Dads, as 2024 is kicking off, how’s your schedule looking? As various work commitments, travel plans, and children’s activities fill up slots, have you been able to protect time for what’s most important?
My wife Candice and I recently finished a time of planning for the year ahead. We talked through priorities for the coming year in the categories of travel, home improvement, and more. We also spent time considering each of our children individually and trying to anticipate specific needs and opportunities they’ll likely face in the year ahead.
For the second part of our planning, we met with our kids and talked about our family goals and priorities, as well as individual goals for reading, physical development, and growth in spiritual disciplines. We also planned out our big trips for the year and brainstormed leads for outings and activities to keep in mind for open weekends, holidays, and school breaks.
Two weeks into the year, however, we already feel the challenge of trying to make progress on our goals and priorities as other needs and opportunities emerge and make demands on our schedule. This is the time of year when what sounded so valuable during our planning time can start to become simply good intentions.
As I face that challenge as a Dad, I’m reminded of two commitments that have been critical to our family that I encourage every dad to consider—protecting family discipleship as a priority and making your routine work toward what matters most.
Discipleship As a Priority
I know I have to protect family discipleship as a priority because it’s one of those commitments that falls in the category some time management experts describe as “important, but not urgent.” Like building relationships, exercising, and serving others, it’s important to do, but doesn’t come with the same urgency of deadlines, contractual obligations, and other pressures that make it seem time sensitive. Parents (especially dads) are clearly directed to bring their children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This makes it one of the most important priorities I have, but the demands of work, school commitments, and after-school activities, tend to press in with more urgency.
For that reason, I know I have to add urgency to what’s important by committing time on our family schedule for discipleship. And that means weighing this activity against other family activities—and determining what’s most important.
In his book The Disciple-Making Parent, Chap Bettis describes what can often fill up family calendars: “Surrounding us are parents making superhuman sacrifices for their children’s soccer practice, hockey practice (5 a.m. ice time?), academic progress, and music lessons (two instruments at the same time?).“ He goes on to say, “We can be tempted to follow them. While we may give lip service to discipling our children, the reality comes when we start prioritizing activities.”
Bettis stresses that parents have to decide what’s most important:
The apostle John expressed his heart for his spiritual children when he wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). Here lies the crux of the matter: The first battleground of family discipleship is not my child’s heart—it is my heart. Each parent must decide whether he is more concerned that his child be accepted into Heaven, or “Harvard.” We all have “Harvards”—those worldly successes we desire for our children, but the question remains, “Which is most important to me?” Each parent must finish the sentence “I have no greater joy than…” I would emphasize here that the challenge of priorities is often not the good versus the bad, rather, the good versus the better. Given a finite amount of time, energy, and money, what will you choose?
(The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ, 17.)
The Power of Routine
As Candice and I have sought to protect discipleship as a priority, we’ve found that it needs to be part of our routine. It can’t just be a good intention that we do in fits and starts. We’ve seen the power of routines when it comes to exercise, reading, and more. It requires effort and persistence to get going at first because inertia is working against you, but then a routine can take on inertia of its own. We saw this early on as we tried to change our family dinner routine to include a time of Bible reading and reflection. Our children weren’t sure what to make of it and our three-year-old seemed especially restless and distracted. But as we kept at it, our children came to expect that time. Within a week, I was encouraged to see my three-year-old go unprompted and get my Bible and set it on my plate to be ready for devotions after dinner.
Looking back over the past few years, we see some of the best fruit in our children’s lives growing from meal time devotions, along with individual breakfast discipleship times, evening prayer, and other discipleship commitments that became routines.
Each family will have their own challenges in trying to make room for family discipleship. Ultimately, each of has to submit our schedules, our priorities, and our routines in humility to God and pray for the Spirit’s wisdom and strength to guide us to be faithful in what matters most.