God designed men and women to live in harmony, in open, healthy relationships — whether in families or communities. God’s design is based on His own nature. Adam and Eve’s tragic decision in Genesis destroyed transparency, trust, unity, and beauty producing the core elements that divide people and institutions today — within the Church and outside it. Ministry partnerships can only be effective and durable as they build trust, work actively at restored relationships, are able to celebrate diversity within unity, and, in doing so, begin to again reflect the beauty, joy, and fulfillment of the God design.
“Let us make man in our image.”
Three times in the early chapters of Genesis God states His design for us (1). We were to be and live as He is and lives. Reading scripture, we see that, before time was created (2), in eternity, God dwells in relationship with other beings (3). While each individual was to be distinct, God’s design for all of humanity was openness, transparency, and unity in this diverse creation. Adam and Eve, each unique, were to be “one flesh.” It was a reflection of the magnificent unity Jesus speaks of when He says, “I and the Father are one” (4) .
Partnership In Practice: Gabriel had a vision for his city. He had already visited over a dozen ministry leaders working in the city. Some were pastors heading local churches. Others were leaders of local specialized ministries dealing with youth and urban issues. Working in other church projects, he had gotten to know many of the leaders personally. A number of pastors in the city had been meeting and praying together occasionally. But, recently the pastors felt an urgency to put feet to their prayers. Their dream was for God’s people in the churches to demonstrate the love and power of Christ by really partnering with each other to reach and serve the city with the love of Christ.
The problem was, no one was quite sure where to begin. So, Gabriel was asked to visit the majority of pastors, one on one, to get their initial thoughts on next steps.
At first he thought it would be an exciting assignment. But, already Gabriel was surprised, disappointed, and unsure as to what to do. In talking privately with the pastors and ministry leaders he found that ministry pride was widespread, a desire to protect ministry “turf” was frequent, and he had uncovered long-standing, unresolved relational problems among several of the Christian leaders.
In short, there wasn’t any real sense of unity or common vision on which to build. Over coffee, Gabriel confided to a friend, “I’m not sure what to do. Honestly it seems impossible to me. We’d have to start so far back, to deal with so many issues before we could ever dream of moving forward.”
Are we surprised at what Gabriel found? Probably not. It’s a scenario we all have personally encountered or sensed as we have seen the practical examples of the brokenness — in families, in the world around us, and, yes, inside the Church.
Restored open relationships are critical to lasting, effective Partnerships. So, let’s take a brief look at what really happened in the early chapters of Genesis.
God’s creation, man, woman, and the world around us, were made in His image. All the elements of the creation naturally, beautifully fit together — functioned in harmony. There was trust, freedom, beauty, responsibility, joy, and a positive sense of the value of each part of creation.
But following Adam and Eve’s fateful decision in Genesis 3, relationships were destroyed. Consider these five levels.
- God and man who had previously met and talked in the Garden, openly and freely, were now alienated. Aware he had broken his trust with God, Adam went into hiding. Man’s open relationship with God was destroyed.
- Adam, who previously had known no fear, much less shame now admitted to God that he knew he was naked. Adam’s eyes, having been opened to good and evil, had lost his own sense of wholeness, beauty, and value. Adam looked at his internal “mirror” and decided for the first time he didn’t like what he saw. Man’s relationship with himself had been destroyed.
- In shifting the blame for his own sin to Eve, Adam lost his willingness to accept responsibility. Trust between the two was never the same. The pattern now established, shortly afterward, Abel refused to accept responsibility for Cain’s whereabouts and lied to God. Man’s relationship with others had been destroyed.
- The created order was an environment where Adam and Eve had great responsibility, freedom, and joy. Work, given before the fall, was to be creative and fulfilling. Human reproduction was to be a joy-filled experience. Now, the soil would resist and would yield only at the “sweat of Adam’s brow.” Childbirth would now be accompanied by cries of pain. Relationship with the created order was destroyed.
- In the garden were two One tree gave eternal life. The other was the source of the knowledge of good and evil. Having broken God’s design and eaten of the second tree, man was denied access to the first. In an act of love, God drove Adam and Eve from the garden insuring they would never eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in darkness (5) . Relationship with eternal life in the intimate presence of God had been destroyed.
The implications of Adam and Eve’s decisions and actions were devastating. The need for restoration was tragically evident. Enter, “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”
You may ask, “What does God’s design and the Genesis story of its destruction have to do with ministry partnerships?”
Let’s take a closer look.
A Key Partnership Principle
All durable, effective Partnerships are built on trust and whole relationships.
- Trust in the people — starting with the leadership (facilitator or facilitation team). Ultimately, there needs to be trust among all the participants.
- Trust in the process. The way the Partnership is formed and operated sends huge positive or negative signals with far-reaching implications.
