The Real MVPs in Christian Discipleship


Timothy Paul Jones once wrote, “What you do for God beyond your home will typically never be greater than what you practice with God within your home.”[1] Some of the most memorable stories we hear in worship services and Christian conferences are of those heralded missionaries who risked all for the sake of Christ. Who isn’t moved by the heart-wrenching sacrifice of Adoniram and Ann Judson? Who wouldn’t be motivated by the unashamed commitment to Christ of John and Betty Stam? Christian missionaries and leaders who have given and even lost their lives for the sake of the gospel are rightly heralded as heroes of the faith.

While it is right and good to honor men and women in church history who have taken big risks for Christ, with this honor comes an unfortunate tendency to look down on Christians who live unassuming and relatively ordinary lives. We teach little boys to be like Moses and David, as we talk about bushes burning and giants falling. The problem with this is that when we look at our own lives, which probably look little like David, Moses, Adoniram Judson, or John Stam, we begin to slowly crumble under the weight of mediocrity.

It would be hard to number the amount of households that are filled with prayers over children like, “Lord, make our son into a great man of God who will do great things for you.” The problem with this prayer is not the desire or the expression. The problem is the perception of what a “great man of God” is. The problem in many Christian households is ordinary, consistent, faithful obedience to the Word is viewed as second-rate.

Dads who lead their families in nightly worship or devotion are not viewed as heroes. Moms who read the Bible to their children before bed are not heralded as heroic. While the heroic tales of missionaries are deeply moving, the primary way God expands his kingdom and the realm of his presence is through ordinary discipleship in families. Moms and Dads who commit to make disciples in their own home are taking part in the fulfillment of the role of dominion given to Adam and perfectly fulfilled in Christ.

This misconception and erroneous perception of greatness is the root of much discipleship deficiency in Christian homes. When greatness is measured only in terms of rare, special ministries and testimonies, the ordinary elements of Christian family discipleship are overlooked. Within my own household, these tendencies to overlook ordinary obedience to disciple my wife in the gospel prevents meaningful and significant discipleship from ever taking place.

There are many reasons for breaking this trend and implementing a disciplined routine of discipleship in the home. In reflecting on my current practices of family discipleship and projecting future practices, it is important to first consider reasons for implementing a disciplined routine of family discipleship in the first place.

One of the reasons a disciplined routine of family discipleship should be implemented in the home is the overwhelmingly biblical evidence, which places the responsibility for the spiritual development of children in the hands of the parents. Contrary to popular opinion, the role of parents isn’t to drop their children off in the church’s ministries solely depend on the church’s pastors to lead their children in the gospel. Jones puts it this way, “Scripturally speaking, the primary responsibility for the spiritual formation of children does rest squarely in the hands of parents.”[2]

As God called a people to himself, he prepared fathers to lead and teach their children. Jim Hamilton observes that when God led his people into the Promised Land and prepared them to live life in it, he called them to extend the glory of God to all nations. This grand purpose was to be carried out through instruction. Hamilton claims, “Moses made clear in Deuteronomy—particularly in Deuteronomy 6:4-9—that fathers of households were responsible to see that this happens.”[3]

The ordinary disciplined discipleship in Israelite homes was the means for magnifying the glory of God in all nations. The blessing of the nation depended on the individual actions of fathers to disciple their families. In the words of Hamilton, “It doesn’t take a village; it takes a father.”[4]

Fathers were commanded to repeat the commands of God to their children. They were to teach them to their children continuously. Disciplined family discipleship is expressed most clearly in the Shema. Family discipleship is disciplined and word-centered. The great command of Deuteronomy 6:5 is to be taught “diligently to your children, and [you] 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” (Deut. 6:7).

In reflecting on my own family discipleship practices, daily Scripture reading and prayer with my wife and boys is the most biblical way to lead my family in the gospel. It is through the teaching of the Word in families that disciples are made and multiplied in the nations. By reading through books of the Bible, my family is able to reflect the heart of the biblical witness on discipleship practices.

The design for the family is for fathers to lead their families in disciplined instruction of the Lord. My family’s current practices are lacking in consistency. I need to grasp the comprehensive vision for family discipleship of Deuteronomy 6. Faithfulness to the Word in family discipleship is only beneficial when it is accentuated by a disciplined framework. God uses many means in the discipleship of your children, but Mom and Dad, he primarily uses you–you the real MVPs!

