Partnering Together: A Practical Guide


What comes to your mind when you hear the word “denomination”?

Maybe you think of an ecclesiastical hierarchy—a bishop or presbytery able to tell churches what to do. Or perhaps you think of a complicated institution with seminaries and sending agencies. At the very least, you probably equate “denomination” with a group of churches identifying and working together.

Does the Bible have anything to say about denominations? Suppose we ignore that word and simply ask if Scripture gives us any insight about how churches ought to relate to one another. Does it?

The answer is yes! Churches ought to relate in four specific and interconnected ways. How these ways are lived out can vary from church to church and, dare I say, from denomination to denomination.

However, I fear many denominations have lost sight of the forest for the trees—they’ve so emphatically focused on cooperation for mission that they’ve neglected other important and biblical aspects that define how independent churches relate to each other.

1. Churches Ought to Know One Another.

To the best of our ability, congregations should know how God is at work in and through sister congregations.

Consider how Paul wrote from Corinth to the churches in Rome, before he ever visited Rome. He likely learned a great deal about the Lord’s work there through his partnership with Prisca and Aquila. He could send individual greetings: “Greet also the church in their house” (Rom. 16:5). Interestingly, Paul could even send greetings from other churches: “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Rom. 16:16).

The end of many other epistles makes the same point: first-century churches, even on different continents, knew of one another well enough to send warm and genuine greetings.

I know Jeff who pastors a Missouri Synod Lutheran church in my city and Aaron who pastors a PCA church across town. Of course, I also know several other Baptist pastors in my area. The depth of these relationships may vary, but we strive to know what God is doing in each of our churches since we are all gospel-centered.

2. Churches Ought to Encourage One Another.

The New Testament authors inform us how first-century churches related deeply enough to share genuine encouragement. This typically happened through personal visits. Consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:21–22:

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts (emphasis added).

Paul was an apostle with a unique burden for all the churches. Nonetheless, he provides an example for pastors and churches to follow. Just as the church in Ephesus needed encouragement, your church needs encouragement. It’s a joy to hear the pastor or member of another congregation say something like, “I’m glad you are serving, keeping the faith, and sharing the gospel. I praise God for your ministry!” Encouragement like this is wind in the sails.

I used to think the only legitimate “missions” trip was one where I either evangelized unbelievers or taught believers. However, sometimes it’s best to be a Tychicus and simply “be” with another pastor or church across town or across the world. Such relationship-building is profoundly biblical.

3. Churches Ought to Strengthen One Another.

Paul, sent out by the church in Antioch, is once again an excellent model. He ends his first missionary journey by re-visiting congregations God used him to plant. He retraces his steps for the sole purpose of strengthening these fledgling churches.

Consider Luke’s description of Paul’s trip from Derbe to Lystra in Acts 14:21­–23:

When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Paul didn’t just plant churches and hope for the best. He revisited congregations to strengthen them. Why? Luke identifies two pressing needs: First, a church needs to be spiritually refreshed to persevere in the face of persecution (v22). Second, a church needs to be biblically governed to protect sound doctrine (v23).

When pastors meet up, they often “talk shop” by sharing difficulties and trouble-shooting solutions. This isn’t gossip (at least not necessarily). It’s churches strengthening one another for the glory of God and the health of their flocks.

Our world needs more faithful churches, but if we fail to strengthen existing churches, we run the risk of congregations weakening and even departing from the faith.

4. Churches Ought to Share with One Another.

Once again, consider Acts. When persecution erupted in Jerusalem, believers scattered (Acts 11:19) and God planted a thriving, growing church in Antioch. The church in Jerusalem heard of the new congregation in Antioch and decided to share their best and brightest: “they sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22). Barnabas was undoubtedly a deep encouragement to the embattled believers in Jerusalem. Still, the church let him go.

Barnabas rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He partnered with Paul to minister for over a year. Then they learned more trouble had reached the saints in Jerusalem. A famine struck the land, and their brothers and sisters needed help. The church in Antioch decided to share material resources to serve their mother church: “The disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:29).

How did these two churches share with one another? The believers in Jerusalem, rich with leaders, sent Barnabas to Antioch. The believers in Antioch, rich with money, sent relief to Jerusalem. In the Bible, we have precedent for sending aid that is spiritual and material in nature. It’s all part of sharing with other churches for the glory of God.


There are many ways to practice these four principles. Churches can form informal or formal networks. Some networks are large, consisting of thousands of churches, while others may be home to just a handful. Some networks are big-tent organizations which typically unite around mission, while others require tighter theological agreement. The pros and cons of these various approaches deserve serious conversation.

Please notice that these four principles go together. It’s far easier for churches to share resources when they already know, encourage, and strengthen one another. Think of these first three principles as the foundation on which cooperation and sharing is built.

Regardless of how our churches choose to relate, let’s at least agree that local churches are to relate by knowing, encouraging, serving, and sharing with one another for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel.

Aaron Menikoff

Aaron Menikoff is the Senior Pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

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