Six Principles for Discipling Children

I am thankful for the ministry of Awana, church based program which is being used to reach 4 million kids every week in over 120 countries. Awana is a discipleship program that gives children and youth from every background the opportunity to know, love and serve Jesus for a lifetime. God is the Awana leaders and volunteers to bless children in a way that will impact them for a lifetime!

Awana volunteers recognize that the most strategic time in a person’s life to impart spiritual truth is during their childhood. How do we pass on spiritual truth to our children? Deuteronomy 6 provides the answer. Here we discover six biblical principles for discipling children.

Deuteronomy 6 is primarily an exposition of the 1st commandment, “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Deut. 5:7). The very first thing God wants His people to know is that there is one true God, and He alone is worthy of our worship and service.

  1. Follow the biblical pattern (1-3). Moses begins my showing us the biblical pattern for discipleship. Pass it on! To make disciples, we pass on what we have learned to others. Moses taught the parents. The parents were responsible for teaching their children and grandchildren. And the good results of passing on this spiritual truth is that the recipients will have long life (v. 2) and lots of blessing (v. 3).
  2. Focus attention on the one true God (4). Verses are known as the “Shema,” based on the Hebrew word, “Hear.” But the word doesn’t just mean “hear with your ears,” but respond to what you hear with your heart, mind and body.” Verse four declares the uniqueness of the one, true God. The words, “Yahweh is one (achad), are better translated, “Yahweh alone!” Daniel Block writes, “This is a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment in response to the question, ‘Who is the God of Israel?’” (JETS 2004).
  3. Be passionate in your love for God (5). If you are not passionate in your love for God, don’t expect your children to be excited and passionate about God. Verse 5 calls for an all-encompassing love for God. We are to love God with all our heart (intention or will), soul (our whole self) and our might (the superlative degree of commitment. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 in answer to the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the law” (Matt. 22:37).
  4. Recognize the importance of repetition (6-9). What is teaching? The Hebrew word used in verse six means “repeat.” Teaching is helping others to learn through a process of repetition. People sometimes ask me how I learned the Bible. It was by repeatedly studying and reviewing the truths of God’s Word. I believe that repetition with variety is the key t learning. Moses gives us two examples of the element of variety.

The first is to inscribe God’s Word on your hand and forehead. These verses are the basis for the Jewish tradition of putting a phylactery or teffilin (plural for tefillah, “prayer”) on their forehead and arm. This is a visual and ongoing reminder that all we do should be done in the light of His commandments. Putting God’s Word on your forehead, right between your eyes, places is near your mind and in the forefront of your memory.

The second example of variety in teaching is to put God’s word on the mezuzah (literally “doorpost) of your house and gates. This serves as a constant reminder that as we go out of our homes and into the city, we are to obey God’s commandments.

In Jewish tradition, these instructions are applied literally, as they put on their phylactery (a little black box containing a portion of Scripture) and install the mezuzah (a little tube containing a portion of Scripture) at the entrance of their homes. Another way to apply these verses is to have a box of memory cards which are regularly posted on the refrigerator and bathroom mirror for the purposes of remembering and reviewing Scripture.

  1. Emphasize the holy triad (10-19). Three things rise to the top of Moses’ list for training disciples: First, “remember God” (10-12). Forgetfulness of Yahweh’s goodness is the pathway to disobedience and failure. Here Moses offers a warning that success and prosperity can be dangerous to your spiritual life if you don’t remember that God is the source of these blessings! A famous Jewish rabbi said, “Forgetfulness leads to exile. Remembrance is the key to redemption.”

Second, “Fear God” (13-16). To “fear God” means to know who He is and what He expects of His people. The “fear of God” is a reverence and respect for God that leads us to obey His commandments. Moses warns his people to “fear God” by not becoming entangled with the false gods of Canaan or the secular culture.

Third, “Obey God” (17-19). Be diligent to obey God!  As the grand old hymn reminds us, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

  1. Embrace strategic opportunities (20-25). Discipling children requires embracing teachable moments. A teachable moment is when a child asks a question. Drop everything and respond! Moses instructs parents to teach what God has done in history (21-23). Then what God has revealed in his Word (24-25). Finally, teach what God has promised (24). Moses says that our obedience doesn’t just please God, it is the key to our survival. Obedience is for “our good” and for “our life.”

Since I have not really “taught” until I have repeated, here is a summary of six principles from Deuteronomy 6 for discipling children:

  • Follow the biblical pattern of passing what you have learned on to others.
  • Focus children’s attention on the one true God as revealed in Jesus.
  • Be passionate in your own love for God. You can’t teach what you aren’t doing.
  • Recognize the importance of repetition. If you are not repeating, you are not teaching! “Repetition with variety is the key to learning.”
  • Emphasize the holy triad of remembering, fearing and obeying God.
  • Embrace strategic opportunities, like teachable moments when a child’s mind is open and their hearts are tender.

After visiting my wife’s family in Atlanta, Georgia, we were traveling by metro train to the airport. A few stops after we boarded the train, a group of young boys riding their electric scooters got on and began riding up and down the aisle and verbally abusing the passengers. Alerted by the train security, the police boarded the train a few stops later and escorted the boys off the train. It was sad to see a group of who were headed for a lifetime of trouble and possibly jail since they had not been taught the truths of God’s Word. How different their lives might be if they had been discipled through the ministry of AWANA!

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