While we rightly herald missionaries and biblical men and women as monumental heroes of the faith, the Bible itself suggests that the true heroes are moms and dads who consistently lead their children in the gospel. Christ has come to reorder our relationships in such a way that we can effectively train our children in the fear of the Lord. The picture of a heroine in my home is the young wife and mother who reads and prays over our two boys before bed. True heroes wear pajamas. Be the hero your children need everyday. Call them to the table or the bedroom. Open the Word. Help their little minds and hearts soar.


[1] Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones. Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011. p. 14.

[2] Ibid., 15.

[3] Ibid., 35.

[4] Ibid., 37.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

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Simple Devotion: 3 Keys to Vibrant Family Devotions


FamilyDevotions1-1024x733There is a gap between the desire most Christian parents have to disciple their children and practically carrying out this desire. Timothy Paul Jones has extensively written on this gap and how we can close it. I have not spoken with one parent who has said they do not want to disciple their children. Every parent, without fail, has a desire to disciple their children. But when I ask these same parents how they are carrying out discipleship in the home, they, without fail, begin their answer with a sigh and say, “Well…”

Why is it that we are unable to put our desires for family discipleship into practice? Why do we struggle to initiate family devotions? Why is it so hard for us to discuss a Person who we claim we are staking our lives on? Why is talking about the gospel so awkward for many families?

Family discipleship is not legalistic, nor flippant. We don’t want to go through the motions and we don’t want to be insignificant or irrelevant. Children and teens can quickly determine whether you truly believe what you are talking about. They have a sixth sense for identifying sincerity. We are not after check-list Christianity in implementing discipleship in the home. We are after biblical obedience through a vibrant and gospel-centered discipleship culture in the home. We want our children to see us as their parents as their primary disciple-makers.

But how can we bridge this gap between desire and practice? How can we implement such vibrant family devotions in the home? I believe bridging the gap between desire and practice in family devotions is found in initiative, simplicity, and discipline.

1. Vibrant family devotions require initiative

Simply put, in order for family discipleship to exist there has to come a breaking point in your desires when you finally say, “Enough is enough. Let’s do this.” Fathers, let’s resolve to no longer let our families be spiritually bankrupt and lacking in the home. We can do this by simply sitting with our families, opening the Bible, and reading. You have no idea how much your wife and children will appreciate your initiative to lead them in Christ. Just turn off the TV, open the Bible, and read. It doesn’t matter where you begin. You could begin with one of the gospels, such as Mark or John. Read one chapter each night. Read five verses! The length could not matter less. What matters is that you take the bull by the horns and end the spiritual hunger by feeding your family the sufficient and satisfying Word of God. Without your initiative, family discipleship will remain a waning desire in your heart.

2. Vibrant family devotions require simplicity

This is where the family discipleship train begins to derail. Dads think they need seminary degrees in order to disciple their families. When dads think of family devotions or family worship, they think of children sitting attentively at their feet or in mom’s lap by the fireplace. Dad will read a chapter of the Bible and then give a robust three point devotion. Then spontaneously the children will start singing a glorious hymn. Dad will close with a theologically rich prayer and the Cleavers will then head to bed.

This fanciful and New Earthy idea of family devotions is what leads to a hit and miss family devotion time in the home. When dads realize how impossible a perfect family devotion time really is, many become discouraged and fail to follow through with the initiative they began. But the good news for dads is that there is no such thing as a perfect family devotion time. Jesus died for all your failed family devotions. And he is sufficient in them as well.

One way to move forward through messy family devotions is simplicity in practice. Dads, you don’t need a seminary degree to disciple your families. No one is more qualified to train your children in the fear of God than you because you have been entrusted as the primary disciple-maker in their lives. So, keep your devotions simple. There is no need to complicate things. Read a passage. Read a verse. Make a brief comment about the text and explain the gospel. Pray for your family. If your family devotion time barely lasts five minutes, good! Family devotions do not require 30 minutes of exegetical expertise. By all means, if your family is suited to go deep and far, don’t hold back. But if formality and time are issues that are keeping you from leading a family devotion, just keep it simple. Read. Comment. Explain the gospel. Pray.

