Church Partnerships: For the Gospel
The local church is ground zero for what God is doing in the world, but the local church is not alone—there are local churches. On the whole, local churches struggle to look beyond the walls of their buildings and the bounds of their membership roles. A right emphasis on the autonomy of the local church sometimes leads to a wrong limited concern for the larger body of Christ.
Nevertheless, the Scriptures are replete with examples of local churches acting on behalf of other churches by supporting them financially (Romans 15:25–26, 1 Corinthians 16:1–3, 2 Corinthians 9:12), lifting them up in prayer (Ephesians 6:18), sharing in gospel resources (2 Corinthians 8:18, 3 John 5-6), and engaging in loving relationships (Ephesians 1:15, Colossians 1:4, Romans 16:5). The relationships between local churches in the New Testament ought to be visible between local churches in our day as well because the nature of the local church has not changed.
Clearly, there are factors that lead to closer partnerships while other factors may lead to lesser partnerships. For instance, denominational identity will certainly play a role in the type of endeavor that two churches might pursue. Another factor is simply the reality of proximity. The closer two churches are in proximity, the greater the ability they have to partner together. For most churches, proximity will be the first factor to consider as they recognize the presence of other churches in their area.
Regardless of these factors, churches share in a common identity as the people of God, the body of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. As such, there is a need to exercise care and concern for other local churches.
I have been greatly encouraged by the kind of church partnerships I have witnessed in the past weeks as I spent time with the Pillar Network, NAMB, and the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention gathering. At our most recent members’ meeting, I shared about these meetings, along with an opportunity to provide support to a church plant outside of our denominational affiliation.
I was reminded of Jonathan Leeman’s helpful work, Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism. Toward the end of this book, Leeman highlights the reality that all local churches share the same Christ, the same confession, and the same commission. As such, local churches can (and should) partner together for the advance of the gospel and the good of God’s people. Leeman points out several implications of this shared identity as he urges congregations to work together. A summary of the most practical points are listed below:
- “The names and reputations of all Christians in all churches are bound together even when they belong to different denominations . . . when one Christian church presents a poor witness in a city (no matter the denomination), every Christian church in that city suffers. When one church presents a positive witness, every church benefits” (165).
- Churches “should pray for one another, encourage one another, financially support one another as opportunity allows, and generally do what they can to support one another’s ministries. This means there should be an openness to informal relationships among churches, particularly between church leaders. Having knowledgeable relationships facilitates specific prayer, encouragement, and aid. Such interaction and prayer builds mature congregations and helps them avoid turf wars” (165).
- “Churches should work to supply capable pastors or at least supply preachers to struggling churches who lack them. I know of several churches who, when they work to plant or revitalize another church, agree to pay the pastor’s salary in that other church for the first couple of years. And they do so without asking to exercise any authority over that other congregation. It is a gift” (167).
- "Churches should help one another with membership and discipline . . . Our church does not believe that it is bound by the other church's decision [to discipline a member], but we would be foolish not to make inquiries [when the member desires to join our church]” (167-168).
- “Churches should partner together in their mercy-ministry work . . . Compiling and coordinating resources for mercy ministry among non-Christian neighbors can help churches fulfill the Great Commission and live as holy ones who are salt and light in the world” (168).
Partnering with other local churches in these (and other) ways requires sacrifice, humility, and creativity. Nevertheless, the New Testament pattern is for local churches to care about other local churches because of their shared submission to Christ, their shared confession of the gospel, and their shared commission.
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