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Designed Cooperation: Level 1 B-Families and the Church working together to CONNECT students to others through genuine relationships



Within “Designed Cooperation” (God’s design for families to be the primary spiritual leaders and disciplers of their students while the church assists and extends that ministry) there is a “part B” to the CONNECT level of God’s purpose. According to the great commission it is God’s will that student’s be CONNECTED to God through salvation, and that as a result of salvation they be CONNECTED to others through genuine relationships. This level of CONNECTION is most often called “fellowship” and is derived from Jesus’ command, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b). Baptism is the first act of obedience that a Christian should engage in after salvation, which acts as a physical and visible testimony of salvation and brings one into “fellowship” with the church (Christians).


Being CONNECTED to others, or “fellowship,” is to have a “bond of common purpose and devotion that binds Christians together and to Christ.” (Holman Bible Dictionary, Holman Bible Publishers, 1991, p.482). That bond of common purpose is nothing less than worshipping God and enjoying Him forever, starting with following His commands and will during this lifetime. At the onset of the church being established and after several thousand had been saved, we find Christians in the book of Acts (2:41-47) engaging in this purpose of CONNECTION. They did so by holding things in common, giving to one another as any had need, meeting together in the temple complex, eating meals together in one another’s homes, maintaining a joyful attitude and praising God together, and conveying the gospel to others so that people were constantly trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation and being CONNECTED to other believers through genuine relationships by being welcomed into the fellowship of Christians, the church.


In essence CONNECTING is “doing life together” with other Christians. Perhaps not every minute of every day, but regularly and as often as possible. CONNECTING is absolutely vital for every Christian. This CONNECTION should first take place in the context of one’s immediate family. Christian families ought to engage in and be described by the very actions of Acts 2:41-47. Additionally, it is especially important that families and churches work together to provide opportunities for students to CONNECT with others through genuine relationships.


To begin with, almost every church I know of offers a small group Bible study program. At First Baptist O’Fallon, we call our small group Bible study program “LIFE Groups” and aim for a two-fold result: 1) That the Bible be engaged through study and application, and 2) that each group provide a safe and consistent atmosphere in which students can CONNECT with others through genuine relationships. This is accomplished through students being placed into age and gender based small groups where they are led by an adult “shepherd” that engages the group in discussing and doing life together both during regular meeting time and during gatherings and events outside of meeting time. In addition, students can CONNECT with others through junior and senior high worship gatherings, as well as special events like DiscipleNOW weekend, summer mission camp, and a fall retreat which are all geared towards engaging students in settings that encourage and foster CONNECTION with others through genuine relationships.


Like any relationship, engaging in any of these opportunities in hopes of establishing CONNECTION with others requires effort from all parties involved. Just because a student tries a program or special event once and does not “hit if off” from the start, that is no excuse to cease putting forth effort to make CONNECTIONS with others. It is God’s design and purpose that we CONNECT with others, and when sinful human beings are involved, we can be assured that patience, endurance, and effort will be required.


As the church works to do its part to provide opportunities for CONNECTION, families must do their part of not just encouraging students to CONNECT, but actually ensuring that their students engage these opportunities. This requires…


  1. Parents/guardians must utilize their God-given authority by brining students to church each week. Weekend getaways, sports and clubs and squads and other teams, tiredness, the weather, laziness, bad attitudes, etc. can all become regular excuses for not going to church. However, parents/guardians must ensure that their family is in church each week.


  1. Parents/guardians must insist that their students engage in church-provided opportunities to CONNECT with others. Again, you have a God-given authority to steer your students through this part of their lives. Combat rebuttal and direct your students to engage in CONNECT opportunities. Perhaps your students will fail to CONNECT as a result of a bad attitude or lack of effort, but do not let them fail to CONNECT due to lack of your steering them to do so.


  1. Parents/guardians must set the example. More than likely, your students will reflect your spiritual temperature. Not always, but most often. If you are not part of a LIFE Group, do not expect your students to be part. If you are not CONNECTING with others through opportunities provided by the church, do not expect your students to. You must set the example by CONNECTING first of all within your family, then through opportunities provided by the church.


CONNECTING with others through genuine relationships is a life-long process. However, from this day forward there are significant ways through which families and the church can partner in hopes of fostering such CONNECTION. The church must continually work hard to provide opportunities while families must engage CONNECTION within their own homes and then ensure that their students engage opportunities through the church.

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Designed Cooperation: Level 1-Families and the Church working together to CONNECT students to God through Salvation


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.)