3. Vibrant family devotions require discipline

Like sticking to a diet, implementing vibrant family devotions requires discipline. Like a prize fighter who spends countless hours sweating and bleeding in the ring, dads must gather their families around the table or in the living room or bedroom to fight the good fight of the faith through simple devotions. But we must show up for the fight every single morning or night. Set a time to lead a devotion and meet that time every day. If you have to miss your morning devotion, do it in the evening. But don’t unintentionally miss a day. I encourage the families I minister to to lead family devotions five days per week, leaving the weekends off. As necessary as breakfast and dinner are in your home, make family devotions just as necessary. Let your attitude be: No matter what we do, we are going to read the Bible, pray, and discuss the gospel today. Even when you blow it; even when the kids aren’t paying attention; even when your toddler is playing in his food or pulling his sister’s hair, the practice of devoting time and energy to read the Bible, pray, and proclaim the gospel to your family with discipline will speak volumes to your kids. Even if they don’t understand everything, they will understand that this Jesus guy is super important and must be pretty awesome!


11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.

Quick Quotes: 10 Quotes from “Family Ministry Field Guide” by Timothy Paul Jones


Q-train-logoEvery Friday, I plan to share select quotes from a book I am either currently reading or have previously read. Few things have impacted my faith and life as much as reading has. This will be just one way I promote books and reading. These articles will be for the dedicated reader who loves to gain insight from as many books as possible. They will also be for the Christian looking for new books to read. I am always on the lookout for new books to read. Hopefully some things I share will lead you to pick up a new book. Finally, these articles will be for those of you too busy to read. Hopefully these quick quotes will provide you with easy access to books you would otherwise not have time to read. Each article will include a brief discussion of the author and his work followed by ten (or more) pertinent quotes from the book.


One of the major concerns within youth ministry is how to make connections. How can we connect the Ancient Near Eastern culture to children and teenagers living in 21st century post-modern America? How can we connect unchanging biblical truth with young people who are changing by the minute? But most importantly, how can we connect children’s ministry to youth ministry? And how can we connect all youth ministries to the rest of the local body?

Youth ministry in many churches is like a remote island. Once who arrive, you can’t get off. But once you leave, you are lost at sea. Most adults in the church, including parents, want to avoid youth ministry. Youth ministers are held responsible for the spiritual development of each student, while parents forsake their God-given responsibility to train their children in the way of the Lord. This is a problem in many churches; a problem many churches want to see solved.

According to author and professor Timothy Paul Jones, there is hope in the darkness of the disconnect. Jones believes the hope for the disconnect between youth and the church is family ministry. If churches want to learn about and implement family ministry in the life of your church, be prepared not for another program, but for a paradigm shift in the way you do ministry. In other words, if you are allergic to change, avoid Jones’ books.

Jones has written many books on family ministry. He teaches a course at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary called “Discipleship and Family Ministry,” a class I am currently taking. His book Family Ministry Field Guide is a great starting point if you desire to bridge the gap and connect the break between youth and the rest of the church.

81uAJdfC81LFamily Ministry Field Guide is a call to gospel-centered family ministry, an endeavor that if undertaken would no doubt radically transform the ministries in your church. But this change is not the result of Jones’ expertise, which he clearly possesses. It would be the result of the power of the gospel that is the focus of everything Jones calls for. Here are ten quotes to whet your appetite:

1. Family ministry is the process of intentionally and persistently coordinating a ministry’s proclamation and practices so that parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.

2. Family ministry is a process of equipping parents to engage actively in the discipleship of their children.

3. What does it profit our child to gain a baseball scholarship and yet never experience consistent prayer and devotional times with us, the parents?

4. If the scope of our vision for our lives or for the lives of our children shrinks any smaller than eternity, our thirst for eternity will drive us to attempt to fill the emptiness with a multitude of lesser goals and lower gods–including the fleeting happiness and success of our children.

5. Until the gospel drives even our scheduling priorities, families will continue to default to the values of the culture around them, and parents will remain too busy to engage in intentional discipleship with their children.

6. Think about gradually changing the culture of a ministry so that parental discipleship of children becomes the norm instead of the exception.

7. The people of God are shaped and defined by Jesus Christ himself, who unites individuals that the world would never dream of bringing together–but not by clustering them in categories of age or special interest or musical preference.

8. Gospel-centered family ministry has more to do with the unseen foundations than with the visible practices.

9. Family ministry cannot merely be a series of activities that a congregation does. It must flow from who the leaders and volunteers are with their families, day by day.

10. Our families must never become our identity or the identity that drives our ministries. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, he is your identity…His gospel has set an ax to the root of any pretense that we are who we are because of our families. To position anything other than this gospel as the focus of your ministry is to lapse into idolatry.


11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.