The truth is, I’ve never been described as festive. In fact, one of my favorite, unexpected wedding gifts (we all get them right?) is a platter we received that reads, “Happy Everything,” and is decorated to represent almost every major holiday. Holiday decor, check! I’m just not into it—or maybe I should say, I wasn’t into it. Now, I find myself becoming more and more festive, you could say. While not necessarily the typical American holidays, I’m embracing the seasons of the Church because I am seeing more clearly, through the eyes of my children, the wonders that point us to our beloved Savior.
These three little girls whom I dearly love are filled with wonder and awe as trimmings go up and lights shine bright throughout the neighborhoods. Last year, at the request of our 3-year-old, we decorated our first Christmas tree in almost 10 years of marriage. I’ve realized that when viewed through the lens of the gospel, these symbols of Christmas—ever-living trees, twinkling lights, giving and receiving gifts—can lead us to one of the most joyous seasons of parenting as we allow ourselves to become enchanted by Emmanuel, God with us.
I am seeing more clearly, through the eyes of my children, the wonders that point us to our beloved Savior.
Advent isn’t the only season in the Church Calendar that is ripe with family discipleship opportunities, and you can find ideas for each season in our Seasons book. So far for my family, Advent seems to be the easiest to engage. Advent stands out as the season of wonder because everything around us changes. From elevator music in restaurants and stores, to the smells of chestnuts and peppermint in the air, to lights all around the city, our senses become immersed in this season. It is filled to the brim with opportunities to join in on our children’s sense of wonder and to lead them to the glory of Jesus as the anticipation of Christmas grows day by day. There are as many different ways to approach Advent as there are families, since each family has its own rhythm and routines, but I want to give you a few practical ways to leverage this season for the good of your family and the glory of Jesus through our family discipleship framework of time, moments and milestones.
Family discipleship time is that time in your days and weeks when you plan to worship with your family. This time might include Scripture memorization, prayer, teaching from the Word, singing hymns, making crafts or many other activities. It may last just five minutes because you have three kids under 3. It may last 20 minutes before you realize the kids have fallen asleep somewhere along the way. It may turn from intentional time to leveraging moments as you end up needing to dispense discipline. It will not only vary from family to family, but also for your own family as it grows and changes. Three ways to leverage intentional time are to make a plan, execute that plan and endure the inevitable awkward moments.
What might be the most difficult part of family discipleship—planning—is made easier during Advent due to the wealth of good resources out there for families. My advice is to pick one to try this year, keep it simple and don’t set your expectations too high. If you love it, that’s great, and if not, try something new next year. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your family by buying three different Advent guides and trying to do each one’s reading and activities for all 24 days leading up to Christmas Eve. In an already-busy season, this will likely lead to disappointment and frustration, neither of which is conducive to enjoyable or consistent family discipleship time.
Don’t let the awkward moments discourage you from continuing to pursue family discipleship time.
You probably already know that there is rarely a convenient time in your day or week to sit down as an entire family and learn about God together. Intentional time requires strategy, effort and persistence. If you have had a difficult time keeping up a rhythm of intentional time with your family, just plan to do an Advent reading or activity once a week. Our Seasons book includes a Scripture passage, devotional, reflection questions, song and prayer for each week. Think about the times you are most often all together and start there. Maybe it’s dinner on a particular night as you gather around the table (the place in our home where my kids sit down for the longest amount of time). You might start your bedtime routines a few minutes earlier to incorporate family discipleship time before the kids go to sleep, or use your time in the car (where your kids have nowhere else to go) to listen to an audio version of the Bible or talk through an Advent devotional together. If you already have a consistent rhythm, stick to that rhythm and simply shift your focus to the themes of Advent: yearning, expectancy, hopefulness and celebration.
No matter where or when you schedule your family discipleship time, some awkwardness is inevitable. Awkward silences. Awkward questions. Awkward potty breaks. To see intentional time through requires patience, the humility to answer questions with, “I’m not sure. Let’s study that together and find the answer,” the ability to laugh with your kids and the willingness to end early when needed and start fresh the next day. Especially for the Type A moms and dads out there, letting go of the desire to answer every question in the book may be a difficult thing. As you pursue this courageous feat, your own sin and need for Jesus may come to the surface. This is good for your children to see! When it happens, acknowledge it and don’t let the awkward moments discourage you from continuing to pursue family discipleship time.
