Churches Cooperating in Missions
I know this Christian named “Guy.” An out-of-town friend once sent him a thank-you note that read something like, “Hey, Guy, I’m so glad you were willing to help support the missionaries from my church when they came through your town. You know, we ought to support missionaries like them because when we do we partner together for the gospel.”
What do you think of that note and the sentiment it expresses?
I admit that talk of “partnering together” makes me a little cynical. It’s a common phrase in the missions world, especially among workers who raise their own support. When I hear someone say “monthly partners,” “financial partners,” or “strategic partners,” I feel like they just want me to “part” with my money or time.
But then again, I have found that the cynic in me is frequently wrong, and quite often sounds like the voice of Satan.
The Apostle John, at any rate, would not agree with the cynic in me. After all, he is the one who penned those words to Guy, or Gaius, as he’s better known. John writes in his third epistle, “You are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you…Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 Jn 5, 8).
WHY COOPERATE IN MISSIONS?
Cooperating in missions among local churches is a big-time important deal. It was during the New Testament era, and it still is today. The books of 3 John and Philippians are especially clear on this point.
In recent days, churches have increasingly recovered a sense that they—not fundamentally a denomination or missions agency—are biblically responsible to send missionaries. That’s good. But there is a danger: churches can lose sight of the fact that Bible encourages churches to cooperate with one another in the missionary endeavor.
So as better theology, technology, and transportation encourage many churches to take a more personal, hands-on approach to missions, we don’t want to stop joining hands with other churches. Such cooperation is both humble and gospel-clarifying, as we publically affirm the work of other churches by joining with them in it.
TESTIMONIES OF CHURCHES COOPERATING IN MISSIONS
We have seen this kind of cooperation in a number of ways in our own church. In every case it has begun by getting to know other like-minded churches that are invested in the same areas of the world where we are.
In one case, a church in another state was sending a team to a country in Central Asia where we also have members serving. The team had only one single woman, so they needed another woman to live with her and to provide accountability and fellowship, but no one from their church was available. So what did their pastor do? He humbly called us and a couple of other likeminded churches to see if we had a woman who might join them for the two-year post.
In another case, our church had committed to providing short term-workers to help host a meeting for missionaries in a city overseas, but the needs of this missionary meeting outstripped our church’s volunteer pool. So I called another church also invested in that part of the world. It was a delight to see them joyfully jump onboard and outdo us in their good works. They sent childcare workers, a dentist, and even a hairdresser to serve the workers extravagantly.
HOW CHURCHES CAN COOPERATE WELL IN MISSIONS
But cooperating in missions is not always easy. Here are a few reflections on how to cooperate well in missions with other churches.
1. Only partner deeply with likeminded churches.
First, only partner deeply with likeminded churches. Churches can grow discouraged from trying to partner in missions with other churches that see the work too differently. Life is too short, and the return of Christ too imminent, to spend too much time trying to bridge too many gulfs. Anything that would make you think twice about planting a church together in your home town should probably give you pause about partnering for foreign missions, particularly if planting churches is the end goal. But where you agree on the fundamentals of church life, you have a good foundation for most missions partnerships. As for the rest of Christ’s churches, thank God for them and then get back to work with likeminded churches.
2. Network within your network.
Second, network within your network. Inside whatever groups or entities you may use to go about doing missions, work to create a more closely-knit group of especially like-minded churches. Our church cooperates with the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to pool resources for missions. But inside that larger group of churches we have cultivated a much smaller group of churches with whom we more directly cooperate. These are the churches with whom we have a personal history of trust and are most eager to partner with, to share members for teams, and to join with in short-term projects.
3. If you don’t have a network, build one.
Third, if you don’t have a network, build one. Talk to pastors of churches with similar theology and find out what they are doing in missions. See if there might be ways that you could join with them in support and encouragement. Just a phone call or an email a few times a year may be enough to get something started. Let other sister churches know what you are doing, and even be willing to invite some of their members to join with you. Or, join with them and learn a few things yourself.
4. Keep it simple.
Fourth, keep it simple. Sometimes well-meaning churches may bite off too much too soon when they start cooperating for mission. But this doesn’t need to be complicated or take a ton of time. You can open a door to fruitful cooperation just by sharing plans over lunch with a fellow pastor once a year. Another good place to start is to send an email a couple of times a year inviting another church or two to join you on some project. Then, as you get to know the culture of another church, you may find it’s possible to cooperate more deeply and permanently—maybe even sending a team of members from both churches to labor long-term overseas.
TO EXALT AND CLARIFY THE GOSPEL
In a special way, cooperating in missions can serve to exalt and clarify the gospel. It helps to show that your church is about more than just your own programs and projects. It shows that you care about the spread of the gospel, even if another church is doing most of the spreading and reaping. And maybe it will help you to find “fellow laborers for the truth” that will bless you and your congregation for years to come.