Church partnership is fellowship. It is a mutual agreement to work together. It involves working in harmony and union with other churches and parachurch organisations to attain a common goal. The great commission is an urgent and immense task. This task is too big to be completed by any single congregation. To accomplish the great commission, the path to follow is the path of partnership. Therefore we must work in community, not isolation.
We can accomplish far more for the kingdom of God by working together.
It is high time the African church realised that partnership is a major path to follow if we are to fulfil Jesus’ mandate. For we can accomplish far more for the kingdom of God through establishing church partnerships and working together. That is purpose of this article, to urge African Christians to work alongside each other in service of God.
Competition Undermines the Gospel
I have been a church leader in Uganda for 15 years. And one of the saddest things I’ve observed is the difficulty Christians find in working together. Many find it easier to tear each other apart than to build each other up. Thus Christians in Africa have a lot of difficulty working together for a shared good. The spirit of Ubuntu is within the tribe. But it doesn’t appear much in the church. So it’s common to see Christian entities, that should be working together, working against and even opposing each other.
The spirit of Ubuntu is within the tribe. But not so much the church.
The light of the gospel has been dimmed by competition among churches on a continent that is filled with darkness. Church partnership is the path that will light the gospel and expel the darkness on our continent. Competition has limited the impact of the church in being salt and light to society. This competition and rivalry is a clear sign that we have not fully grasped the magnitude of the great commission—perhaps even the gospel.
Jesus’ great commission thrives in the lush soils of solid gospel partnership between churches.
Christian Unity is Obedience to the Gospel
Biblical church partnership affirms unity in diversity. Throughout the Bible we see the theme of unity in diversity, God repeatedly calls us to be relationally united yet diverse in our functions (Ephesians 4:7-16). This unity is a call to live in union with other believers without necessarily being uniform. It involves being united, while each member serves a different function.
God calls us to be relationally united yet diverse in our functions.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, the church is described as one body made up of different parts. In the Bible it is clear that the church is one body with one head, Christ Jesus. So we’re playing on the same team, God’s kingdom. In Luke 10 and John 17, Jesus calls on his disciples to be united and work together as a unified team. This is because in working together the church reflects the very triune nature of God and how he designed it to function in unity yet diversity.
Three Benefits of Church Partnerships
1. Partnerships Maximise Ministry Outputs
Through communication the church gets to know what others are doing. A point in case is discipleship. In Africa, it is well known that we have a discipleship crisis and almost everyone is trying to do something about this problem. A lot of financial resources have been invested in developing materials on discipling, training leaders, developing teams. However, there is unfortunately a lot of duplication, because of a lack of knowledge about who is doing what.
Partnerships improve communication, creating an environment to learn from one other.
Many church ministries have limited resources yet they are reinventing the wheel, rather than partnering with other churches and maximising their limited resources for greater impact. Church partnerships improve communication, creating an environment to learn from one other.
2. Church Partnerships Promote Effective Collaboration
In collaboration we work as part of a team. For example, in the case of evangelism and church planting, collaboration is critical.
Partnership will lead to collaboration in evangelism and church planting.
It is common in Africa to see the same people being evangelised repeatedly, while others aren’t reached at all. Many have heard the gospel more than twice. Yet some have not ever heard of Christ’s wonderful work. This is especially true in urban areas, where churches are being planted next door to each other, leaving other areas without a single church. Church partnership will lead to collaboration in our efforts to evangelise and plant churches.
3. Partnerships Boost Better Coordination
Coordination is necessary in complex matters. Consider, for example, the challenge of poverty in Africa. The African church has been keen on a holistic mission, seeking to care for the whole person. But our efforts are often fruitless because of a lack of coordination. In its efforts to improve care for the needy, there has been duplication of support to the same people by different parachurch organisations. Churches partnering together and coordinating their work to address matters such as poverty will result in a greater impact.
Church partnerships can surely be complicated. But I trust by now I’ve convinced you of their value. Under the final three subheadings I will briefly outline the basic building blocks for any potential partnership between churches.
1. Common Vision
Vision answers the ‘why’ question of a church partnership. It means sharing a clear and desired future or outcome. A common vision is the purpose for any partnership. Without a vision, a partnership will perish. What are we agreeing to work together towards?
Without a vision, a partnership will perish.
This highlights the motivation driving the partnership. It is a shared burden between the partners. Vision determines the mission, objectives, strategies, and actions to be implemented. This needs to be written down clearly, with specific agreed action points. If this is not clear the partnership will not go far.
2. Consistent Values
Values answer the ‘how’ question. This defines the method of operation for the partnership. These values determine what is right and what is wrong. This is important, because it is on this basis that trust is built.
Values determine what is right and wrong.
Trust is the currency of partnership. It makes the partnership authentic and transparent. Trust in a partnership cannot be bought but is only earned. It takes time and intentionality to build. So values built on mutual trust help each one to understand the shared expectations. If the standard operating procedures are inconsistent the partnership will not thrive.
3. Communion in Prayer and Beliefs
Beliefs determines ‘who’ is in the partnership. For the church, the chief end of a partnership is to glorify God. If the glorification of God is not at the centre of a partnership, then the partnership is not worth it. Thus there should be shared theological beliefs in any partnership.
The chief end of any church partnership is to glorify God.
It is also important that intentional prayer time is part of the partnership, if it desires to fulfil the great commission. These common beliefs ensure that God is not left out, but is at the centre of the partnership.
We Need Each Other
Partnership is at the heart of the Trinity; it was at the heart of the gospel; and it was the heart of the early church. Therefore it should be reflected in the heart of the church today. The building of solid gospel-centred church partnerships is critical to the health of the African Church. The great commission is too big to be accomplished by a single church.