in the verse from Galatians 6 above, we should use every opportunity to do good to other – “especially to those who are of the household of faith.” So even if you are single or childless, you have spiritual family members you can come alongside and invest in. Even if your children are long gone from home, the children of others in your church (and in the universal Church of all believers everywhere) need your care and investment.
Family is not merely a biological or sociological idea – it is a theological one…A person’s biological family is significant, but his or her place and role in the theological family of God is more significant.
What should this investment in the broader family of the church look like? It can take a myriad of forms; I’ll mention four.
1. Serve in your church’s ministry to kids or students. While this is the most obvious way for people without children to disciple the children of the household of God, it is significant and it is powerful. As I write this, I think of the numerous kids ministry and student ministry volunteers here at Capitol City who are without children of their own. They have, instead, spiritual sons and daughters who love them and are blessed by their care and concern. Single brothers and sisters – considering plugging into the family-centered ministries of your local church.
2. Step in as a spiritual father or mother for those whose biological mothers and fathers aren’t believers. Right now at Capitol City, I know of a single woman in her early thirties who is discipling, one on one, a high school girl who comes from a non-Christian family. This girl isn’t discipled in her family – but someone from her family in faith has stepped into that role. I know of another single woman, much older, who is discipling a young woman who has recently moved here from another country. Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a new member of our church – a now-mature believer who came to Christ when she was in her late teenage years because of the influence of some single sixty-and-seventy-year-old women who welcomed her into their Bible study. Young people who don’t have parents who will disciple them need spiritual surrogates who will. That could be you. Speak to those who lead the ministries to kids and students in your church. I’m sure they know of students who would thrive under the care of someone like you, someone willing to lovingly invest in them and show them how to follow Jesus.
3. Seek opportunities to love and encourage existing families within your church. Over the years, in our former church and in our current church, my family has been blessed by older couples who have loved us and invested in our kids. These people have helped us in times of need, and they’ve come alongside us as we’ve loved our kids and discipled our kids. Some of them are like parents to us and grandparents to our children. Their influence in pointing our kids to Jesus is not quantifiable. Perhaps you are at a stage in life where you could invest in a young family in your church? Perhaps you could encourage the parents and love their children?
4. Live and work missionally in all walks of life. While this might be the least obvious of these four ways to invest in the broader family of God, I think it has the most potential. To explain, I’ll relate a story. My oldest son plays the piano. Recently, he performed a solo recital – featuring about twenty minutes of music he played entirely from memory! – to progress to a new level in his piano studies. The day before the recital, he was playing through everything for his teacher – a middle-aged single woman with no children of her own, and a believer in Jesus. My son is prone toward the same perfectionistic tendencies his mother and I suffer from. He is inclined to find his identity in his performance – in school, at home, and even at the piano. At the end of his lesson, his teacher put her arm around him and asked, “Are you ready?” “I’m ready,” Hudson replied. “Are you nervous?” “A little,” Hudson replied. “Well, Hudson, remember this,” she said, “You are made in the image of God. What you do doesn’t shape who you are. God shapes who you are.” In a simple, unsolicited moment, this woman spoke truth into my vulnerable, impressionable son’s heart. She said to him what I’ve said to him so many times – but she said it at a time when he was listening. She reinforced, in a way that I couldn’t, biblical truth in Hudson’s life. And she did it because she saw her work (as a piano teacher) as an opportunity for mission, even her work with the nine-year-old pastor’s kid. Whatever you “do” in life, how can you use your life and work to invest in the household of God?