As I sat around the table at the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) gathering in Trujillo, Peru, discussing our shared ministry, I began to reflect on the nuances and challenges of partnership.
The biblical mandate for Christians to minister in partnership is indisputable. But we can easily make some false assumptions when partnering across socioeconomic and geopolitical lines:
1. If we have wealth, we don’t have need.
2. If we’re poor, we having nothing to offer.
3. If we’re educated, we have nothing to learn.
4. If we’re uneducated, we have nothing to teach.
5. If we’re a large church or denomination, we’re successful.
6. If we’re small, we’re unsuccessful.
A number of years ago, I attended a conference in England and had the privilege of sharing a dinner table with missionary Jackie Pullinger. As we discussed the impoverished community in Hong Kong where she ministers, Jackie reminded us – who mostly came from affluent parts of the globe – that we’re all poor in some way. We all have need, whether we realize it or not.
I recently heard two statements from Christian leaders that stopped me in my mental tracks.
The first was tongue-in-cheek: “We don’t share anything we don’t control.” There’s probably more truth to that statement than we want to admit. Christians are often slow to trust, quick to assume ulterior motives, and even less motivated to share if it means loss of control. No wonder Jesus prayed for unity!
The second statement was equally humbling: “Partnering is not actually partnering unless both parties are
giving and receiving from each other.”
Mutual need and benefit are foundational to healthy partnerships. Unfortunately, the Western church often operates as if we don’t need others. Individuals who attain financial independence tend to be quick to give and slow to receive. Churches that have grown beyond several hundred often adopt a corporate expression of the same self-sufficient mindset.
If we see ourselves – personally or corporately – as having no need, we misapply the gospel. Scripture assumes we will always have need. Therefore, Paul outlines the way we must rely on one another: “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27, NLT).
When we share our resources but not our need, we dehumanize ourselves and others. When we share our need, we level the playing field of relationship.
Proverbs 30:21–22 is a somewhat obscure passage, but masterfully lays out the same principle: “There are three things that make the earth tremble – no, four it cannot endure: a slave who becomes a king, an overbearing fool who prospers” (NLT).
The earth shudders when someone with the mindset and disposition of a slave acquires the power and authority of a king. We may think it’s wonderful for a slave to rise to the level of king – very Joseph-like! But often, the heart of a slave is focused on survival, clawing at whatever can be acquired and trying to advance within oppressive power structures.
A slave often passes on what’s been given to him: abuse, violence, marginalization, and dehumanization. When someone like that rises to the throne, the fallout can be terrible.
On the other hand, someone raised to be an honourable king serves the greater good of the people. He recognizes that his authority isn’t for his own gratification but for the benefit of his citizens. A good king is generous, fair, and just. He protects the poor and shares liberally with others.
Jesus said, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return” (Luke 12:48, NLT). Indeed, the Western church has been given much. But the greatest application of that gift can only be discovered when we see our need in the same light as we see our resources.
For the church in Canada to truly thrive, we must share our gifts and our needs. To share is to relinquish control and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. To share is to humble ourselves and build intimacy in relationship. To share is to give voice to the reality that we are not self-contained creatures or organizations. To share is to recognize that others have something to give us that we cannot give ourselves. To share is to open the door for God to release the fruit of the Spirit into our lives and communities.
So, what do we need?
—Willy Reimer is CCMBC executive director and lives in Calgary with his family.