Adam Kareus | Associate Pastor
River Valley Community Church
Fort Smith, Arkansas
4:30 in the morning in a parked truck outside of a fitness center, this was where I first encountered discipleship. My father worked out every morning before work at our local fitness center. And since he liked to be at work early, he was usually one of the first people inside the fitness center when it opened up at 5 am. It was his routine to do his quiet time and Scripture memory while he waited for the doors to open. So when twelve-year-old me, his fourth son, expressed interest in growing in my relationship with God, my dad invited me along.
So there I was, memorizing Scripture for the first time and getting ready to work out. It was my first exposure to the NavPress’s Topical Memory System, one I still use today. It was my first exposure to having a set apart time to dedicate to the Lord, which is a habit that I continue today (minus the working out at 5 am). Many patterns for my devotional life were started in a truck, waiting in a fitness center parking lot.
SON IN THE FAITH—PAUL TO TIMOTHY AND TITUS
There is a reason that Paul calls Timothy and Titus his sons in the faith (1 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4). It is that discipling and training the next generation is akin to parenting. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne describes it like this: “Training is parenting. It’s loving someone enough to want to see him or her grow and flourish, and being prepared to put in the long-term, faithful work that will (in God’s mercy) see that happen.” If we care about the next generation in the faith, then we should care for them like parents.
This is a call for a relational approach to discipleship. It is in this relationship that more than information alone is transmitted. You can have the privilege, honor, and responsibility to help guide a person through life. In a very real way, this is where theology meets real life. This close relationship is also “a vehicle for one of the key elements of Paul’s training of Timothy—imitation.” We are not training people in just knowledge, but also in how that knowledge is lived out. We are training Christians in a way of life.
THE NATURAL FLOW
This training should naturally happen in our homes. Fathers and mothers should be passing down the “good deposit” to their children, pressing on them the truth of who God is and His love for them. There should be Bible reading and discussion happening in every Christian home. There needs to be family worship happening, which is a “neglected grace” according to Jason Helopoulos. The church is for supporting and encouraging the role of the parent as teacher and imparter of biblical truth. The church comes alongside families, helping and guiding, but never replacing.
This sounds daunting to many parents. They are pulled in numerous directions; they have responsibilities for work, as well as all the extra-curricular activities the kids are involved in. But this shouldn’t be daunting. It should be a natural outflow of your life in Christ. Start small, start reading the Bible and praying with your kids and as a family. Fold in other elements as they work and you are able. The main point is to not be passive in your children’s spiritual development. Be active, be aware, be present.
NOT ONLY BIOLOGICAL
The objections or questions usually follow along the lines of “what about those who don’t live in a Christian home?” It is then the responsibility of their spiritual family to make sure they are loved and discipled. Just as Paul counted Timothy and Titus as sons in the faith, so there are people we should bring under our care and count them as sons or daughters. The church as a whole needs to develop a concern and care for those who need guidance. And this can happen in many different ways. Here are just a few of them.
The youth group of the church is a natural place for those who are young to be connected to those who are older. Older volunteers give their time and energy to be there for the youth, and relationships that nurture the younger members of the church should be the natural outgrowth. This means that there needs to be an emphasis on discipleship in your youth group. Each student should have the opportunity to walk through life with someone who is more mature. This might be the youth pastor or one of the volunteers that have been trained to invest in student’s lives. This is especially important for those who do not come from a Christian home. They need someone to invest in their lives.
Intentional discipleship is another place where this happens. When I say intentional discipleship, I am thinking of either one-on-one or one-on-a-few meetings, where someone is intentionally investing in someone else so that he or she can grow in the faith. This usually happens when walking through material designed for this purpose. My church uses Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials. We have used this for about two years now, and there is now a large percentage of our church who have either gone through the material and are now leading others or who have gone through it and are looking for others to lead through it. Material such as this is good because it does emphasize that each one of us is a “link in the chain.”Small Groups can be another way in which people are cared for as part of a family. Those who are lacking a Christian family can find one in a small group. They live life together, share together, pray together, and study the Bible together. From these small
Small Groups can be another way in which people are cared for as part of a family. Those who are lacking a Christian family can find one in a small group. They live life together, share together, pray together, and study the Bible together. From these small groups deeper relationships can spring. In this sense, the church is what the church is supposed to be as it invests in small groups.
Ed Shaw says, “When the church feels like a family, I can cope with not ever having my own partner and children.” He is addressing a different issue, but the truth of this statement holds for any number of scenarios. When the church grasps hold of the reality that it is the family of believers and looks after each other as such, people are taken care of, and they don’t have to look elsewhere for what they think they need. When the church is a family, it makes sure that the younger members are taken care of and are taught what they need to know. When the church is a family, it makes sure that the individual families that compose it are connected and equipped to lead their families as part of the larger Christian family. When the church is a family, it can fill in the gaps for those who don’t have a father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, or cousins. When the church is a family, all members can look back at “sons in the faith” and “fathers in the faith” and “mothers in the faith” and “daughters in the faith.”
I will always remember my father taking the time to lead me in the faith, not just when I came to know Christ but when I expressed interest in growing in Christ. And this should be the natural flow. In a perfect world, this would be how all people came to know Christ. Parents would be leading them and inviting them along to follow their example. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Sin has tainted all of our relationships and all that we touch. So the church, the light-bearer, needs to step up. The church needs to educate and guide families in how to lead within the family. The church needs to fill the gaps when a father or mother is not present. And the church needs to not just say they are a family, they need to be the family of God.
 Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine (Kingsford, Australia: Matthias, 2009), 75.
 Ibid., 72.
 Jason Helopoulos, A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus,
 Ed Shaw, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church (Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity, 2015), 48.
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