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Designed Cooperation: Families and the Church working together to develop fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ

Family at the Cross

By design God intends that families and churches cooperate in rising up the next generation of fully committed followers of Jesus Christ. It is a mistaken assumption that either families or the church are solely responsible for and distinct from one another in the development of making disciples. God’s plan as revealed in Scripture is that families would be the primary disciplers of their children and teenagers while the church extends and complements the disciple-making ministry.


Deuteronomy 6:4—9, a passage known as “The Shema,” is a summary confession of the Christian faith by which God’s people acknowledge the One True God and His designed plan for our lives. The passage reveals a pattern that helps God’s people relate His plan and His Word into our daily lives. According to The Shema, Christians are to love God, think constantly about His commandments, teach His commandments to our children, and live each day by the guidelines of His Word. The passage pointedly emphasizes the importance of parent’s teaching the Bible to their children. It is important to note that God revealed this designed plan for the families’ spiritual leadership in the lives of their children before He revealed His designed plan for the church’s spiritual leadership in the lives of people.


Though there is not a single verse that defines the purpose of the church, the New Testament is full of descriptive responsibilities given the church. The church is to worship God (Luke 4:8, John 4:23), study His Word (2 Timothy 2:5), pray (Acts 2:42), love one another (John 13:35), partake of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Mark 16:165, Luke 22:19-20), learn how to live as godly people (Titus 2:11-12), and be equipped and sent out to evangelize the world (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:12). Acts 2:42 provides a solid summary of what ought to take place when believers gather together in Christian community: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. (Acts 2:42). All churches should model themselves after this verse. Furthermore, God has given the church pastors so that the body of believers gathered would be trained in the work of ministry and built up as the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).


Unfortunately, God’s designed plan has been lost in translation over the past two millenniums. A striking conclusion must be drawn: on the grounds of making disciples, the family begins the process while the church complements the ministry that is already taking place within the family. God has never intended for the church to be the primary or sole spiritual influence in a child or teenagers life. When the family shrugs their responsibility and relies solely on the church to make “good Christians” of their children or teenagers, they deny God’s designed purpose and the whole process breaks down. This striking conclusion is derived from Scripture but is also apparent on a pragmatic level: families live, sleep, and eat with children and teenagers for seven days a week, while the church has them for only a couple of hours each week. Clearly, based on God’s design and revealed will, families and churches must cooperate in rising up adolescent and teenage disciples of God.


The church at large is doing well to identify God’s design for cooperation between families and churches, but rarely does this identification morph into practical guidance and instruction on how this is to practically play out. That is why this student pastor desires to take this issue head-on over the next few weeks, laying out a plan with practical steps as to how families can work together with their church in fulfilling their roles and purposes in being used of God to lead children and students to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.


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.)





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Youth Ministry: What’s the Point? 4 (Fellowship)

            I grew up in a church setting in which “fellowships” took place regularly.  Potlucks, Thanksgiving dinners, finger food events…all labeled “fellowship.”  So when the topic of church fellowship came up, at least growing up I thought our church had mastered the God-given purpose of fellowship.  I was slightly overwhelmed when I began to understand real Christian fellowship as found in Scripture.  Not that potlucks and finger food events, fully equipped with a plethora of “blank salad sandwiches” are bad things.  But independent of intentional purpose these “fellowships” are only “get-togethers.” 


            God-centered fellowship involves more than just food and people.  In Baptist churches anything can turn into a fellowship when these two ingredients are present.  But real fellowship is much deeper.  To have Christian fellowship means that there is a bond of common purpose and devotion that binds Christians to one another and to Christ Jesus (adapted from the Holman Bible Dictionary).  For the early Christians, fellowship did not take place only around a dinner table.  Nor did it take place when a group of people united around a common, secondary interest.  Fellowship existed when believers identified with each other, having the commonality of salvation in Jesus Christ and possessing a passion to live for Him in communion with other Christ-followers.  In Acts 2 we catch a glimpse of genuine Christian fellowship among believers during the infancy of the New Testament Church:


41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.

43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. 46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.  Acts 2:41—47


On the day of Pentecost many people trusted Jesus Christ for salvation and were immediately baptized.  It is important to note that baptism was an immediate and first act of obedience of brand new Christians who had trusted Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives.  Baptism acted as a visible testimony of salvation and marking grounds for bringing believers into a common bond and fellowship with one another.


