God comes to us in these days as a Father — bringing His family access to freedom, reconciliation, salvation, and hope. Hope not just for eternity but hope for a changed life, changed relationships, changed communities, changed society, and a changed witness — now!
The basis for this transformation, to our rediscovering His power and hope, is rediscovering His vision for restored relationships which will empower everything we do — together in Partnership.
I would like us to pray and consider how the power of new paradigms in Kingdom partnership can change our individual lives, our ministries, our communities, and the nations from which each of us come.
A New Vision Sweeping the World
The good news is that already, around the world, followers of Jesus have begun to recapture the power of God’s promises — in a new, global movement of partnership. This experience is releasing spiritual power, new effectiveness in ministry, restored relationships inside the Body of Christ, an acceleration of evangelism and establishment of the Church, and new hope — for long-time believers and new converts alike.
For example in the church’s initiatives at the frontiers — in dozens of language groups where, for nearly 2000 years, there has been no church, no light, no salvation, and no hope, tens of thousands of men, women, and children are being swept into the Kingdom and hundreds of churches are being established. Over recent years, in country after country, God’s people have begun to re-experience the beauty, power, and hope that working together in new forms of partnership can bring.
An informal survey of major language groups over one million in size where large numbers of people are coming to Christ shows that in almost every case it is where God’s people are intentionally working together in partnerships. The global church is a reality. And today representatives of that church are meeting in the field.
I believe God has that vision for ministry in each of our communities and nations! God’s people working together in Partnership to restore relationships, lives, and communities.
We Proclaim a Gospel of Restored Relationships
The central truth we proclaim is a Gospel of restored relationship. And at the heart of all lasting, effective ministry partnership is a community of believers demonstrating that kind of relationship.
Restoration of that community was set in motion in His plan for our redemption. And, a restored community of God’s people working together is at the heart of the New Testament vision of the church.
For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies. He abolished the Jewish law with its commandments and rules, in order to create out of the two races one new people in union with himself, in this way making peace. By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their hostility; by means of the cross he united both races and brought them back to God. Then Christ came and preached the Good News of peace to all…. Ephesians 2:14-17.
Through the power of the finished work of Christ, we are His ambassadors of reconciliation and messengers of hope. Through Christ, the hostilities can be ended and we can be messengers of that Good News. (II Cor 5:17-19)
The Hostilities Begin, Broken Relationships, The Result
But, if all this is true, why is there such brokenness in the Body of Christ? Why are long-term, effective partnerships of believers working together so rare?
God’s plan from the beginning was for us to work together under His lordship. Made in His image, He wanted us to live and work in community. But sin intervened.
Outside of time, in eternity, God has always lived in community — in relationship. A survey of passages such as the early chapters of Job, Daniel’s visions, the third chapter of the letter to the Ephesians, and Jesus’ many references to His relationship with the Father make clear that God does not dwell in isolation. His nature is to dwell in relationships of trust, transparency, respect, and mutuality
So, it is not surprising that when He said “let us make man in our image,” that we, by our God-given nature, are also designed to live in relationship.
Man chose to listen to the awful deception of Satan rather than trust God’s love. It was a step into the complete darkness, isolation, and loss of hope. All that was beautiful was distorted.
The consequences of man’s choice meant —
- A broken relationship with God (Gen 3:8)
- A broken relationship with himself (Gen 3:10)
- A broken relationship with others, (Gen 3:12/4:9) and,
- A broken relationship with the created order (Gen 4:16-19).
When Adam blamed Eve for his sin and Cain denied responsibility for his brother and murdered Abel, the brokenness had begun. It has continued as a dark plague down through the history of man’s journey.
Western Christianity, with its cultural and philosophical post-enlightenment pre-occupation with individualism has accelerated the brokenness. And, through Western training institutions and many Western missionary efforts, individualism has spread like an infection throughout many societies where community and the value of relationships have been highly prized for centuries.
A classic illustration of the impact of culture on Western ministry is that, in the West, the Biblical view of effective communication has been largely lost. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scripture makes clear that there are two levels of witness: individual witness and community witness. There is the strong suggestion in Scripture that community witness is more important than individual witness.
For centuries we have allowed Satan to build on our fear, selfishness, egos, cultural and theological differences. We have allowed him to divide and conquer us. We have mirrored the divisions of secular society. In his strategy, Satan has neutralized the power of the Gospel in millions of lives. Broken relationships, alienation, heartache, loss of credibility, duplication of effort, lack of influence on society around us, and diminished power and effectiveness have haunted the church for centuries.
Jesus Is The Good News
The good news is that even as man made his fatal choice in the garden, God was already at work to bring man back into a restored relationship with Himself. God’s love was the motivation and Jesus was the sacrifice that made the restoration possible.
Because of his love, God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his sons — this was his pleasure and purpose. Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son! For by the sacrificial death of Christ we are set free…. Ephesians 1:5-7.