- Trust in the Partnership’s purpose or vision, specific objectives, and plans for implementation of the objectives.
With that principle in mind, here is more background anchoring our Partnership
in the God design.
Jesus suggests that the status of our relationships is a key marker of the heart — of having a right relationship with God. Challenged in Luke 10 by the religious teacher as to how he could be assured of eternal life, Jesus challenged him back by asking what he thought the Scriptures said. In the lawyer’s now famous response, he said,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And, love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Luke 10:27.
Jesus’ response was stunningly simple.
“Your are right. Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28) (6)
When thrown into a forced relationship with others, particularly where stress is involved, our true character emerges with remarkable clarity. A dozen people unexpectedly forced into a lifeboat for thirty days find out very soon about each other’s real character. The same dozen taken as hostages and held in a tense life or death environment for a week face the same reality. Simply put, there’s nowhere to hide your ‘real self.’
Working independently in ministry frequently allows us to mask our deepest feelings, qualities, and ambitions. Working in Partnership, particularly over a long haul of months or years, has a way of revealing what we otherwise might want to hide about ourselves, and about our view of others!
People and ministries seeking to work in Partnership simply cannot work together effectively over any length of time without dealing with the relational brokenness. It continues to haunt us from the earliest events in the Garden of Eden.
In quoting the Old Testament’s commandments, the religious teacher in Luke 10 touches on the heart of the issue; in Partnerships we must have open relationships with each other. Faking it, trite or pious phrases, or dodging the issues lead to disaster. It just won’t work. In the long haul, it all comes out anyway. So, we might as well face up to the issues and deal with them squarely. The God design is always best.
A fascinating factor in the religious teacher’s response and the Old Testament commandment is that evaluation of our love for our neighbor should be based on knowing our love for ourselves! In these days of excessive self centeredness, it may seem awkward to suggest, but consider this; in Genesis, it was Adam’s broken relationship with God, his own internal sense of brokenness, and awareness of his nakedness that sent him into hiding — filled with shame and fear.
The Church’s emphasis on salvation has often been on getting it right with God and never addressing what God wants to do in restoring our own sense of internal wholeness. Yes, according to Scripture, we are to love ourselves. Not in a humanistic, narcissistic way, but in a way that understands who we are in Christ, that we’ve been made in God’s image, that we have infinite value, and that we can make a difference in the world.
There are three parts to the love in the God design:
- Wholeness with Him
- Wholeness with ourselves
- Wholeness with others.
Over the years I’ve observed hundreds of believers in a wide range of roles. It’s my assessment that those who have come to a healthy understanding of who they are and their own value in Christ are almost always the most effective in relating to others.
Partnership In Practice: I was asked to help facilitate a Partnership to serve a country just emerging from 40+ years of dictatorship. In the “exploration” phase we sought to identify possible participants, their history of ministry in the country, their vision for the future, and what type of work their ministry normally did.
For decades, the country had been considered essentially impenetrable — except for the power of prayer! Over the preceding ninety years,, there had only been a handful of expatriates ever get to live in the country. Complicating matters, lying just below the surface of the totalitarian political system, was the influence of hundreds of years of a powerful, dark, traditional religion.
In the eighteen month exploration phase I traveled to multiple countries and talked with the CEOs of over a dozen ministries. In many cases the work required multiple visits to each of these agencies. The private, confidential conversations with these leaders revealed a troubling history of brokenness between Christian workers and leaders who had any interest in this country. The brokenness was so great that several indicated that “If that individual tries to take part in any of these discussions, I won’t enter the room.” Remember, these were Christians committed to preaching Jesus power of reconciliation and restoration!
After months of these private discussions, it was finally time to gather the potential ministry leaders face to face. Would God point the group to some type of real, functional partnership? Or, were the divisions so great that Partnership was a hopeless dream?
Round the clock prayer teams were established. Seasoned, Godly counselors were recruited, briefed and made a core part of the meeting’s facilitation team. In the daytime, there was exploration of the potential of working together in the country dealt with a host of complex problems and possibilities. In the evenings, despite extraordinary demonic opposition, the counseling/reconciliation teams toiled in sessions of prayer and restoration with ministry leaders — in some cases all night long.
In the end, God brought the group through to a breakthrough of consensus to go forward in Partnership. Satan had been given a huge setback. But, having held the people of this country in his darkness for so long, he wasn’t about to give up easily. He continued to haunt the Partnership so that over the subsequent years the facilitators had to constantly monitor and address relational issues critical to the Partnership’s health.
However, had the issue of broken relationships not be faced squarely with sensitivity, love, and firmness, the Partnership never would have been launched. Most certainly it would not have been a key part of the extraordinary spiritual impact God let loose in this country after 2,000 years of darkness.