Upon salvation and baptism these believers united with one another in a bond of common purpose and devotion to Christ.  This was manifested through joining together for teaching, the breaking of break, and prayer.  This group of believers had a fear of the God who was working miraculously among them.  They met the physical needs of one another.  They continually met together and praised God joyfully together.  And they must have proclaimed the gospel, for every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.


Fellowship is more than potlucks and get-togethers.  In youth ministry it is more than meals, open gyms, lock-ins, and hangout time.  Though each of these can be avenues through which fellowship takes place, they are not the substance of fellowship.  Rather, fellowship in youth ministry is when Christian students unite together in the common bond of Christ Jesus.  In the church I serve we call our Senior High weekly worship service, “Converge,” which means, “to come together from different directions.”  That is, many students come together, despite their differences and from different places, and become one in the common bond of Christ.


Fellowship in youth ministry is uniting students together for the purposes of God and in devotion to Him.  This requires intentionality.  It requires making sure that programs, events, and activities are more than hollow time together.  It requires learning together, worshipping together, praying together, communion together through meals, and doing life together—even outside the walls of the church.  There is no single template that fits every church; fellowship will look significantly different in youth ministry settings of all shapes and sizes. 


But the intent of fellowship is certain—to rally together in the name of Jesus Christ, for His purposes and in devotion to Him.


“Youth Ministry—What’s the Point? 4 (Fellowship)” is part 4 of forthcoming seven part series written by John Howard, Minister to Students at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon Illinois.

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Christ Follower-You WILL Be Misunderstood

“No, what I meant to say was…”  Have you ever found yourself making a similar explanation?  The older I get the more I find myself misunderstanding others and vice versa.  To misunderstand is simply a failure to understand something correctly.    


Many individuals in Scripture were misunderstood.  Moses was misunderstood.  Not long after the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, the Jews misunderstood what had happened and what lie ahead: “But the people thirsted there for water and grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you ever bring us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst.” (Exodus 17:3)  When young David delivered supplies to the battlefield just before he defeated Goliath, his brothers misunderstood him: “David’s oldest brother Eliab listened as he spoke to the men, and became angry with him.  “Who did you leave those few sheep with in the wilderness?  I know your arrogance and your evil heart—you came down to see the battle!”” (1 Samuel 17:28)  Daniel’s prayer revealed that the Jews misunderstood the prophets (and their message) given them by God: “We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, leaders, fathers, and all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:6)  The Apostle Paul was misunderstood.  In Antioch, the place from where Paul and his companions set out on their first missionary journey, the people heard the gospel message, yet chose to misunderstand and reject it.  Paul and Barnabas were persecuted and expelled from the district (Acts 13).  Even the Lord Jesus Christ was misunderstood: the folks in his own hometown of Nazareth were offended and disbelieved His message and mission (Matthew 13:54—58).


Yet none of them caved…none of them ceased to carry on the mission and message of God despite the misunderstanding, disbelief, harassment, and persecution of others.


Christ follower…pastor…minister…leader…volunteer…Christian: You too WILL be misunderstood.  Jesus Himself was misunderstood.  Those sent by the will of God with a message and mission have been misunderstood throughout history.  And now more than ever, those who labor according to the God given message of salvation and mission to evangelize and disciple a lost and dying world will be misunderstood—both outside AND inside the church.


Whether it is your vision, purpose, message, mission, leadership, processes, programs, events, activities, and beyond…you WILL be misunderstood.  In your pursuit of the Lord and labor for His Kingdom many will fail to correctly understand what you do and why you do.  Those who misunderstand will likely question you, oppose you, interfere with you, and discourage you.  But at the end of the day you live, love, and labor for the Lord…let human misunderstanding be no detriment to your faithfulness unto God Almighty.


Peter and John unashamedly went about declaring the message and mission of God immediately after the ascension of Jesus Christ.  The religious authorities misunderstood and attempted to silence them, yet they would not be derailed: “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19—20)


Servant, in faith and boldness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, carry out the message and mission God has entrusted you with, despite the misunderstanding of others. 

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Youth Ministry: What’s the Point? 3 (Evangelism)

If youth ministry is going to accomplish a worthwhile purpose it must accept and pursue the purposes of God.  That’s easy to establish in theory but difficult to carry out in practice.  A youth ministry that says it exists for the purposes of God is quite different than one that accomplishes the purposes of God.  The difference between the two is often defined by whether or not leaders and students will do the hard things God has called us to.


