As a first-generation Christian, one of the big questions I’ve had is, “How do I actually be a Christian parent; what does that look like?” I’d never really seen it up-close and personal before, so naturally, I needed to figure out how it works. Turns out I’m not the only one asking that question as it appears there are a number of parents—dads in particular—who are struggling to make sense of how to disciple their children. Tad Thompson, lead pastor of Harvard Avenue Baptist Church in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, knows this, too. That’s why he’s written Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design, a short, helpful book showing parents what they need to know and how to get started.
Thompson moves quickly through the need for the book (the sad reality being that many parents are not taking part in discipling their children at all), to looking at our own hearts and walks with Christ before moving into the nitty gritty of the book. Chapter three, “The Kitchen,” is packed with what Thompson calls all the ingredients of family discipleship, broken down into seven categories:
- The Gospel
- The Big Story (Biblical Theology)
- The Big Truths (Systematic Theology)
- The Great Commission
- Spiritual Disicplines
- Christian Living
Each category offers its own challenges and insights, but “The Gospel” was perhaps the most penetrating as the author worked through a series of false gospels that exist within our culture, our churches and possibly even in our parenting. Personal improvement, peace and purpose, prosperity, “praying the prayer”… these counterfeits are all around our children and must be countered with a robust (and age appropriate) understanding and explanation of the true, biblical gospel. As he concludes the chapter, Thompson offers readers several practical helps to get started in building our own understanding of each category:
- Read the Bible from cover to cover in 90 days.
- Commit to reading one book from each of the seven categories above per year (he provides some great suggestions on p. 107).
- Journal or blog what you’re learning and discuss with other Christian parents.
- Commit to a local church that values expositional preaching and solid theological training.
- Recycle what you’re learning—share and model what you’re learning for others.
These are very helpful commitments, although option four might ruffle a few feathers (which is not a bad thing).
Perhaps helpful in this book is the “Now Make It Stick” section, a series of questions for personal reflection that allow the reader to take stock of how they’re doing, where they’re strong, where they’re weak and what they can do to change. And they’re extremely challenging questions. One that I had to chew on for a long while is the following:
“If your child made a list of the top-ten priorities in your home, what would it look like?” (p. 97)
Part of the difficulty with the question is that I’m not sure my kids could answer that because they’re so young (at the time of this writing, our daughters are four and one). The other is that I’m not certain I’d like all the answers.
The one challenge I found with Intentional Parenting is that there are times at which I simply felt overwhelmed by all the things I’m not doing well or at all; some of this feeling is simply because our children are so young as I mentioned, but some is simply due to my own laziness. Particularly challenging was an inventory question in the first chapter which asked how often we share our faith as a family with others. This is an area where we really need to improve and I need to be modelling.
Intentional Parenting is an extremely practical and insightful guide to family discipleship. Dads, you need to read this book—ask your wives to get you a copy for Fathers’ Day. Moms, your husbands need to read this book (but don’t spring it on them because they might take it badly). You need to read it, too. I trust it will be a gift to you and your family.
Title: Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design
Author: Tad Thompson
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2010)