There is a first level on which families and churches must partner together in fulfilling their roles in being used of God to lead children and students to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. That level is one in which each party places themselves in the hands of God to be used to CONNECT students to God through salvation. Ultimately, a child or students’ response to the love and offered salvation of Jesus Christ is out of the hands of both parents and pastors. However, each can cooperate together and be positioned in such a way for God to use them as vessels through which He reaches into the lives of children and students.
This first level of cooperation is derived from The Great Commission where Jesus says, “Therefore go…” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus goes on to say, “…Go and make disciples of all nations,” but for the family and pastor there is no more urgent place to “go” than to the children and students they guard and lead. It is God’s most definite will that your child or student be saved: “…God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:3b-4) Though God calls His followers to go to Jerusalem (home), Judea (surrounding area), and all the way to the ends of the earth to make disciples (Acts 1:8), I am confident that His desire would be for us to begin with the children and students that we are most directly connected to.
In light of God’s design, the question we must ask is “how do we make disciples of our children and students?” Forthrightly this means that we lead them to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. The first step to being a disciple of God is salvation. Immediately, a second question comes to mind: “how do we lead our children and students to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation?” The answer to that question comes in the form of God’s designed cooperation—that families and the church work together to CONNECT students to God through salvation.
As we came to understand in the introduction to this series called “Designed Cooperation,” the Shema places families, particularly parents and guardians, as the primary spiritual influencers (or disciplers) of their children and students. As such, it is the role of parents to “live the gospel” toward their children and students. The Gospel is the good news that despite our sin problem, Jesus Christ has done everything necessary to provide a way for separated human beings to have a personal and eternally saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Thus, “living the gospel” requires that parents and guardians pour grace, mercy, instruction and direction, discipline, nurture, time and affection, patience, and friendship into the lives of their children and students. These are the very characteristics that God Himself pours into our lives. Why this necessity? Because how you lead, treat, and engage your children and students is a reflection of your heavenly father. “Living the gospel” can urge your children and students towards the Savior. Consequently, failing to “live the gospel” can detour them away from the Savior. Ultimately, families must also have a firm grasp and clear means for sharing the truth of the gospel with their children and students and directing them to trust in Him for salvation.
The church cooperates with families in this task of “living the gospel.” The church must preach the plain and un-distorted truth of the gospel in a way that is understandable and transferable (that is, families can continually convey the same message). Additionally, the church should regularly provide opportunities for children and students to respond to the truth of the gospel. Finally, the church must provide a guidance and instruction by which new Christians can be rooted and built up into fully committed followers (disciples) of Jesus Christ (more on this when we talk about FOLLOWING God as disciples).
And so on this first level of CONNECTING children and students to God through salvation, families and the church are designed to cooperate together. The church cannot be held fully responsible to minster the gospel into children and students’ lives while the family sits back and does nothing to “live the gospel.” And families cannot be held fully responsible to minister the gospel into children and students lives while the church does nothing to consistently present and affirm the message of the gospel. Again, both families and the church are designed to work together to CONNECT children and students to God through salvation.
In Christ, John Howard, Minister to Students, First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, IL
(Writer’s note: please check back periodically as this series on “Designed Cooperation” unfolds.)