I love it when this younger generation of pastors creatively takes an old idea and brings it to the attention of today’s church. Churches partnering together is an idea many of us independent types forgot long ago, but Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks want to put it back on our radar. As D.A. Carson writes in the Foreword, “these brothers have important things to say, an important vision to cast, and important experiences to share with those of us who are members of small churches.”
It’s an unusual book, and it’s filled with vision and practical instruction to carry it out. Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks talk to us today about their Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion.
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
First, tell us what you mean by “kingdom partnership.”
We’re seeing unique ministries spring up across the globe, bringing together local churches who are more interested in building the kingdom than their own little castles. They are reaching across denominational lines to train pastors and church-planters, bring the gospel to unreached people in difficult areas, rescue victims of human trafficking, and so on.
We define a kingdom partnership as a gospel-driven relationship between interdependent local churches that pray, work, and share resources together strategically to glorify God through kingdom-advancing goals they could not accomplish alone.
The word “kingdom” is used pretty loosely today. So to be clear, in our minds “building the kingdom” doesn’t just mean making life better for people. Jesus didn’t die on the cross, rise from the dead, and ascend to the throne of the universe to make things better. We believe he came to make all things new, which means we cannot rest in our partnership efforts until people are redeemed and radically transformed by his grace.
Books At a Glance:
Summarize for us the biblical basis of church partnerships in ministry.
We come at that question from a few different angles in the book, including the fundamental idea that God created us for fellowship — just another word for partnership. But the main biblical example we looked at is the partnership that Paul precipitated among the churches he had established throughout the Mediterranean region.
Matt has been in ministry for close to 20 years, and I have a Ph.D. in New Testament, but neither of us realized the central role that this partnership had in Paul’s ministry for almost a decade. But once you start to dig a little, you see references to the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem all over the place. If you are reading with your eyes open, you’ll see significant the “collection partnership” is in Acts (16:6; 20:4-6; 21:3-4; 7; 16), Romans (12:13; 15:26), and the Corinthians letters (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8:1-5; 9:2, 4).
The bottom line is that Paul saw a fundamental unity among the churches because of their unity in Christ. The gospel unites us to the Trinity and it unites us to each other. Consequently, Paul wanted to push them toward practical ways of expressing and encouraging that unity. While we recognize that practical, theological, and historical realities will simply keep some churches from merging, this should not keep likeminded, gospel-driven churches from partnering together in every possible way.
Books At a Glance:
What kind of “strategies” and specific partnered ministries do you have in mind? And what factors determine their selection?
While we certainly want to encourage strategic thinking about partnerships, we’ve found that a church partnership can’t usually start as a church partnership. Instead, you need to build a foundation of trust and unity through denominations or other networks (think TGC or Acts 29). So our goal is to get like-minded Christians in the same region and sometimes across regions talking and praying about what God might call them to do together that they could not do alone. So that makes a one-size-fits-all answer somewhat difficult. Every partnership will have its own unique dynamics and challenges. Having said that, as you consider whether or not to launch a partnership, we’ve found three diagnostic questions that can help you decide whether to proceed.
First, is there a need? Are there people in physical or emotional need who could be effectively served by a group of churches? Is there a crisis you could respond to with long-term ministry? Are there underreached geographical areas, people groups, or segments of the culture where the gospel has not yet effectively penetrated? Are there places where more churches should be planted? Are there leaders who are not being sufficiently equipped?
Next, is there an opportunity? Are there people who are asking for practical help? Are there unbelievers who are ready to receive Christ? Are there churches or believers who are asking for training and expertise? Are there unusual opportunities that may not last for long?
Finally, is there congruity? Are there other leaders and churches who share the same burden as you to meet the need you’ve identified? Are they willing to invest time, energy, and resources? Do they have a strong passion for this ministry, or could it be that you’re dragging them into partnership by sheer force of personality and persuasion?
Note: We will continue our interview with Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks here tomorrow.