Designed Cooperation: Level 3-Families and Churches working together to direct students to SERVE God with their lives

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The third level of Designed Cooperation between families and churches in making fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ of their students is directing them to SERVE God with their lives. SERVING God includes two components: ministry and missions. Generally in the church we use these two components to mean the same thing, but functionally and in the Bible they describe two different tasks. Ministry takes place within the body of Christ (the church; to Christians), missions happens outside the walls of the church (to unbelievers). For example, if a group of students goes to the home of a shut-in church member and performs various tasks such as home repair and yard cleanup-that’s ministry. If however, the next weekend the group of students performs the same tasks but at the home of a non-believer, and while working shares with that person who they represent (Christ and the church) and how that person can be saved-that’s missions. Both ministry and missions are required components of SERVING God. Our students need to find out what their spiritual gifts are and find their place of service within the life of their church. They also need to be on mission with God, telling the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ as they go about their daily lives. But how do we raise students up to SERVE God in these ways? By families and churches partnering together…

 

First, the church has a huge obligation to call, equip, and release students to SERVE God. Student ministries and the church at large must begin by calling students to SERVE God. Salvation does not begin and end with a free ticket into heaven. And it goes further than growing as disciples. It extends to the point of actively living as servants of God. The church must courageously set this expectation (from God) right in front of students’ noses! As Samuel instructed Israel we too must “Obey the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart.” (1 Samuel 12:24) Next, the church must equip students to SERVE God. Equipping comes through Bible centered teaching and preaching, testimonies given from experience, opportunities for students to discover and understand spiritual gifts, and “laboratory-type” opportunities through which students can try and even error and SERVING God through ministry AND missions. Finally, the church must release students to SERVE God. Simply put, students are placed into both formal and informal roles of ministry provided the opportunity to be on-mission locally, regionally, and world-wide (see Acts 1:8). Note: missions is both corporate (accomplished through teams) AND individual (everyone is a missionary to the immediate context they live and exist in). 

 

Second, families have a huge obligation to raise up servants of Jesus Christ. The church is not the sole proprietor of making servants of God; SERVING must be expected, modeled, and intentionally accomplished within individual families. Has your family ever provided an act of service or ministry together? Gone on a mission trip together? Shared the gospel with the next door neighbor together? Before the church corporately gathers students together as ministers and missionaries, releasing them for service, families must first be calling, equipping, and releasing their students to SERVE to the best of their ability. There is no template for SERVING God that all must adapt to; simply get out there and meet a need with the love of Christ for a fellow believer (ministry) and convey the gospel message of salvation to the lost (missions).

 

Quite frankly, this level of SERVING God is the most avoided by families, individual Christians, and even churches. Why? Because it requires pro-activity, courage, time, passion and compassion for people, and consistency. But just as CONNECTING and FOLLOWING are purposes of God, so too is SERVING. As you serve, both as families and churches, understand the difference between ministry and missions while knowing that God calls you and I to both.

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Designed Cooperation: Level 2-Families and Churches working together to direct students to FOLLOW God as disciples

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The second level of Designed Cooperation between families and churches in making fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ of their students is directing them to FOLLOW God as disciples. Christians (those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation) become partakers of the nature of Jesus Christ through the Word, which is what discipleship is all about. Through the power of the Word (God’s Word, the Bible) and the Holy Spirit we escape the corruption that is in the world because of sin and are changed more and more into who God wants us to be during this lifetime as a result of FOLLOWING Him. But what exactly is discipleship, or FOLLOWING God? 2 Peter 1:4-8 lays out the process of discipleship:

 

  1. Repentance & Faith: New life in Jesus Christ begins by trusting in Him alone for salvation.
  2. Enlightenment & Guidance: Once salvation takes place, the disciple-FOLLOWER begins learning how to “put on Jesus Christ.”
  3. Growth in Christ: The disciple-FOLLOWER grows more and more into the fullness that God has for him or her in Jesus Christ.
  4. Ministry Development: The inward transformation of God’s Word begins to become an outward reality of righteousness that results in ministry to others.
  5. Testing: Ministry will always involved “fiery trials” (1 Peter 4:12) that build endurance and work to reveal the power and glory of God in one’s life.
  6. Ministry in the Power of Christ: The disciple-FOLLOWER ministers with a greater awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit, whether as a leader or a worker. The ministry is of and through Christ, not the disciple’s natural abilities.
  7. Fruit through the Fullness of Jesus Christ: The Word of God continues to manifest the fullness of Jesus Christ, resulting in greater love for those around him or her, and a heart for the needs of the world. Other disciple-FOLLOWERS are birthed and the Word continues to profit as God pleases.

 

In light of this process of discipleship the first question to ask (of yourself) is, “Am I growing as a disciple?” It is vital that those who have the most direct spiritual influence into a student’s life in regard to building disciple-FOLLOWERS of Christ must first be growing as disciples themselves. If this is not the case, do not expect your student to become a mature disciple because they will largely model what they see the spiritual influencers in their life (whether parent/guardian or pastor) living out.

 

The second question that must be asked is, “How do families and churches partner together in this process?” The overarching answer is this: by being ministers of the Word both in the home and in the church. Why? Because we seek not to make clones of any human being; we seek for God to build disciple-FOLLOWERS of Himself. That will only take place through the direction and command of God’s Word combined with the power of the Holy Spirit working in each student’s life.

 

Families must be ministers of the Word by knowing (for themselves and then teaching to their students) and doing God’s Word. James makes clear in his letter that faith (knowing) and works (doing) go hand in hand; you cannot have one without the other. Therefore, the adult leaders of families must personally be students of God’s Word (daily Bible study and prayer) and convey their understanding and knowledge to their students. Additionally, adult families of leaders must live out the truths of God’s Word in every aspect of their lives, first of all for the glory of God, and secondly for modeling obedience in front of their students. Practically this requires personal and family Bible study and discussion, honesty and transparency about the right way to live, and accountability for all members of the family to live God’s truth with resulting consequences for failing to do so.

 

Churches must be ministers of the Word in two ways. First, the church must teach and preach the Word of God. This seems like it could be assumed, but a large number of churches are failing to correctly handle the Word of truth. Scripture must be taught through, explained, and avenues for putting its truth into action must be offered. God has not ordained the church to offer an endless menu of man’s opinion on relevant topics; He has ordained the church to correctly handle the Word of truth by starting with the text of Scripture, interpreting what it says, and proposing how to live its truth. Secondly, the church must offer a variety of opportunities through which the Word of God is taught and preached that hit various levels of spiritual maturity. New Christians need the basics. Growing Christians need challenged. Seasoned Christians need accountability. All of these levels are addressed through God’s Word and the church must consistently be a minister of the Word on each of those levels.

 

At First Baptist O’Fallon we offer students several weekly “steps” through which they can continually grow through the church’s ministry of the Word. LIFE Groups (Sunday school) lead students to CONNECT with God through establishing a core understanding of God and His Word. Jr. & Sr. High worship seek to lead students further into the story and details of God’s Word with the goal of challenging deeper followship. Midweek Bible study aims to challenge students through God’s Word to be active in ministry and on mission with God. Regardless of what it looks like in regard to programming, the church must teach and preach and offer a variety of opportunities for families and students to engage God’s Word.

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

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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

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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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