Enter…Evangelism—“The active calling of people to respond to the message of grace and commit oneself to God in Jesus Christ.” (Holman Bible Dictionary)  Undoubtedly, evangelism is one of the hard purposes God calls churches, Christians, and youth ministries to live out.  There are three main ingredients in the above definition of evangelism:


1.    “The active calling of people…”  This requires that Christians, individually and corporately, pursue people far and wide, through in-depth relationships AND brief encounters, with the purpose of calling (urging) them toward the God of the universe.


2.    “…to respond to the message of grace…”  The gospel message of salvation is not one that a person can remain indifferent towards.  A person will either fully and freely accept God’s offer of salvation available through Jesus Christ His Son, OR fully reject this offer through blatant denial of truth or an attitude of indifference.


3.    “…and commit oneself to God in Jesus Christ.”  Evangelism has fallen short if it only calls people to respond to the message of grace.  This happens all to often when well-meaning Christians present the ABC’s of becoming a Christian or the Roman Road and believe that the task of evangelism has been completed once a person agrees to receive the gift of salvation.  Salvation includes accepting the gift, but it also requires making a commitment—to place God in Jesus Christ at the center of one’s life.  This commitment in salvation will later be proven by living as a disciple of Christ.


Why is evangelism hard?  Because it requires loving people unconditionally, intentionality and planning, personal maturation regarding Biblical truths and answers, time and hard work, and perseverance.  Leaders must be evangelizing students; students must then be evangelizing other students…and on and on for the spread of the gospel.


Call it evangelism, missions, living missionally, being “on mission”…or any other tagline, this purpose of God is fulfilled when, and only when, Christians actively call others to respond to the message of grace and commit oneself to God in Jesus Christ.  This requires actions AND words.  It requires boldness and courage.  It can be a program, event, or activity; but it doesn’t have to be.  Regardless, youth pastors must prepare themselves, engage themselves, prepare students, and commission students…to GO.  Leave the results up to God, but GO…in grace…with a heart for people…for the benefit of the Kingdom.  This is the purpose of evangelism.   

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Youth Ministry-What’s the Point? 2 (Worship)

Youth ministry—what’s the point?  God has mandated the church and all Christians with the purposes derived from Matthew 22:37—40 and Matthew 28:19—20: worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry.  Let’s begin with worship…


Somewhere during the past two millennia the church traded worship as a lifestyle for worship as an event.  In our consumerist culture everything is an event.  Eating is an event.  Shopping is an event.  Sporting competitions are an event.  School is an event.  And so too church has become an event.  And the highlight of the church event is none other than…the worship service, that is—the music.


During my ten years in youth ministry I have served at a small, medium, and large-sized church (in regard to attendance).  While each church was very different from the other, one thing is sure across the board: everyone has preferences.  Everyone has a preference about how the church should be run, who should be in charge, what programs and activities should be offered and many more tedious items of preference beyond these.  But out of all the possibilities on which one could voice a preference, the debate about the style of the music in worship services rises above the rest.  Personally, I have a wide taste in music.  I love the hymns, I love the praise songs, I love a choir and orchestra, I love a praise team, and I love a live band.  I don’t care for skinny jeans or fog machines in worship, but that’s just my preference.  But at the end of the day guess what…my preference doesn’t matter.  Guess what else…when we have made worship a service or an event we have missed the mark completely.


Worship is a lifestyle.  I am certain that a fair share of students who drop out of church and leave their faith do so because they were never taught about true worship or they never saw worship modeled a lifestyle—a response to God’s greatness and love that involves every aspect as of our beings.  Worship services—the music—is but a minute part of genuine worship of God Almighty.


In Matthew 22 Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (v.37).”  Can we love God in these ways during a worship services; certainly.  But does loving God in these ways end when the service is over; absolutely not.  In fact, a genuine life of worship involves the other four purposes: evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry.  Worship is a life lived for God, in honor of God, and by the power of God—in every action, word, and thought.  It is a life empowered by the Holy Spirit and also motivated by an obsessive awe of and love for the Lord.


Do our student’s understand worship in this way?  If they do not—if they understand worship only as a service—why would they feel obligated to carry that on into their adult years?  Why wouldn’t we expect students to abandon the church and even their faith when they have never been taught anything beyond worship through attendance in a service?


Youth ministry—what’s the point?  To teach students that worship is a lifestyle and to provide models of a life of worship.  To challenge students to offer their bodies (and hearts and minds) as living sacrifices unto the one who loves and saves them.  Life—every second of it—is our service of worship unto God.  Worship of God is the primary reason we exist.

“Youth Ministry—What’s the Point? 2 (Worship)” is part 1 of forthcoming seven part series written by John Howard, Minister to Students at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon Illinois.             

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