Discipling a 3-year-old

Today was youth Sunday at my church. Youth lead worship during the service, high school and college students shared testimonies about how God is growing them, our youth leader preached, and during the Sunday school hour the whole church met together for coffee, donuts, and a Q&A session with all the pastoral staff (who have all served as youth pastors at our church). It was really special.

The passage our youth leader preached on was Matthew 28:16-20, commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”. The central command in that passage is make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching.

The idea of making disciples was the main thrust of the whole morning, and it got me thinking: As a parent, my first job is to disciple my children. That is my call, it’s the biblical model, and particularly as a stay-at-home mom it is my 24/7 occupation. So, how do you disciple a 3-year-old? God has given parents clear instructions to follow, and examples to imitate from Scripture.

How to Disciple a 3-Year-Old - Pin and Blog.jpg

1) Teach them who God is and what pleases God.

  • “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

This is key. Parenting is not about us, it’s all about pointing our children to God. His Word, and obeying Him is what matters. God gave us our children, but we don’t get to keep them. They are not our possession, they are His, and this is what we must teach them.
We are to train our children up in His Way, not ours. We pray diligently that they would conform to His Way, not our way, because only God’s Way can redeem them.
Our children will be provoked to anger when we deviate from God’s Way too! We need to stay on His Way too, “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”. If we are not pursuing the discipline and instruction of the Lord in our own lives, how will we hope to teach our children? We will not be able to do it.
This leads to the next point…

2) Model what it looks like to live for God.
We will not be perfect in this, but the work of the Holy Spirit is to be continually transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. This is sanctification, and our children need to see this! This is the power of God practically on display in everyday, normal situations. We aren’t supposed to show our children how great we are, but how great our God is. How much more is this on display than when we mess up? It’s hard, it can be embarrassing, we may even need to apologize to our children, but what a clear illustration to our children that everyone needs a Savior! When we show our children our daily need for the truth of the gospel, and God’s grace we can agree with Paul when he said:

“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” – 1 Corinthians 4:14-16

Here Paul points to how he has been, and continues to be, an example of the gospel to these believers, through his teaching and through his life. That’s why he can urge them to imitate him! What a challenge! Live in such a way, parent, that you can say to your child, imitate me not because I’m great, but because I am imitating Jesus, and He is the Greatest! (1 Corinthians 11:1)

3) Discipline and correction. This is the not so fun one, because it’s hard!

As parents, we want our kids to be happy. When we discipline our children, they typically don’t express the emotion of happiness. When we do discipline our children we need to do it completely and biblically.
First, let’s remember that the two above points are the “why” behind disciplining our children. We discipline to point our children to God, and to expose how they are not doing what God would want them to do.
Second, let’s take a look at the perfect example of how God disciplines His Children. David’s life gives us a great example of this, especially in conjunction with his writings about God’s character in the Psalms. This is what David says of God in Psalm 103:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” – Psalm 103:8-13 (emphasis added)

In this same passage David speaks of God chiding and being angry, and showing deep, fatherly compassion for His children. Remember the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba? Yeah. Bad, sinful, messy. David was definitely NOT doing what pleased God. Selfishness, deceit, adultery, and murder! Not good.
God’s discipline of His beloved child, David, was also drastic. The child conceived through his adulterous act with Bathsheba became sick and died. Yet, David says that God is:

  • gracious
  • merciful
  • slow to anger
  • abounding in steadfast love
  • removes our transgressions far away
  • compassionate

This is the example we need to follow as parents. Discipline, yes. Exhortation, yes. Correction, yes. Follow through in consequences, yes. In conjunction with grace, mercy, compassion, and a love that is steadfast and “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). This is how God disciplines His children, and how we should discipline ours.



This is discipleship.
This is parenting.
This is what I am called to do. This is what you, parent, are called to do.
Yes, this is how to disciple a 3-year-old, and a 6-year-old, and a 11-year-old, and a 15-year-old.


Soli Deo Gloria!

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