Family discipleship moments are those spontaneous times in your day that you capture and leverage for the gospel. Children are captivated by Christmas, inundated by the sights, smells and sounds of the season, and there will surely be no shortage of moments to focus their curious little minds on Jesus.
Though moments are usually spontaneous, you can prepare your heart and mind for the moments that seem most likely to present themselves on any given day. You know your children best. What kinds of questions do you anticipate they will ask? Are there friendships or relationships within your family that will bring about discipleship moments? Are your children’s hearts especially tender toward those in need? Maybe they’re really into Santa and his elves. Or, if your kids are like mine, they love presents and anticipating what is under the tree. Consider how you can point them away from consumerism and entitlement by pointing them toward the greatest gift they’ll ever receive. Do your best to plan for these conversations so that you are ready to respond with truth and foster a Jesus-centered Christmas.
One of the most common types of family discipleship moments are the ones centered around discipline and training. Our children won’t understand just how good a gift Jesus is for us unless they understand they are sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Consider how your discipline conversations can teach your children the truth of the gospel. And make sure they know that mom and dad need a Savior, too. What better season for us to explain to our children our own need for Jesus as we parent imperfectly? Apologize to your children when you lose your cool, admit your own mistakes to them and model asking forgiveness, both from them and from the Lord.
Family discipleship milestones are events in the life of a child that can be marked and held as an Ebenezer to remind them of God’s faithfulness in the years to come. I’d venture to say that most of us have very memorable Christmas seasons in our past. Now, as parents, we get to shape the Christmas memories of our children. There are many ways to make Advent a season that is consistently marked throughout the years as a family milestone.
Advent is a great season to start creating habits within your family for the seasons to come.
Think through the traditions that already exist in your family, and consider how you might look at those traditions through the lenses of the gospel, consistently pointing your children toward Christ. If you don’t have many family traditions, consider beginning a new one this year that will be remembered as a milestone for years to come. Here are just a few examples:
- Pick out a tree together and decorate it while talking about the symbolic nature of the evergreen tree.
- Make ornaments that remind each family member of something God has taught you this year. Imagine if you did this for 10 years and were able to look back on the many specific things that God taught each family member over that decade.
- Find a way to serve, either in your church or city. Serving is a great opportunity to talk to your kids about God’s provision for you and for those around you who are in need, as well as the joy that comes not only from receiving gifts but from giving. Some ways to serve in DFW are listed at the end of this article.
- Let your kids open one gift on Christmas Eve, to build anticipation and expectation for Christmas morning. Talk about how all of heaven must have felt knowing that Jesus was about to be born.
But don’t feel like you have to do something just because “it’s tradition.” Advent milestones don’t have to stay the same each year. It’s not about ongoing traditions as much as it is about making memories and marking those for remembrance. In the same way that your family discipleship time will change as your family changes, milestones can evolve. So don’t stress out about having to instill the perfect ongoing tradition. You can get creative each year and try something new that better fits your family.
Invite Your Children Into the Story
The hard truth I often face is that my children are being discipled whether it’s intentional on my part or not. By sheer proximity and nature, as parents, we are making disciples of our children. Kids are little followers, and they’ve been given to us for us to lead. It’s never too late to start or to grow in this area. If you’re just beginning to create rhythms of discipleship in your family, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Collaborate with your community and hold one another accountable. Advent is a great season to start creating habits within your family for the seasons to come.
The pursuit of family discipleship during Advent isn’t just for our kids; it is for us, too. There are few greater joys as a parent than sharing the story of Jesus coming to rescue the world with our children. Invite them into the story! Help turn their eyes toward the most wonderful gift they have in Jesus. As we delight in them delighting, we are reminded of how the Father delights in us, His dear children to whom he has given His Son. Whether you’re 5 years old, 45 or 95, Advent inspires awe and wonder year after year.
Places to Serve