And as God shares His love for us (John 3:16), so, as transformed men and women, He wants to share that love, through us, for others.
And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples. John 13:34-35.
These transformed relationships that are open, honest, and loving — are the basis for all lasting partnership. If there is any real hope of our effectively reaching our neighbors with the Good News of Jesus love, we must first demonstrate His love among ourselves! Remember Jesus’ words, “You may not believe what you hear me saying, but you cannot deny my works.” And, the Apostle Paul’s admonition, “By their fruit you shall know them.” The world around us is watching to see if what we say can be believed because we demonstrate it in our lives. You will recall those telling lines as the people of Jesus time said, “He is not like the others who just talk, He speaks with authority!”
Why did they say this? Because they saw that God, through Jesus, was prepared to meet them at the point of the brokenness of their everyday lives. Read carefully the accounts of the 23-24 people in the four Gospels with whom Jesus interacts, personally. 88% of these individuals came to Jesus with the brokenness of ordinary lives; broken bodies, broken dreams, psychological/spiritual torment, social alienation, lost children, friends and family who were ill or dying. Only a little over 10% came to Him with what we would, today, call “spiritual” or “religious” issues.
Remember that God’s plan is for whole bodies, whole minds, whole communities, whole relationships — with others and with Him. Even work, often dismissed as a curse, was given to us as gift by God before the fall. Individuals out of work are individuals who have no direction, no sense of value, and no hope. That is why the church should always be at the forefront of helping individuals to find meaningful employment.
Those without Christ need more than words, they need a clear, powerful demonstration of God’s power to restore relationships — first, among His own people. That is, among those of us in the conference and the colleagues and friends with whom we will work when we return.
In Jesus, all the old brokenness is washed away. We are restored to God, we are restored to ourselves, we are restored to others, and we are empowered to deal with the brokenness in society and the created world around us.
Jesus is the model. His relationship with the Father; His peace with Himself — knowing who He was and what His role in the world was to be; His transparency and openness in His relationship with others; and, His commitment to the restoration of wholeness in those around Him. (Luke 7:21-23)
The Partnership Vision; The Body’s Many Parts Working 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 that have emerged, focused on major unreached people groups, operate without constitutions, “membership,” traditional “voting rights” or 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 group.
Kingdom Effectiveness: Key Partnership Principles
If the benefits are so great, why aren’t there more effective partnerships? The answers lie in a few key principles:
- Effective, lasting partnerships do not spontaneously occur. It takes a conscious commitment of time and energy over a sustained period of time to see a partnership launched and have a deep, lasting spiritual impact.
- In partnerships, prayer and active commitment to forgiveness, reconciliation, and open relationships are vital. We minimize our own sinful nature and deny the fact that Satan seeks actively to keep the church divided. Where we see divisions in the Body of Christ, we know sin is present and Satan is at work. Restored, open, trusting relationships are vital to effective partnership.
- Effective partnerships are a process not an event. It takes time to get to know and actively listen to others who are committed to a similar region, language group, or type of ministry. Partnerships cannot be born by simply calling a meeting. Relationships must be built before effective action is possible.
- Partnerships need a committed facilitator. A person or small team of people must hold a burning vision for two things: the ministry purpose for which the partnership has been born and a commitment to the launch and long-term effective maintenance of the partnership itself.
- Those exploring or launching partnerships must have a common vision. Not necessarily the same traditions or identical theological background, but a deep commitment to individuals knowing Christ and His power to transform their lives and communities.
- Particularly in the beginning, partnerships must establish limited but highly motivational goals for action. Success in partnership has eluded us for so long we desperately need a good experience — early in the process. These early goals must meet three criteria: All must agree the objective is something that, clearly, God wants done; that the objective will bring “added value” all participating ministries; and that have a high likelihood of success.
Working Together: God’s Plan For Salvation, Transformation and Hope
There is hope that, though Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit, the world around us can be transformed — radically changed by the power of the Kingdom. The defining event of all human history has already occurred. Jesus has already won the battle over darkness. Now, He offers us His power and presence as we move forward to engage the enemy each day.
I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go then to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis added)
His finished work on the cross, His triumphant resurrection, His continued presence with us through the power of His Holy Spirit provide all that we need to work in faith — together.
Everything written in the Scriptures was written…in order that we might have hope…. And may God, the source of patience and encouragement, enable you to have the same point of view among yourselves by following the example of Jesus Christ, so that all of you together may praise with one voice the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. May God, the source of all hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:4-6, 13 (emphasis added)
Through the power of partnership, individual men, women, and children’s lives will be changed. Relationships will be restored, communities transformed, salvation realized, and hope restored. God has promised it, He has a vision for it, and God will help us to carry out this vision He has held for so long. May we experience a powerful new joy and confidence as we move forward in His name.