A Model for Family Discipleship

by Jenny Black on

Articles 10 min read
Matthew 28:19–20

Discipleship. As believers in Jesus, we are commanded to do it but what exactly does it entail? In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus gave the Great Commission where He said,  

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  

 According to Jesus’ words, there seem to be five essential components of discipleship.  

  1. Disciples Make Disciples 

  2. Of all People Groups 

  3. Baptizing them in the singular name of a Triune God  

  4. Teaching them to obey His Word

  5. As His Spirit enables them and abides in them forever 

When we focus on each component of discipleship, we understand that disciples are made when Jesus’ followers teach His Word to people in hopes that they will profess faith in the one and only true God, which will overflow into a life of obedience to His commands, starting with baptism and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  

 So, what would that look like in a family setting?  

Basically,  

1. You teach them God’s Word through Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16)

2. So that they will profess faith in Jesus (Romans 10:9)

3. Then God’s Spirit, who is always with them, will enable them to obey Jesus’ commands as they remember His Word (John 14:26)

Notice that your primary role, as a parent, is to teach your children God’s Word (Deuteronomy 6:7). Their salvation and ability to obey His Word is solely in the hands of the Holy Spirit. You may be feeling relieved to know your part is teaching your children what the Bible says. You should! However, teaching your children Scripture will require more than just reading the text, or giving a detailed lecture on a passage. True comprehension happens when the student can move beyond theory into practice. 

There is a simple yet successful teaching method that research has shown is one of the most effective teaching strategies to date. It’s referred to as the “I Do-We Do-You Do” Teaching Method.

In this method, the teacher demonstrates the skill for the student first, then after having observed, the student attempts to perform the new skill with the assistance and encouragement of his or her teacher. The final step of the method is complete once the student completes the task on his or her own without any assistance.   

This is the same method Jesus used as He discipled the disciples. He invited the disciples to walk alongside Him as He demonstrated a life of obedience to the Father. As they watched Jesus, He invited them to join Him in the ministry work, and before He ascended to heaven, He commanded them to continue in the work without Him being physically present. Of course, one very important difference is that Jesus left us with His Holy Spirit who enables us to do the ministry work He calls us to, so we are never truly doing it on our own. So, as we aim to disciple our children there is no better method to implement than the I Do-We Do-You Do method that Jesus modeled for us.  

Let’s break down each step and discuss how it would work in family discipleship.

The first step of the I Do-We Do-You Do method is I Do. In this step, I Do by living like I want them to. The first way our children will learn what it means to be a disciple is by witnessing us reading the Bible and applying it to our own lives. Often, as parents, we want to skip this step.  We often give rules to our children that we don’t obey personally and excuse our participation by saying, "Do as I say, not as I do.” They need to take their vitamins, get 8 hours of sleep, and eat their vegetables, but we act like we don’t need to anymore because we paid our dues by doing these things when we were their age. However, discipleship practices what it preaches. This means it is essential for us to model for our children by doing the very thing we want them to do. 

Pause to Reflect: 

  • How often do you take time to read God’s Word? 

  • Do your words and actions demonstrate you are living in obedience to His Word?

  • In what ways are you living the example you want your children to follow? In what ways do you want to grow in this? 

I’ll never forget when my daughter Caroline was about 4 years old and she said, “I can’t wait to be a mommy one day.” My heart melted that she saw something in me that she wanted to become. Then she continued in her thought, “So I can eat as much sugar as I want.” At that moment I realized I wasn’t living the example I wanted my daughter to follow. They are watching and learning from us all the time. What are you modeling? It’s not about perfection. It’s a matter of affection. Caroline obviously saw my affection for sweet treats, which compelled her to want to follow me in eating dessert throughout the day without a care in the world. But was my affection for Jesus displayed as clearly in my life as my love for sugar? 

As parents who desperately want to train our children up in the way they should go, we need to understand that prioritizing our walk with Jesus is essentially the most powerful discipleship tool we have to offer anyone, most especially our children. We must aim to make Jesus our number one affection, above our love for anything or anyone. 

There are five spiritual disciplines we can implement if we want to ensure Jesus is our first priority and greatest love.  

I Do Occurs When I Engage in:

  1. Bible Study - Reading the Bible consistently to know what the Lord has said. 

  2. Prayer - Spending time in prayer as I seek the Holy Spirit for wisdom and power to walk in obedience to God’s Word.

  3. Worship - Giving all my adoration and affection to God alone. 

  4. Serving - Following the life of Jesus in obedience and selfless surrender.

  5. Connecting - Living life with a biblical community for accountability, encouragement, and greater impact. 

As I practice these five spiritual disciplines, with a genuine desire to grow in my love for Jesus, I am discipling my children by giving them an example to follow.  

The second step of the I-Do-We Do-You Do method is We Do. In this step, we continue with the same spiritual disciplines we were employing personally, only this time we invite our children to join us in them. We Do always takes two.  

We Do Occurs When We Invite Our Children to: 

  1. Study the Bible together 

  2. Pray to God together 

  3. Worship our Lord together 

  4. Serve others together with our gifts 

  5. Connect with our biblical community together 

You Do is the final step in the I Do-We Do-You Do method, and it is the most difficult one for the teacher because it requires you to allow the student to work through the following on his or her own. You Do only occurs by the Holy Spirit living inside of you, or in this case inside of your children. 

Thankfully, even when your children get to this phase of discipleship, if they are believers, they are promised they will never technically do anything alone, as they are indwelled with the Holy Spirit!   

As you move into this final stage of discipleship, you are focusing on the same five spiritual disciplines you did in the I Do-We Do stages, but now there is an added focus on equipping your child to engage in them on their own as well. 

 You Do Occurs When They: 

  1. Study their Bible 

  2. Pray to God themselves

  3. Worship the Lord for themselves

  4. Serve others with their gifts 

  5. Connect with their biblical community 

Your role in this stage of discipleship is still to model by doing it yourself and inviting them to join you in what you are doing. You encourage them to have ownership in their walk with the Lord by encouraging them to prioritize these disciplines and holding them accountable to be consistent in them, but ultimately you have no control over the depth to which they do things. 

Think about the I Do-We Do-You Do Discipleship Process as an addition sentence that keeps adding up to more, not less. 

You start by following Jesus, yourself.   

 I Do 

Then you add an invitation for them to find out about and ultimately follow Jesus with you, placing their faith in Jesus and being baptized. 

 I Do + We Do 

Then you add encouragement for them to take ownership in their walk with Jesus, personally. Once they place their faith in Jesus, they are equipped to study the Bible and obey His Word.  

I Do + We Do + You Do 

All the while you are continuing to seek Jesus personally and invite them to join you in Kingdom work and worship of the King. In this stage of learning, they are beginning to disciple others by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 I Do + We Do + You Do + I Do + We Do + You Do + I Do.... 

There is no season in family discipleship where you are free to stop seeking the Lord personally or inviting others to join you, even when they are able to seek God on their own. This is what the body of Christ does. We share our Christian journey together continually. 

In addition, we are aiming to equip our children to make disciples by continuing in the disciple-making process that starts with them but culminates in their inviting others to join them in the journey to follow Jesus and obey His commands. 

About the Author


Jenny Black (Master of Social Work, The University of Texas at Arlington) is the Central Counseling Director and Women's Minister at Central Bible Church.