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The Word Has It
“Strengthen me according to Your word,” Psalm 119:28
MARBC State Representative
February's Word: “Partnering”
This past week our local news media shared stories commemorating the 30th anniversary of the “blizzard of '78.” Sharon and I were newlyweds then and I was in my first year of seminary. We were snowed in at our rural trailer park for three and a half days. We spent time trying to stay warm and hoping that the power would stay on. I used some of the free time to catch up on collateral reading and reviewing Hebrew vocabulary. Alas, I must confess that more time was spent trudging back and forth through snow drifts to continue an impromptu Rook tournament with our special friends, Dave and Carolyn Culver. Those were the early days of what has become a lifelong ministry partnership that grows dearer with each passing year.
Three years after that big storm, Sharon and I moved with excitement and some trepidation from that mobile home park located in the flat northern Indiana farmland to a small town church parsonage nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of southeast Ohio. My memories are vivid from those early years of important practical ministry training. I can still envision many of the faces who looked back at me on that hot June Sunday morning, my first as their new pastor. And I remember the intimidating thoughts I had facing big challenges in a small place. Thoughts, such as, “How can I have a legitimate ministry here when most of the people here have been Christians longer than I have been alive and many of the teens have been believers longer than I have?”
Indeed, those early days challenged, chiseled, and changed me. As a young pastor, I saw potential in the church that had extended to me its call and had big goals and dreams for its future. I prayed fervently, worked hard, and invested much. But much of the time, I was learning the hard way.
Because of our remote location, I often felt isolated. I usually had to drive several miles to attend meetings from which I could gain ministry encouragement and practical help. Making this commitment to attend meant that I would have to sacrifice most of a day of ministry. Some church members didn't understand this since they felt that everything you needed could be found in their little hamlet. Their misunderstandings were heaped on top of an already growing mound of the self-inflicted guilt I felt as a result of my own over-exaggerated expectations and what was perceived by many in the church as an underachieving ministry.
During those challenging times, God graciously brought His special ambassadors into our lives to share as ministry partners. These men and women would serve as encouragers and godly role models for us. They helped us make it to new levels of maturity and competency. They told us that it was alright to dream, to try, and even to fail. They shared their own personal stories of frustration and discouragement, as well as the victories and high moments. Their willingness to extend themselves to us helped to keep us afloat and gave us insight in navigating the sometimes rough ministry waters. Many of the greatest lessons we have learned in ministry came during those early days, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Sharon and I have learned that most of the couples we meet have the same desire that we first felt as we walked down the marital aisle and its corresponding path towards pastoral ministry many years ago. Indeed all Christian couples have similar desires. We all want our churches to grow and we want to grow in our own lives as well. It seems that more than anything, all of us want to know that we are not alone in sensing these challenges, these needs, and these opportunities. What we need are ministry partners.
The Challenge of Partnership
Partnership in ministry is a wonderful thing. It was the vital connection in Christ that prompted the apostle Paul to exclaim to the Philippians: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…for your fellowship [partnership] in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3,5). Paul and the believers at Philippi were effective partners in ministry because they were truly committed to one another’s growth, maturity, fruitfulness and success. Their relationship was significant because it was spiritual — Christ-centered, faith-driven and love-empowered.
When it comes to meeting the major challenges of church ministry, partnership is absolutely advantageous for several compelling reasons.
Partnership Offers Shared Wisdom and Experience. Wisdom that comes from experience is invaluable in ministry.
Partnership Offers Shared Perspectives. A ministry partner can provide objective judgment to produce a more objective picture and clearer strategy.
Partnership Offers Assistance and Accountability. Partnership with others keeps us from the isolation of the ivory tower and the insulation of having only one perspective.
Partnership Offers Ministry Team Development. Partnership provides a teamwork model that involves coaching, training, support, and implementation of the game plan.
The master planner of the Church, Jesus Christ, has designed His Church to implement His strategy through a specific partnership. This is declared clearly by our Lord in Acts 1:8 – “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Initially, churches by necessity focus upon their “Jerusalem.” Several are effective in sending others to the “end of the earth.” Recent initiatives have brought greater effectiveness in sharing compassionate ministry in “Samaria.” To completely obey Christ's Acts 1:8 mandate it is imperative for the churches to effectively reach their regional geographic realm (“Judea“).
I would like to suggest that “Judea“ for the churches in fellowship with the MARBC is the State of Michigan. We believe that it is critical for our churches to effectively reach and cultivate their “Judea.” This is accomplished in two important ways. First, the churches that are currently a part of the MARBC must be effectively strengthened and encouraged. Second, a strategic plan for church planting throughout Michigan must be designed and implemented.
It seems that before new church plants can be widely propagated by our movement, current church plants, mission works, and established churches must be strengthened and united. This will be the focus of the MARBC fellowship for the next few years. The project title which encompasses this strategic plan is “Church Partnering Relationships” or CPR. The CPR strategy is marked by three basic qualities:
Caring: a proactive vision towards mutual edification
Praying: regular sharing of requests and initiatives that promote mutual prayer
Resourcing: embracing the mission of practical encouragement by outsourcing materials and personnel
Looking back on our experience as a couple, Sharon and I can trace our growth and maturity as Christ's followers to the individuals and churches He has strategically interwoven into the path of our spiritual journey. Our lives and ministry have richly benefited from the partnering that has been offered to us by God's special servants. We can testify to the fact that this partnership has come from many unexpected places. It has included churches of varying sizes and levels of ministry sophistication. It has also involved people of varying backgrounds and abilities, from trained theologians and capable pastors to humble Christian servants in local churches.
I'm sure that your own personal experience and that of your church is similar to ours. These experiences are what make the “CPR Initiative” so exciting, meaningful, and workable! The God designed partnership of His disciples and churches demands our attention and involvement. Certainly there will be challenges. Even a well-drafted strategy will not be accomplished unless you and I are willing to accept the challenge that corresponds to the plan. Every objective will have an obstacle; every endeavor a corresponding enemy; and every goal will have its imposing goliath.
The Corinthian church was encouraged by Paul to recognize the importance of everyone's involvement in the ministry of Christ's church. “For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.” (1 Corinthians 3:9-10) When God's people work together according to His blueprint, they experience more and achieve more than they ever could apart.
You have His Word on it! (KEF)
(This is the second of three articles regarding the MARBC's new initiative called “CPR” – Church Partnering Relationships. The March article will deal with practical ways for churches and individuals to be involved in CPR. Download the brochure detailing this ministry by clicking here [269kb PDF Download])