Today we continue our interview with Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks, on their Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion. If you missed part 1 of this interview you can catch up here.
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
How did your own interest in this subject come about? Tell us about your own experience in these kinds of church partnerships.
A few years ago, I was meeting regularly with a group of pastors in our denomination, the Evangelical Free Church. We enjoyed one another’s company, but we weren’t doing much together outside our regularly scheduled meetings. One day, the topic of missions came up. As we talked, we realized that all our churches were spreading money, energy, and prayer for overseas ministry haphazardly across the globe, with little strategic thought. Praying together, we sensed God calling us to focus our efforts and partner together in missions somewhere. As we compared notes, we realized that we were all engaged in ministry to one degree or another in Southeast Asia.
But there was a problem: We were working with all kinds of missionaries from all kinds of organizations with all kinds of ministry goals. How could we unite? There was only one way to find out: get boots on the ground. A few months later, four of us jumped on a plane and went on a whirlwind trip through Southeast Asia. Our goal was to meet as many of our ministry contacts as possible and look for ways our churches could partner in ministry there.
As we drank gallons of tea and coffee with dozens of missionaries and local church leaders in three countries, our fellowship expanded. We gained many new friends across the region, all with different goals, target groups, and strategies, but all united by the gospel.
Once we got back home, we continued building relationships over e-mails and video chats. Other leaders in the East and West heard about what we were doing and joined the conversation. Out of this gospel fellowship, a church-planting partnership was born, with the goal of multiplying healthy churches across Southeast Asia. In the past few years, this partnership of churches across the Pacific has trained, sent, and supported local church-planters in strategic cities and unreached people-groups.
A little while after this partnership launched, a handful of churches in the Gospel Coalition Hawaii Network began to grow in concern over the lack of options for pastoral and theological training in the islands. Many local pastors could not afford to go to the mainland for seminary, and many of those who did never came back! So we partnered together across denominational lines to provide serious, church-based theological training for pastors and church planters in the islands. Chris took the lead, and within a few years, the Antioch School Hawaii partnership had been involved in training more than fifty students, most of whom are currently in pastoral ministry or heading in that direction.
None of our churches could do any of this on our own, but we’re able to dream big dreams for the kingdom and then pursue those dreams by working together.
Books At a Glance:
What are some benefits you have seen for local churches who partner together with others?
We could think of a few big benefits that come from partnership:
Fellowship for leaders (especially in smaller churches)
I’ve worked on a church staff of more than a hundred and I’ve worked by myself in a church plant where the church office was my kitchen table. I know how lonely it can be to minister in a small congregation where everyone else is busy all day. Working in partnership with leaders from other churches kept me sane!
Encouragement, inspiration, and refreshment
When you work together in kingdom partnership, old and tired churches are recharged by the energy of amped-up younger churches. Young and restless live-wire churches are grounded by the wisdom of established churches.
Spiritual and practical sharpening
We usually can’t see it in ourselves, but every church is strange and imbalanced in some way. Working together with other churches helps make us less strange. When you serve alongside a church that’s more evangelistically passionate and fruitful, you are forced to examine your own church’s low number of conversions. When you work with a church that has more well-thought-through theological foundations for everything it does, you might be challenged to confront an overly pragmatic bent in your own church.
If you are part of a church that’s small in numbers but big in vision, kingdom partnership may be the way God plans to provide the resources you need to fulfill the mission he’s given you.
Books At a Glance:
There is probably no one-size-fits-all answer here, but can you give us some general suggestions regarding first steps? What adjustments in our thinking need to be made? How can we look to get started? How can pastors begin to foster this vision?
Probably the biggest adjustment to our thinking needs to be overcoming our aversions to partnering with other churches! Frankly, many pastors have a fierce independent streak that is sometimes helpful in keeping them from doctrinal error but also keeps them for pursuing the kinds of uncompromising unity the NT demands of us. So, as they say, the first step is admitting that you have a problem!
Beyond that, the next step toward church partnerships is almost invariably pastoral fellowship. In order to work together, you have to know each other. And I’m not talking about just sitting down over coffee to exchange pleasantries while you are really just sizing each other up. I’m talking about learning to love and pray for each other, learning where you agree and disagree about theology, life, and ministry, and talking together about your ministry dreams and ambitions.
Once this type of fellowship begins to take root, you will be able to identify where you might have shared passions and interests with other churches. You will identify what needs you both perceive in your region. And, hopefully, you will begin to find ways to connect the members of your churches in more meaningful ways. When you begin to see needs and a shared passion for those needs among several churches in your area, in your godly excitement, your temptation will be to get started on something right away. But before you launch anything, bath it in a season of ongoing prayer. We believe God will use more and more church partnerships to do some amazing things in the coming years, but we also believe that without a foundation of joyful dependence on him, many of these partnership will fall flat quickly.