Discipling Your Teen

Our church has embraced the New City Catechism for Kids as a platform for family discipleship.  It is an incredibly useful too but it is specifically aimed at ages 4-11.  The questions and answers in the NCC are timeless, profound, and worthy of study by any Christian seeking to grow in their understanding of God, humanity, sin and salvation.  However, the resource is aimed at children. This leaves the obvious question, what about older children?  What is available to help me disciple my teen?  

There are some great resources out there, but here’s the secret: None of them will work alone. Teens are in an interesting stage in their development, they are in the process where their brain is deciding what is valuable and what is not.  The things that their brain finds valuable it will keep, and the things it doesn’t it dumps.  They are in the process of creating paths in the forest of their brains that their thoughts will walk on for the rest of their lives.  This gives us a great opportunity, especially when we couple that with the responsibility we have been given, by God, to raise and train our teen children.  If we engage in discipling our teens now, it sets patterns and pathways in their brains that will exist for life, but the opposite is also true, if we neglect to engage.  We will  miss the chance to help set their feet on the Rock, who is Jesus, and set a solid  pattern of following HIm.  

As we all know, it is challenging (to say the least) dealing with teens.  They can be an emotional minefield.  It sometimes feels like you can set one wrong step or phrase something the wrong way and the whole home explodes!  Other times it seems like if you are not speaking to them from the inside of their phone they can’t hear or acknowledge you no matter how loud you get or what you say.  It is challenging to parent in this stage of development, but here’s the deal: It’s just as challenging, if not more so, for them to cope with themselves in this stage of their life.  That’s why God put you in this position and gave you the sacred role of parent (or grandparent, or big brother or sister).  The good news is that you are the most influential person in their life. You spend more time with them, you are the voice that they are used to hearing from childhood, you are the one who pays the bills and provides them with every necessity for life on this planet.  You are the one they can cry to, yell at, laugh with and argue with safely.  You are in the perfect place to disciple your teen.  So how do you do this?  

First of all, we need to realize that discipleship is not something we do TO our teens and it’s not something we do FOR our teens.  It is something we do WITH our teens.  They are in a massive modeling phase of development, they are learning how to do life based on what they see happening around them.  They try new things, from clothing to hair styles. They are looking for ways to live and grow, they are setting the foundation for the rest of their lives.  This is the time they most need you to influence them, and the time they are most ready to challenge you!  They need to be discipled by you, alongside you.  God loves us and has provided a framework for family discipleship in His word, and made it easy to understand.  The doing part will be challenging, but He makes it abundantly clear how we should proceed.

Deuteronomy 6:5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. 7 Repeat them to your children.Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol[b] on your forehead.[c] 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.

Here we see the key to parent discipleship.  Step by step it is

  1. Love the Lord your God.  You have to love God, teens can sniff out a phony a mile away.  If God does not have priority in your life, you will fail at making Him a priority in their life.  
  2. Keep His Word in your heart.  If you treasure the Word of God, they will see that.  
  3. Repetition is key.  This is not a one time talk.  This will happen over and over.
  4. Bring it into every part of your life.  Talk to your teens about everything all the time.  When you are doing the bills for the month, tell them about how and why you prioritize what you spend your money on and how that is drive by your relationship with Jesus.  When you are cleaning with them relate it to an aspect of something God is showing you. (step 1 and 2 will give the Holy Spirit plenty of ammo to fuel these conversations!)
  5. Let them see how your relationship with God marks your life.  This is pivotal in their faith life, not the telling, but the seeing!  Jesus didn’t tell His disciples to come and hear, He told them to come and see.  To walk with Him and to see, and participate with him in His mission.
  6. Let them know that your houshold is set up and governed by your love for God and is lived in the light of His word.  Your rules, your decisions, your consequences or punishments are all opportunities to show your teen what it is to follow God.

At this point you (and I) are likely saying: “There is no way I can do this!”,  “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t do these things well right now!”.  You are right. you are not perfect, you are not good enough, you will fail and you will model the wrong things occasionally.  But remember this, you are not discipling them to be perfect (which isn’t possible anyway) you are discipling them to follow Jesus, which is all about repentance, grace and love.  Having the conversation about how you messed up and asking for forgiveness from your teen will do more for them than the 40 days of perfection you aren’t ever going to pull off anyway!  You are the most important voice they have in their life, and you are shaping how they will do life from this point on.  Remember, you are not doing this alone!  You can lean on a spouse, pastor, friend, but most importantly you will have the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  You will probably find your relationship with Jesus growing in ways you have never experienced as you disciple your teen, nothing spurs Godly growth like trying to lead others…it’s probably the need for constant repentance.   That is where I seem to live as a parent.  

So how does this relate to the New City Catechism?  Use the questions to start conversations with your teens, read the verses with your family, and talk about them together.  You have a week with each question so try and find ways this week’s question and answer relates to your life in ways you can share with your teen. (Pro Tip: the NCC app has commentary on each questions that will help you to understand and apply what your family is learning!)  Ask them to find ways it relates to their life, and really listen to their answers.  It will give you a window into who they are becoming and a chance to get to know them better.  After all we and our teens both have the promise from God that if we seek Him, we will find Him, and if we ask He will answer.  Knock on His door and ask Him to inspire you and your teen. You are going to engage in an adventure that will last far longer than you will ever see, the opportunity you have now will influence your family long after you are gone, the patterns you set now will last for generations. Remember, you were chosen, by God, for this task at this time and He will lead and guide you as you seek to disciple your teen.