Think of the breadth and depth of our calling in the Great Commission: “all nations” and obedience to “all” that Jesus commanded. It’s a good thing that he is with us for the “all” of every day. The Great Commission is just too grand of a charge for one local church to accomplish on their own. Therefore, every church is going to have to face the question: with whom will we partner?
The Gospel Should Be Central to Their Faith and Ministry
We partner to advance the good news entrusted to the church alone that can save people eternally. Oddly enough, this basic foundation is often where assumptions are made. Unfaithfulness to proclaim this message clearly undermines the whole endeavor.
When we’re thinking about identifying partners who faithfully proclaim the gospel, we’re not just looking for them to recite the basics of John 3:16. We want to know how they call people to the gospel message. What must they communicate to ensure the full gospel has been proclaimed? What barriers to understanding exist in their context and how do they seek to clarify the gospel despite those barriers? What does it look like for someone to respond positively? What do they do if someone responds in unbelief?
We’re also looking for the way the gospel message shapes their approach to ministry. A biblically defined gospel, as we see throughout Paul’s letters, actually becomes a whole philosophy of ministry that derives from faith in its power to transform people (1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5). Worldly methodologies can detract from the cross’s centrality and actually undermine its potency.
Worldly methodologies can detract from the cross’s centrality and actually undermine its potency.
This is why Paul defied any attempt to “empty the cross of its effect” by infusing foreign elements into his approach to ministry that would encourage leaning on anything besides God’s power and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:5). Worldly methodology actually leaves people leaning on man’s wisdom, which is not the cross where God’s wisdom was made manifest. Robust faith in the gospel’s power to save sinners shapes the whole aim and approach of Christian ministry and unbelief in its power does as well. If any method “unlocks” the harvest for a potential partner, our level of concern raises because this potentially means the message has been displaced from the center.
They Should Be Committed to Establishing Biblical Churches
We desire to hear how this potential partner connects gospel proclamation with establishing the gospel people, the church. Just what is a biblical church from their perspective? If the church is God’s plan A for reaching the world and a potential partner has created a plan B, we might begin asking a few more questions. We would lean into that disconnect, assuming the best yet exploring the contextual reasons why they have untethered what God joined together.
What are the first steps for new believers? Who baptizes and why? What are some aspects of biblical church leadership they are trying to cultivate in their discipleship? When does a Bible study group cross over to actually being a church? What changes when that self-identification as a “church” happens? If they are not partnering with other local churches, why?
There are so many good endeavors happening by Christians around the world. We want to see a tangible connection to the local church. Ideally, even the broader humanitarian efforts done by Christians serve to strengthen local church ministry.
The Bible Should Play a Directive Role in Their Ministry
We look for signs the Bible functions with directive force within their ministry. This is a question of authority. What expresses their ministry aspirations? What limits their ministry methods? How does discipleship take shape? Are they functionally implanting a posture of active submission to the Bible? Jesus is head over his church and the way his headship takes shape in a church’s life is by yielding to the Bible.
They Should Be Focused on Long-Term Gospel Fruit
The last day shapes the end goal of mission partnerships. Partnerships that are merely focused on the initial harvest are short-sighted. The God who began the good work of partnership at Philippi has a vested interest in seeing it through to the end and will do so (Philippians 1:6). We love the focus on the harvest and pray for the gospel to run as it did in Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 3:1). Yet we also want that fruit to remain, not just for this life but into the next. We desire to see the necessary nurturing of leadership in these churches that are planted so the gospel can remain pure and the people of God can mature in its truth (2 Corinthians 11:1–3; Ephesians 4).
This focus helps us rejoice appropriately at fruitfulness. It also depressurizes our expectations for local partners where they don’t need to impress us with immediate fruit. This posture of patience on our part, we hope, trains them to look beyond outward acts that could resemble conversion like hand-raising to real discipleship and love that mark true conversion. We want the harvest alongside them but we ultimately know the last day is when that joy will be complete.
This article is part of a mini-series from Chip Bugnar on partnerships in missions. To learn more, read Chip’s articles on How Money Changes Global Partnerships and Partnerships Help Us Obey the Great Commission.