A Neglected Discipleship Tool

by Zach Sparkman

wrench sets on a blue table

Supposedly, you can tell a lot about a man by the tools he owns. If you poked around my garage, you would quickly realize I am not a handyman; you would find only a few basic home improvement tools. But you would also find some bicycling tools that are a little unusual: tire levers (to remove a flat tire), a wheel spoke tool (to make the wheel true), CO2 adaptor and cartridges (to pump up a flat tire), and a chain cleaner (self-explanatory). Each of the tools, whether for home improvement or bicycling, serve a specific purpose and help finish a project. (I’ll let you decide what type of man I am based on this information!)

A father who desires to lead his family in the things of the Lord has several discipleship tools at his disposal. One tool that we often overlook is the Sunday worship service in the local church. The ministry of the local church is a major encouragement in your family’s spiritual growth (and yours too!), yet I’m afraid that many families don’t fully benefit from public worship.

There are several reasons for this. If we don’t attend worship consistently, we will obviously miss out on the opportunity for growth. There is also a temptation to view church as a “sanctified childcare” where you can drop your kids off and have a couple of hours child-free. You can talk with your adult friends and not have to worry about the kids at church. While it is helpful to have classes for younger children, we cannot view church as our spiritual babysitter.

The responsibility to teach children the truth about God primarily rests upon the father, not the local church (see Deut. 6, Col. 3:20-21, Eph. 6:1-4). Yet, a healthy, gospel-preaching local church can be a tremendous encouragement to growing godly families, especially if the father will intentionally utilize the worship service as a key discipleship tool. A wise, godly father will maximize the impact of the worship service on his family. Here are three ways to do this:

1. Teach them to engage in worship with the right attitude.

Children don’t naturally know what to do or how to behave in worship, so we have a huge opportunity to shape their beliefs about worshiping God from an early age. You can do this by cultivating the right attitude about worship. When you talk about church, do you complain about the length of service, musical choices, pastor’s preaching, etc.? Or are you excited about what is being sung, eager to receive the preaching of the Word, and looking forward to gathering each week? Your kids will learn from you the right attitude about worship.

Another way to shape their beliefs about worship is by preparing them for worship. Perhaps your church publishes the order of service a few days prior; if so, take the time to review the songs that will be sung or read through the preaching passage together. Taking just a few minutes on Saturday evening beforehand to prepare the whole family prioritizes worship.

You can also shape their beliefs by leading them in participation during worship. If you don’t sing, it is unlikely they will sing. If you don’t bring a Bible, they won’t either. They will learn how to worship through imitation. This shouldn’t be a burden, but a blessing! Seize the opportunity to help them learn how to engage in worship appropriately.

2. Teach them to listen well.

The Bible emphasizes being a hearer of the Word. It will be impossible to obey God’s Word if we don’t know it first. Yet, what many of us don’t realize is that listening well is a learned skill. Certainly, our desire to hear plays a big part of this—just talk to your child about ice cream versus cleaning their room and you’ll notice this difference quickly! But we can teach our children how to listen well.

One helpful tool is note-taking for kids. Being able to draw a picture about the sermon, jotting down the main verses used, and tallying the key words of the sermon help the child stay engaged. There are several free templates out there; I found this website’s designs to be helpful. These templates might be “beneath” teens, but the concept is still the same. Investing in a small notebook is a cheap but helpful purchase so they can note the sermon title, key passage and main points. In addition, they can jot down things that were interesting to them, things they have questions about, or things they want to grow in. This gives you an open road for discussion (see point #3 below).

Listening well is an incredibly valuable skill they will use for the rest of their lives. If they listen for repeated words, key verses, and the main points of the sermon outline, they will be able to receive the Word and assimilate it into their hearts more easily.

But once again, all these neat ideas will be undone if you are not modeling good listening. If you as the father have an open Bible and a notebook out to jot down key ideas, your kids will be more inclined to follow your example. What better virtue to instill in them than a desire to receive the Word of God?

3. Teach them to live out their faith.

The Bible does not just talk about hearing the word of God, it also praises those who act on what they hear. The danger of hearing without doing is spelled out in James 1:22- “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” We certainly don’t want to raise self-deceived children who think they are godly simply because they have biblical knowledge!

The goal of listening is application of truth to their lives, not accumulation of knowledge in their heads. Young children usually do not have the maturity to know how to apply the truths they learn. They need you to help them make those connections. One way to do this is to spend a few minutes during the Sunday lunch meal to review what was taught in the service that morning. It will be fresh on everyone’s minds, and if your kids are taking notes in church (or if they bring home a ream of papers from their class), you can use those as prompts to talk about their lesson.

And one last thing—if you are not willing to talk about how God worked in your life, it will be difficult to get your children to open up. Lead by example in this! Be specific with how you plan on living out the truth. Invite them to grow with you and check up on you (I don’t know why 8-year-olds make such good accountability partners, but they do…) By God’s grace, lead with transparency as you show them how a growing Christian lives out their faith.


You may have noticed that there is something repeated in each of the points above: the idea that children learn by imitation. This repetition is intentional. Your example is one of the most powerful teaching tools you have in your arsenal. Though that may be both frightening and inspiring, by God’s grace you can live out your faith and maximize the impact of the worship service on your family.

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