Consider any significant issue or problem in your town or city that is or should be of concern to your church – something you think God’s people should think about and, if possible, take action in Christ’s name. Then, as yourself a very simple question; “Is this problem or challenge more likely to be effectively addressed if all the churches in our town continue to work independently or, as impossible as it may seem, if the churches could work together?”
One of the most powerful elements of real Kingdom partnership is that all elements of the Body of Christ are valued and given a role in the work. Jesus gives us access to freedom, a commandment to love one another, and makes possible the lasting partnerships that grow out of restored relationships. The apostle Paul gives us the image of how this all works in practice.
For the body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts. As it is, God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be. There would not be a body if it were all only one part! As it is, there are many parts but one body.
So, there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness. I Corinthians 12:14, 18-20, 25-26.
Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together. There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; there is one God and Father of all mankind, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all. Speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. Under his control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love. Ephesians 4:2-4, 15-16.
Consider your church. Consider what might be case if churches in your city actually came together for some joint effort. Paul’s image of the body of Christ is mirrored again and again in the new paradigm of holistic, strategic ministry partnerships that are growing in number every week around the world. Among those key elements —
- Diversity and unity are celebrated side by side.
- Participants trust each other.
- All participants are valued. The more specialized, sometimes overlooked gifts, are given meaning and seen important to the evangelism team — often for the first time.
- Duplication is avoided.
- Effectiveness is increased.
- Credibility is increased. Those we are seeking to reach for Christ can see the restored relationships and commitment to each in the community of believers.
- More individuals, families and communities come into the Kingdom. More nationally led churches are established and emerging leaders are acknowledged, trained, and encouraged.
- In the hardest places, prayer and working together in partnership brings new hope to discouraged, often isolated believers.
Not All Connections Are The Same
As the term partnership and network are increasingly circulated, a word here about definitions may be helpful.
First, networks and partnerships are not the same. Vitally important to one another but not the same.
- Networks are those structures or relationships in which participants come together to share information or resources empowering them to do their independent work more effectively. A highly motivational and legitimate enterprise. Churches in your city might form a network which, over time, to address specific issues.
- Partnerships occur when more than one individual, agency, or church come together to accomplish a mutually held objective which would be impossible for any one of them to accomplish alone. So, your church might partner with other churches to address a specific challenge. That challenge may part of your city’s landscape which the network of churches in your city have identified.
There are, of course, many types of partnerships — many of them relevant and effective. However, in recent years, the most rapidly growing sector of partnership activity has been in holistic, multi-agency or multi-church, consensus-based efforts focused on ministry in the great cities, among major ethnic groups, or seeking to reach the great unreached people’s of the world.
As the church is increasingly global, the old colonial and post-colonial partnership paradigms are rapidly being replaced with flatter, more inclusive, less structured collaboration. It may be of interest that over 95% of the rapidly growing number of strategic evangelism partnerships, focused on major unreached people groups, operate without constitutions, “membership,” traditional “voting rights” or specific financial “dues.” Typically, these partnerships operate by consensus, have a facilitator or facilitation team, and operate with very low-cost, budgets usually covered on a voluntary basis. Most of these partnerships carry out the bulk of their operational goals through smaller task forces or working groups that are connected with the larger partnership.
What is the God-sized challenge in your city that could possibly be effectively addressed if your church were to join with other churches?
Three Simple Case Histories
Ed Flaxan had just about given up the dream. Despite all the problems in town, the Christian inner-city youth center in Abeville that he’d started seemed to be going nowhere. Short on money, only a handful of volunteers, and not many kids lives being touched. But three years later — big changes! Back when he was just about ready to quit, Ed had begun to quietly talk, one by one, with every evangelical church in Abeville. He shared the desperate need that he saw from the inner-city perspective; he shared the vision; he listened to the churches’ dreams; and he shared how they could be involved. Today the youth center is a partnership of eleven churches touching hundreds of inner-city kids and their families with Christ’s power. Now the churches are talking about new joint efforts — further ways they can serve the city in Jesus’ name.
Boxon was a small town, even for a mountain state. But, still, there were five Christian churches. For three years the pastors of the churches had met once a month to share experiences, concerns, and to pray for each other. The fellowship was rich and the prayer provided real support. But eventually they agreed, the group would grow stale if it didn’t take this same inter-church experience into the community. Two lay representatives from each church were selected. Along with the pastors, they prayed and decided to survey the town, asking citizens what they felt were Boxon’s greatest needs. After compiling a long list, the team from the churches selected one project that, in the name of Christ, they felt would really serve the community and be a real witness. Today, dozens of students are being personally tutored by volunteers of all ages from the Boxon church partnership. Instead of dropping out of school and becoming a community liability, they’re finishing school and getting jobs. And, in the process, families have been strengthened and many have come to know Christ in the churches.
Mary-Jo Tanzan had a vision. For months she’d reflected, “Wouldn’t it be a lot better if all the churches in this neighborhood worked together rather than just ‘doing their own thing?'” It sure seemed to make sense. Mary-Jo talked to her pastor who had some reservations but felt, “on principle” he probably needed to encourage her. With this backing, Mary-Jo got a list of all the churches in the area, contacted the pastors, and called a meeting to discuss the possibilities. When the night of the meeting arrived only four of the thirteen churches she’d contacted showed up. And, only two of the churches had sent their Senior Pastor! Like so many others, Mary-Jo’s vision of a partnership among the churches died quietly. The lack of patient relationship building, careful listening, and developing a consensus doomed the vision from the start. It was “Mary-Jo’s vision” not the churches’ vision. The churches couldn’t see how their own congregations would benefit from linking with others. Clear, limited objectives with specific outcomes hadn’t been defined. And, possibly most important, the churches had never acknowledged any real need to join hands for more effective witness and service.