Posted on : Tuesday September 28, 2010

By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent

COLUMBIA, Md.—Bobby Cook, associate pastor for family ministry at Redland Church in Rockville, Md., envisions seeing children’s, youth, and recreation ministers gathering together to wrestle with how to disciple the total church family—from birth to adults.

It is in Cook’s heart to help break down the silo mentality—in other words, the automatic separation of the family when they come to church—that occurs when each child goes to his or her age-scripted class while the parents go to their own worship service. He’d rather see more thought put into crossover activities that engage all the age groups for shared learning.

Cook is quick to say he doesn’t want to eliminate preschool, children’s and youth ministries. Instead, he would like to change the ministry philosophy so that churches look at the complete picture of discipleship, in what he calls crossing the boundaries so that ministry involves everyone in the family.  He’d like to see growing adults serve as mentors to children and teenagers. And in a similar way, he’d like to see spiritually growing children and teens influence adults.

It’s a grand vision, one that feels too big for him to accomplish alone.

And that’s why Cook, who oversees a full-time youth pastor and two part-time children’s ministers, would love to network with likeminded ministers to meet together to figure out what it means to disciple the whole family and in the process, come alongside parents in their efforts to teach their children. He’d like to seek help from others who have gone through similar struggles, and he’d like to offer help to those just starting in the journey.

And through a BCM/D-sponsored Shepherd Net meeting, Cook can do just that.

Randy Millwood, BCM/D team strategist for leadership development and support defines the Shepherd Net groups as “clusters of people on a common journey who are learning from each other—and God—along the way.” They typically meet four times a year.

“These groups are not groups for only ordained, seminary-trained leaders,” Millwood stressed. They are open to church leaders of all backgrounds and disciplines.

“Who is an ‘expert in ministry’ has changed throughout the years,” explained Millwood, sharing that throughout the 21st century, the “expert” has been seminary professors, researchers, big church planters (think Rick Warren or Bill Hybels) or denominational leaders.

“The new experts are those who do what the ministry is. They’re the ones asking the questions; the ones in the trenches everyday,” Millwood noted, explaining that the Shepherd Net groups, created between 18-24 months ago, create environments where these “experts” can rub up against each other and learn from each other.

Presently, the BCM/D offers four networks: senior pastors, associate pastors, worship pastors, and children’s ministries.

More are forming, including one for women in vocational ministry, one for church planters, one for student ministers and one for church leaders, like Cook, who are focused on family discipleship.

Bob Simpson shared that a group for new pastors in the area is being formed.

“These groups allow ministers to reach out and get more wisdom at the table,” shared Simpson, noting that he has seen barriers break down within his own group. Pastors have become more comfortable with each other, getting past the formalities and onto real ministry to each other. They have brought great questions to the group meetings and have left with new information and inspiration.

“We live in a very unique part of the world,” Millwood noted, sharing that these groups are a place for a minister to feel at home, to share the challenges and victories of doing ministry in the mid-Atlantic region.

Ultimately, these groups of 7-9 or 12-14 people “create colleagues, friends and partners in the ministry,” Millwood said, contrasting how most ministers work alone doing the best they can.

These men and women have learned to lean on each other, he said.

“The beauty of this effort is that the group really group-owned,” shared Millwood. “The groups decide what to do [read a book, visit seminars] and when to do it.”

He added, “The BCM/D is a network of churches. That’s who we are. For us to learn from each other is really exciting!”

If you are interested in joining these groups, contact the group leader as follows:

ASSOCIATE PASTORS (who oversee church operations, staffing and administrative issues): facilitated by Bob Simpson, BCM/D’s chief operating officer,

CHILDREN’S MINISTRIES: facilitated by June Holland, BCM/D’s missionary for preschool/children,

CHURCH PLANTERS: facilitated by David Jackson, BCM/D’s missionary for church multiplication,

FAMILY MINISTRIES: facilitated by Bobby Cook, associate pastor for family ministry at Redland Church,

SENIOR PASTORS: facilitated by BCM/D executive director, David Lee,, and Randy Millwood,

STUDENT PASTORS: facilitated by Doug Dubois, BCM/D’s missionary for student evangelism,

WOMEN’S MINISTRY: facilitated by Kim Cook,

facilitated by Bill Archer, BCM/D’s missionary for music and worship,