I’ve participated in collaborative kingdom efforts for more than 30 years. During that time, I’ve heard many reasons why churches or Christian ministries can’t work together. Here are a few:
• We don’t have the time and/or people.
• We already have a well-defined ministry plan and should stick to it – we don’t want to dilute our efforts.
• Our group has certain theological and ministry principles that guide our work – we just wouldn’t be comfortable teaming up with others.
• Our ministry calling is unique and we’re the only ones doing it – partnering with others would be a waste of time.
There are other reasons that aren’t so high and lofty sounding, such as loss of influence, “turf,” or identity. For some, it’s a matter of ego. Some people don’t want to compete for funding sources. Others worry they’ll be perceived as incapable and unable to do the job on their own.
A biblical view of community
In Mark 9:38–41, Jesus defines who’s “in” and “out” in his kingdom. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” declared Jesus. Although we’re often hesitant to partner with other Christians, Jesus was much more inclusive. He embraced a broad group of followers and explained to his disciples that the “in” group was large. In the same spirit, we should be more than willing to join hands with fellow believers in the work of the kingdom.
The central truth of the gospel is restored relationship. And the heart of the New Testament vision for the church is a restored community of God’s people working together:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near (Ephesians 2:14–17).
Through the power of the finished work of Christ, we are his ambassadors of reconciliation and messengers of hope (2 Corinthians 5:17–19).
The effects of sin
But if this is true, why is there such brokenness in the wider community, in the body of Christ, and in the more intimate worlds of family and marriage? Why are effective partnerships of believers so rare?
Made in God’s image, we’re to live and work in community. Outside of time, in eternity, God himself has always lived 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 it clear that God doesn’t dwell in isolation. His nature is to engage in relationships of trust, transparency, respect, and mutuality. So, it’s not surprising God also designed humans to live in relationship.
But sin intervened. As the story of Genesis 2–3 unfolds, we read how Adam and Eve chose to listen to the awful deception of Satan, rather than trust God’s love. It was a step into darkness and isolation. Relationships were destroyed – with God, with ourselves, with others, with creation, and with eternity.
We’ve allowed fear, selfishness, egos, and cultural and theological differences to get in the way. Broken relationships, alienation, heartache, loss of credibility, duplication of effort, lack of influence on society, and diminished power and effectiveness have haunted the church for centuries.
The good news is that even as Adam made his fatal choice in the garden, God was already at work to restore relationships. God’s love was the motivation, and Jesus was the sacrifice that made the restoration possible:
God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children – 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 blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:5–7, Good News Translation).
And as God shares his love with us (John 3:16), he wants us, as transformed men and women, to share that love with others (John 13:34–35).
Real partnerships, real credibility
Those without Christ need more than words; they need a clear, powerful demonstration of God’s power to restore relationships (see John 14:12), especially among his own people. This is why we have such a powerful, natural reason for engaging our neighbours and communities – together.
God is the author of wholeness, and we’re his messengers of this incredibly powerful good news! The world around us is watching to see if what we say can be believed because we demonstrate it in our lives.
So, what would happen in our communities – individually and at every level of need – if God’s people joined hands and hearts to share his good news?
I can think of a few things. The credibility of our lives, churches, and witness would dramatically improve, as we demonstrated the restorative and unity-building power of his finished work on the cross (John 17:21–23). We would learn to trust and value each other. Discouraged or isolated believers would receive new hope.
We would be able to undertake more challenging issues because we’d have access to a new range of resources, contacts, and energy – and probably vision. And we’d be able to reach more people with God’s power and love.
We would also save a bundle of money by reducing duplication of our efforts. At the same time, we’d be able to “fill in the gaps” in critical areas of need that aren’t currently getting attention.
No single church – much less individual – can address the range of issues faced in a typical community. Sure, we can all do something. But we can do so much more when we join hands in partnership. What an amazing vision!