FORWARD
 
My three-year-old and five-year-old show affection, competition, and malice like any siblings. When one of our kids hurts the other emotionally or physically we have a pretty typical family practice: we line them up facing each other and make the offender say the words: “I’m sorry.” The victim then responds: “I forgive you.”
 
That used to be the end of it until our kids began to add their own line to the rehearsed pattern. The part we never scripted is that at some point the original culprit began spontaneously replying back to the wounded, “I forgive you, too.” For a while I thought I should correct them—the innocent one shouldn’t have to be forgiven, right? But the dual “I forgive yous”—however unprompted, became a kind of family liturgy for us. Hearing my kids say it back and forth to each other, and then as they began to say it back to me after I forgave them for something, taught me about the nature of forgiveness—none of us is wholly innocent in any spat. No matter who threw the first punch, it helps all of us to hear those words regularly: “I forgive you.” My kids daily teach me about God and the nature of our life with Him. I’m trying to keep up with them as I aim to teach them as well.
 
Our family is our first church. It’s the place where we develop our first inklings of what God is like, whether someone knows they are teaching or not.
 
Faith is formed around the dinner table, in questions thrown back and forth from the backseat, and in bedtime conversations where the events of the previous day come rushing back and the anticipation and fears of the next day rush toward us. But when it comes to forming intentional patterns of family discipleship, many of us come up short on knowing what the building blocks are and how to incorporate them in ways that draw our children to the faith that means so much to us.
 
Most of us know that family discipleship is important, but we don’t quite know where to begin. The truth is that there are far more resources out there about building good habits for nutrition and exercise in our kids than there are for building a strong spiritual foundation. It’s simply not true that if we can get our children to church, the church will do the rest for us. We have a personal responsibility for our kids to hear the Word, learn to pray, and to know God loves them. The question that remains is just how we can do that in winsome ways that will reach their hearts.
 
This is why Grow at Home is so invaluable. Rather than a professional in Christian education, we hear words of coaching and encouragement from a fellow parent in the trenches, a dad trying daily to introduce his three daughters to the Jesus who has forever changed him.
 
Winfield Bevins and I became friends when we landed in the same small town in Kentucky in order to work on different aspects of shepherding seminary students into their vocation. Apart from being colleagues together, we’ve also been parents side by side. Anyone who spends time around someone with their family for any period of time can easily grow to know their heart, and Winfield’s heart is open, generous, and wise. I’m thankful that he decided to share the fruit of what he’s learned as a disciplemaking parent in this little book because I know it will bless other parents trying to walk the same path. It has blessed me.
 
All of us who call Jesus Lord and have children who we want to grow to do the same are really discovering day by day how to disciple our families. I am a pastor and a guide for those on their way to become pastors, missionaries, or teachers of youth and children, and I see their deep desire to share Christ with others. I also see befuddlement about how it is really supposed to work between homework, sports, and music lessons, chaotic dinnertimes, and looming bedtimes.
 
Whether or not we came from families that provided good examples, the truth is that doing what has been done in generations before and in the same ways it has been done may not produce the same results as before, and each family has different needs and challenges. This is a personal journey, but it’s not one we should try to do alone.
 
Grow at Home encourages and challenges parents, empowering them with tools to share the love of God in a way their children can understand. How do we teach our children to pray, to love God’s Word? How do we lead them to Christ? It’s good to have the words of one who cares as deeply as we do about the next generation. It’s good to know that lessons taught don’t have to be legalistic, idealistic, or shame-based, but that offer the full grace and love of God to and through the family. 
 
I grew up hearing in some circles that faith is best caught, not taught; that it’s our example and not our didactic teaching that provides the best foundation for faith in our homes. But what if it is really both? Jesus taught by example and action, but also by words and instruction that imparted powerful truths and demanded a response. If we wouldn’t leave our children’s academic development or physical health up to chance, why would do so with their spiritual health? It can be awkward and strange at first to broach these subjects if we haven’t heard them addressed in a family before, but the intimacy and strength that will flow is always worth the risk of trying new things.
 
Those of us walking through this book together are blessed to know there are patterns, habits, disciplines, and conversations that have been practiced for centuries that will connect our first churches— our families—to the greater church that connects us all the way back to the footsteps of Christ. Growing at home is a beautiful and organic way to begin.
 

—Rev. Jessica LaGrone Dean of Chapel, Asbury Theological Seminary