Train children in the way they should go

 Part 2 of an interview with Melissa Spoelstra,
Author of Total Family Makeover

Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6

God calls us as parents to be key disciple-makers in our children’s lives, but if we’re honest, some days it’s a battle just to get them dressed and ready for school on time. How can you mold their hearts when sometimes you can’t even find their shoes?

In Total Family Makeover (Abingdon Press), author Melissa Spoelstra gives parents a way—a sort of spiritual track to run on—when it comes to building family discipleship. She focuses on eight key habits of growth:

•         Spending Time in Prayer
•         Reading God's Word
•         Growing Through a Mentoring Relationship
•         Finding Community in the Church
•         Serving Others
•         Taking Time to Rest
•         Giving Back to God
•         Sharing Your Faith

Q: You share the analogy of putting on an oxygen mask in an airplane. In the context of the book, why do parents need to put on their own “oxygen masks” first?

We can’t lead anyone further than we have gone ourselves. I ask myself questions such as, “Am I praying as much as I hope my adult children will pray one day?” “Do I study God’s Word as much as I hope my kids will when they are grown?” Jesus modeled prayer and rest and sacrificed before his disciples. As parents, we must first put on our oxygen mask of spiritual rhythms to show our children what it means to follow Jesus. Kids are smart. They can spot a fake and don’t accept the mentality of “do what I say, not what I do.” We must first be connected to the vine of Christ’s love so we can show others the source of life and faith. As we first live out what we want to teach our children, we can better show them what it means to live a life of faith.  

Q: In writing Total Family Makeover, what was one of the areas you discuss that stuck out most to you?

I can remember as a young mom using the behavior of my kids as my report card. When they behaved, I felt I did my job. Other times when they acted out, shame was knocking at my door. When we use the behavior of our children as our parenting measuring rods, we will find:

•  We pass judgment on others when their children struggle rather than encouraging and praying for them.
•  We yo-yo between pride when our children are compliant and shame in times of rebellion.
•  We envy the social media posts of academic, athletic and other achievements of our friends’ kids.

I see this a lot in parenting circles. Realizing that our responsibility is not to produce “good” kids but to model and train them in the ways of Christ takes the focus off ourselves. Jesus offers himself to everyone, but He certainly isn’t grading himself based on our successes and failures. In the same way, I find freedom in not expending my mental energy on grading myself and instead pursuing Jesus wholeheartedly and getting intentional about teaching my kids that following Jesus is the way to real life. I want to help them grow a bigger view of God and feel firsthand that serving and giving does bring a peace and joy that being served and getting stuff never will. When I shift my focus to my own spiritual habits and, out of the overflow, live and teach the ways of Jesus, my kids’ behavior has less impact. Their sin shouldn’t surprise me; they are sinners just like me.

I’ve seen the fruit of persevering in discipling kids throughout the long haul in the lives of my mentors as well as in my own life. It isn’t perfect, but there’s peace in expending our energy in modeling and training with intentionality.

Q: Will Total Family Makeover be useful for a family who has never had faith as a central part of their lives?

Total Family Makeover will be useful for any family with a desire to know and love God. Even if they are new to a life of faith, this book will give them the tools to begin pursuing Jesus as a family. I hope this book will be an encouragement to those new to the Christian life, helping them establish new routines, and also a challenge to families who have followed Christ for years, giving them ideas to refresh their spiritual rhythms.

Q: What tips can you offer parents whose children are resistant to God or the faith?

First I would say, I am right there with you! Even the most compliant of children have their moments of resistance. We have struggled through some pretty serious moments with kids questioning God, the Bible and faith. The best tip I can offer parents in these times is to cling to Christ. Doubting can be a good thing; it means they are thinking, processing and working out their faith. Jesus didn’t shame his followers in moments of doubt — He helped them believe. When Thomas needed proof, He gave it. When our children resist, they need assurance of our love for them, as well as firm faith. Our view of life is partial and incomplete — we have questions too — but we point our children to Christ in times of resistance. Sometimes we do this with words, but mostly we do it by living love.

Q: You’re a skilled Bible teacher. Can you speak to why you were led to write a book on this topic?

A few years ago I went to a large conference where the theme was rethink: rethink discipleship, evangelism, church life, etc. Overwhelmed with all the great speakers and inspiration, I skipped the last day of the gathering to hang back in my hotel room for some quiet moments to ask Jesus what exactly He was calling me to “rethink.” Very clearly I felt a Holy Spirit nudge regarding discipling my kids. At the time, our oldest had only two more years under our roof before heading out to college. I wondered, “Have we taught him all he needs to know to follow Jesus?”

I spent some time mapping out all the aspects of the Christian life I hoped we had touched on: prayer, Bible study, mentoring, church community, serving, rest, generosity and sharing their faith story.  I thought of some of the sweet memories of teaching them to pray and realized how all of them had a godly mentor apart from my husband and me. Laughter came as I reflected on their complaints of our media-free Sundays to rest and spend time together. Yet I recognized some places where we had slacked off as they had grown. We hadn’t done a family service project in years, and sometimes they went to bed so late I often skipped bedtime prayer opportunities.

I asked the Lord to help me stay the course in modeling and training. Two days later back home in my regular routine, I got a call asking me to consider writing a guide for parents in discipling their kids. God’s hand was unmistakable — He had already written my outline for me and brought to mind illustrations and ideas! My heart was not to write a “how-to” book to be copied exactly when it comes to teaching our kids about Jesus because I know all of our journeys look different. However, I want to inspire parents to be intentional in modeling and training their children in spiritual rhythms.

For more about Melissa Spoelstra and Total Family Makeover, visit You can also follow her on Facebook (AuthorMelissaSpolestra) and Twitter (@MelSpoelstra)