In the New Testament, the word ‘partnership’ describes Christians who are together in active pursuit towards a common, gospel purpose (Titus 1:4; Jude 3; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Philippians 1:5). This is easy to imagine for a local church, but what does it look like to ‘partner’ with someone who is on the other side of the world?
1. Gospel partnerships are relationally deep.
You’re usually hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from your mission partner. It might be tempting to think ‘out of sight out of mind’. But partnerships built around gospel priorities can flourish despite the distance.
One mission partner writes, ‘Sitting down for a curry with members of the church family at St Andrews when back on home leave was a real treat. Time to go deeper with individual people was precious and helps me feel I know those who are praying for me much better – and now I can pray for them with deeper affection too.’
Another mission partner writes, ‘So thoughtful and so encouraging. That is how I would describe our partner churches. We have received postcards from Sunday school groups, letters from church family, emails sharing news and have even been involved in judging a Christmas tree competition! It is so precious to not just feel sent by a church but to feel part of the church even when we are so far away!’
The Apostle Paul – one of the first missionaries – had a very deep relationship with his partner church in Thessalonica. He wrote, ‘But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face’ (1 Thessalonians 2:17). Just hear the intimacy and tenderness in that one verse! Their relationship was deep, despite the distance.
2. Gospel partnerships are two-way.
Financial giving may be one-way, but it runs the risk of creating one-way expectations – you support me. When churches give, pray, write to or house a visiting mission partner, they too are gaining.
For example, Paul writes to another of his partner churches, ‘…you sent me aid more than once when I was in need … what I desire is that more be credited to your account.’ (Philippians 4:16-17) What is it that Paul expects the Philippian Christians to receive in return? It is a share in the advance of the gospel. As their gifts keep Paul afloat, they are a major stakeholder in gospel ministry! Their partnership is mutually beneficial, in different ways.
Most of us won’t be mission partners – we won’t go overseas to preach the gospel, plant churches and teach in Bible colleges. But we can enable others to be mission partners and recognise our unseen role in that process for the privilege it is.
One church pastor writes, ‘Through receiving timely prayer information each month, plus visits and videos, we feel that we know what is happening in Naples. By praying for our mission partners regularly, and a good number of our church members helping out financially, we really feel invested in their mission. Also, supporting them as they establish a new church helps us to go back to basics ourselves and reminds us of what the essentials are in seeing the Lord build his church.’
Their mission partner writes back, ‘Conversations with people from St Nicholas has really shaped and directed our work out here. And hearing of individuals there taking risks for the sake of the gospel has spurred us on to do the same.’
3. Gospel partnerships are practical.
The apostle Paul illustrates this in his letter to Timothy: ‘Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry … bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.’ (2 Timothy 4:11-13) Paul sought out the company of Mark because he needed his help, and he asked for a winter coat, his books and his parchments. He didn’t hesitate to express his vulnerability and needs.
One mission partner writes, ‘When we flew back to the UK during lockdown, we had to spend ten days in hotel quarantine. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of people in our partner churches, sending us games to play and offers of help and bringing round food. However, the one parcel that particularly warmed our hearts was a gift of books for the boys from a lady we had never met, who only knew of us because her church supports us. It reminded us of Paul’s example of praying for and caring for those that you don’t know but who are engaged in gospel ministry. It was such a joy. Hotel quarantine turned out to be a restful, joyful time for us all after a busy spell in South Africa.’
Authentic gospel partnerships often span great distances, but they are also relational, two-way and practical. There should never be cause to think ‘out of sight out of mind’.