The family unit is the core of any society. In a similar way, the redeemed family is the core of any church. Therefore, discipleship should address the biblical intent for entire families from the very moment of a person’s conversion. This concept is best embodied in the New Testament with the Greek word oikos, which means “household.”
The Emphasis on Households
A number of passages in the New Testament—called the “Household Codes” (or “Oikos Codes”) by Bible scholars—exhort believers specifically in family relationships. Such passages demonstrate that the life of the church centers around godly relationships within the household (Eph. 5:21–6:9; Col. 3:18–4:1; 1 Pet. 3:1–7). Even the way church leaders are selected shows that an elder must be a competent disciple maker among the members of his own family (1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9).
The book of Acts demonstrates that effective church planting and disciple making revolved around the oikos (Acts 11:14; 16:15–34; 18:8). Although it’s true that each individual must consciously follow Jesus, the gospel is relational. It impacts entire families.
“Although it’s true that each individual
must consciously follow Jesus,
the gospel is relational.
It impacts entire families.”
Hard Lessons Learned
When I first came to Central Asia twenty-three years ago, I knew everything. I knew how I should contextually bring the gospel the people group God sent me to engage, and I confidently moved ahead as an expert in doing so. I even experienced the “success” of planting a new church just after my first term in a Muslim culture, or so I thought.
Eventually “Mr. Success” saw all of his initial disciples fall away, mainly because they struggled to be good husbands and fathers. This trend continued through the years. On one occasion, after baptizing a man in a scenic lake, I heard his unbelieving wife tell me about how my new “convert” regularly beat her.
It’s amazing how a few doses of reality deflate our pride to enable us to hear what God is trying to teach. I finally started listening to what the new believers around me struggled with. They wanted to follow Jesus. They even wanted to see their relatives, friends, and neighbors come to Christ. They wanted to see the church established, but they couldn’t get along with their spouses. They didn’t know how to help their children who were constantly being teased because they “belonged to a cult.”
It was around this time I realized what disciple making should encompass and how messy it can be. It’s natural for us to long for formulas. But implementing discipleship via fill-in-the-blank materials devoid of genuine relationships had proven ineffective. Those materials conveniently allowed me to complete statistical reports, but they didn’t move me in the direction of making disciples who obeyed everything Jesus commanded. As an old-timer, I’ve seen programs come and go, but certain things remain unchanged in the primary task to which we are called.
Everyone seems to love lists, so here’s my list on discipling new believers to have healthy family relationships:
- It’s still about reading the Bible.
New believers must be grounded in Scripture above all things. If they don’t know the Bible, they won’t know God’s will for marriage, family, church, doctrine, or anything else. Although sharing stories can be very effective, particularly for the evangelism process, believers need to either read or hear the Bible. Strong families result when fathers and mothers are following Christ. And the only way they can follow Christ is to know his word.
- It’s still about applying the Bible.
As new believers read and truly study the Bible, they become aware of the impact its application has on daily life. The Holy Spirit empowers the believer to live the life of a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), and that includes within their marriage and family relationships. The Bible teaches Spirit-filled believers that—because Christ forgave them—God can empower them to forgive others. They can even forgive other family members who have inflicted deep emotional or physical wounds. God can help them train their children in the ways of Christ. Husbands and wives can relate to one another in ways that are different from their culture’s traditions if they apply the Word to their lives.
- It’s still about reading and applying the Bible in the context of a local church.
Discipling new believers and new believing families is most effective in the context of the incubator of the body of Christ: the local church. Accountability and encouragement intensify in a secure, nonjudgmental, and loving community.
“When I started to focus more on Scripture and relationships rather than methods and programs, I started to see long-lasting, faithful disciples.”
This list may seem rather boring. There’s no silver bullet here. But the truth is, when I started to focus more on Scripture and relationships rather than methods and programs, I started to see long-lasting, faithful disciples succeed in the biblical mandate for marriages and families. People were growing in godliness.
Recently, one close friend and church planter sent me a text message. He wrote, “Todd, my ten-year-old daughter Dinara just shared the gospel from Genesis to Revelation with her whole class of thirty-five students! Our whole family is so happy!”
So was I.