These are challenging realities! Unfortunately, far too often the Church avoids these deep, real difficulties. But, if we’re ever to see real breakthroughs, in our own neighborhood, city, or in some distant unreached people group, there is no alternative. It’s a process that calls for great intentionality, courage, and sensitivity.
The story has been repeated over and over again, in many Partnerships. Only the personalities and the intensity of the relational issues vary. Count on it — Satan rigorously defends his trademark of broken relationships!
Now, what are we to make of this? Let me suggest a few things.
- The God design of whole relationships is actually central any effective Christian life or any type of effective Kingdom work.
- Whole, restored, open, trusting relationships are critical to an effective Partnership.
- The natural tendency for relationships is to drift from lack of positive attention, to indifference, to misunderstanding, to lack of readiness to admit a problem, to a point where, admitting even a serious problem, the parties are unwilling or unable to bring about the needed restoration.
- Facilitators or facilitation teams must be ready to take initiative, risk, and be ready to address the brokenness with directness yet sensitivity.
- All of us following Christ are called to a ministry of reconciliation and restoration.
God calls us to personal wholeness, transparency, and relational health with Him, with ourselves, and with others. But He also calls us to be active agents of reconciliation with others. Being a believer is not passive!
Consider these passages:
- Forget having an open personal relationship with God unless you have an open relationship with your friends and colleagues. Your prayers may go no farther than the ceiling if you’re in a broken relationship. Matthew 5:21–24, 18:15–17, II Corinthians 2:5–11, and I Peter 3:7 point to action.
- The definition of being a part of the “people of God” is that you monitor and take action on relational issues as a central priority. Colossians 3:12–17.
- As a body of believers, reconciliation and restoration of relationships through the power of Christ is our mission. II Corinthians 5:18–19
In Partnership development and on-going operation, we find ourselves constantly faced with the desire for unity in purpose and process while consistently aware of our own highly individual desires — and similar desires on the part of others.
Consider these three aspects of diversity in unity:
- Jesus readiness to include everyone consistently got Him in trouble with the religious establishment of the day. He was ready to listen, accept, and seriously respond to a staggering range of the human family; lepers, prostitutes, religious leaders, politicians, military personnel, civic authorities, widows, children — the spiritually, physically, and mentally broken and destitute were all welcome at His feet. His message was for all. There’s no record of Jesus shrinking back at anyone who approached Him! “Whosoever will, may come.” What magnificent words.
- God created diversity in how He would communicate His extraordinary message of love and redemption.
- There would be people who would come telling the story with completely different style of life and communications. Matthew 11:2-19.
- There would be those who were assigned complete different but vital roles by the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 3:3-11.
- There would be individuals who played not only different roles but were part of a bigger plan that played out over a very different timetable. Hebrews 2:2-4.
- The same Good News, while for everyone, needed to be addressed to specific audiences in specific ways. Acts 15:1-11.
- When the Church, the Body of Christ, began to emerge, it was another illustration of God’s way of parceling out different roles to different people — all to the same end!
- Romans 12:3-21 outlines the glory of diversity of the Holy Spirit’s gifts within the Church and then circles back to our original theme; in this diversity it’s all about unity, relationships, and how we treat each other because of Jesus’ power and love.
- I Corinthians 12: 12-31 is a wonderful litany of the God design for unity and diversity in the Church headed by the Lord Jesus. But, again, it’s all a prelude to Chapter 13 which is the centerpiece of the New Testament’s message on relationships and love!
- In Ephesians 4:1-16, the message of unity and diversity in God’s design for the Church is, again, all intertwined with the message of reconciliation, love, and transformed relationships!
We all know that, in one sense, it’s just a lot easier to “do your own thing” and not worry about what others are doing, how they are doing it, what our relationships should be, or what impact all this is having on the majority, non-Christian community.
If you have come to the place where the challenge is too great to go it alone, taking time to think, pray, and take action on relationships is a great place to start.
(1) Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:17
(2) Genesis 1:4, Revelation 10:3
(3) Daniel 10:1-11:2, Job 1:6-12, Ephesians 1:21-22, 2:7-12, 6:10-13
(4) John 10:30, 17:11, 22, 23
(5) The extraordinary good news of the story of redemption, however, is that believers’ access to the Tree of Life is restored (Rev 22:14) because of Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross. Three trees mark the great life cycle of God’s plan, the Tree of Life in Genesis and the Tree of Calvary in the Gospels which provided the bridge, the “way back” to the Tree of Life for redeemed man in Revelation.
(6) This strikingly simple definition of the basis for salvation raises some interesting even disturbing questions about the more complex, often formulaic approaches that have grown up in the Church’s evangelistic enterprise over the last few hundred years!