Cornerstone

Part 1: The Year My Son Became a Man

“As Jesus-followers living in an increasingly juvenile world, the process of helping our kids navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood is one of the most complicated tasks we have been given.”

Last year was a special year in the life of our oldest son. We invested the year in an intensive process of discipleship that was far more intentional than anything we had previously done with any of our kids. We spent more time with Harper last year than we likely will in any other year of his life. And while we facilitated this intentional year through a version of homeschooling, I don’t believe you would need to homeschool your child in order to do many of the same things.

Our kids have all attended public school from the very beginning. For our family it has been an incredibly positive experience. However, the one thing that has nagged at me over the years has been the lack of space that the normal rhythm of school, homework, and afterschool activities provided for a season of more intentional discipleship. While we always made time for family devotions, nighttime prayers, and periodic individual bible studies, it never quite felt like there was time for anything more. And the tension of this need only heightened as our oldest son entered middle school and began the transition from boyhood into young adulthood.

In Deuteronomy we find one of the most beautiful descriptions of the parenting task:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” 
- Deuteronomy 6:4–9

I absolutely believe that you can simultaneously obey this command and send your kids to a secular public school. However, the importance of teaching your kids diligently “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” is only magnified as they continue to approach adulthood. The older they get, the more intentionality they need, not less.

The middle school years are particularly transformative years. They’re physically and emotionally transformative as puberty shifts into high gear and they can be spiritually transformative as kids begin to ask the big questions that lead them to make their faith their own (or not). As a result, I believe they are the perfect time for a season of particularly intentional investment in our kids, that can take many different forms, but won’t happen unless sacrifices are made and specific plans are put in place.

Almost every culture has some form of a “rite of passage” that young adults go through. As a kid in the Lutheran church, for me it was Confirmation. For my step-siblings it was bar and bat mitzvahs. However, while tradition is a beautiful thing, too often these rites can become far more about ceremony and the checking of cultural boxes than they are the actual development of a child into an adult.  

As Jesus-followers living in an increasingly juvenile world, the process of helping our kids navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood is one of the most complicated tasks we have been given. And it’s not just going to “happen.” God is calling us to sacrificially and intentionally determine how we can best disciple the particular children he has entrusted to us (whether or not they are Jesus-followers yet).

It’s with this responsibility and the “rite of passage” concept in mind that we approached our son’s middle school years with a question: How might we carve out time to invest intentionally and sacrificially in our children’s lives during this particularly transformative season?

We began to answer that question in ways that were unique to our situation and unique to our son, but I want to share with you some of our thought process along the way as well as some of the practical tools we ended up using. Our sharing is not to suggest that you should do the same things we did, but to encourage you to ask this same question, and to come up with your own answers in similarly serious and creative ways. In addition, if any of the ideas or structures we’ve developed over the past year could be helpful pieces in the discipleship of your own kids, we want to make sure to pass them along.

To this end, this will be the first post in a four-post series. In the next installment I’ll explain some of the rationale and specifics for our Year “at Home.” Next I’ll lay out (whether or not you would ever homeschool) how we intentionally pursued A Year of Discipleship. And finally, we’ll look at the path forward after this incredible experiment as we look at A New Year. However God leads you to specifically invest in the lives of the children God has entrusted to you, I hope that you’ll be encouraged by some of the things we’ve tried along the way.

Scott Mehl

Scott serves the church by overseeing leadership, development, global ministries, and counseling/discipleship.

Additional articles that might be of interest.