Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Nov/Dec 2013.
Two men sat in a cafe and shared ministry concerns over a cup of coffee. Young, energetic, and visionary, they dreamed of the things they could accomplish for God. They were already busily involved in ministry, but they saw so many other needed things they would like to do. There just did not seem to be time to do it all. “There is so much we could do,” one of the men commented, “If we could just get organized and make better use of our time.”
Energy, vision, and time management are essential for effective ministry. These two men might have become moderately more effective by better time management. Sharing their vision and zeal with ministry partners could, however, have made them markedly more effective. Ministry partnerships are an exceptionally effective way of increasing both the effectiveness and scope of one’s ministry. Partnerships not only afford faithful prayer partners and encouragers, but also enable pursuit of vision that is beyond one’s personal gifting and abilities. Additionally, partnerships help one maintain ministry focus through difficult circumstances that might otherwise result in overt ministry failure or even abandonment one’s God given calling.
Ministry partnership is more than merely seeking the approval or endorsement of a church or influential person. It is more than finding financial investors to fund one’s vision and ministry. Rather than lending endorsement or making a financial investment, ministry partnership is two or more people or organizations planning and serving together toward common goals with mutual accountability. Planning, serving, and accountability shape partnership even when the partners are active in differing aspects of that ministry and in different locations. The appointment of seven godly men to take responsibility for service to widows (Acts 7) is an outstanding early New Testament example of partnership that increases effectiveness. The appointment of these seven men enabled the apostles to give themselves “continually to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). It also facilitated further ministry development of these seven men, as evidenced by the account of Stephen’s ministry and martyrdom in Acts 6 and 7.
Interpersonal challenges accompany partnerships
The Apostle Paul, who was arguably the greatest formative force for God in growing the Church to world-wide influence, highly valued ministry partnerships. Such partnerships are a natural result of equipping others for the work of ministry, a concept which Paul specifically taught in Ephesians 4:12 and practiced when he added young Timothy to his ministry team in Acts 16. In spite of their many advantages, however, ministry partnerships are frequently accompanied by great interpersonal challenges.
It should not come as a surprise, given the sinfulness of the human heart and the world-wide racial and cultural diversity of the Church, that when we involve many people in ministry there will often be conflicts among those people. Though such conflicts may well begin during the mentoring for ministry process, they intensify when a trainee develops to the point of ministry partnership or even leadership.
Could this be one reason that Great Commission Partnerships are relatively rare? Could it be that we faithfully develop and practice our individual ministry skills, thanking God for—not to say being proud of—what we have been able to accomplish, because by working solo we avoid the need to address such personnel challenges? Could this also be one reason our churches sometimes avoid legitimate ministry partnership opportunities with other churches?
Potential outweighs the hazard
Though ministry partnerships increase the possibility for interpersonal conflicts, that hazard is far outweighed by the greater potential for increased gospel outreach. Interpersonal conflicts carefully, scripturally, and graciously resolved enable ministry partners to serve even more effectively, increasing both the quality and scope of their ministry.
A review of Paul’s ministry indicates that his ministry was nearly always a partnership and that personnel issues frequently accompanied that partnership. An interesting series of events shapes Saul the persecutor of the fledgling church (Acts 7:58) to Paul who was acknowledged as the leader of New Testament church planting at the onset of his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40). That series of events included his tense disagreement with Barnabas which resulted in his appointment as team leader. Interpersonal tensions continued even after Paul became the leader of the team, receiving mention in 2 Timothy, his last known letter.
Paul’s ministry: always with partners
Even before his conversion Paul’s was not a solo act. He was an apparent leader among the group that stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1). When he set out for Damascus, he went with letters of authorization from the high priest in Jerusalem to the synagogues in Damascus to imprison believers and bring them back to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1, 2). An undetermined number of men journeyed with him from Jerusalem to Damascus (Acts 9:7). Their intended task was probably to help transport prisoners, but their presence nonetheless underscores the partnerships Paul always utilized, even before his conversion.
After Paul’s conversion, his preaching immediately incurred the wrath of his erstwhile allies, the Jewish leaders. This conflict with non-believers was to be expected. Later Paul would write to Timothy that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). As a result, his personal safety became the focus of the first very limited partnerships in his ministry as a disciple. In Damascus (Acts 9:23-25) and a bit later in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29, 30) the disciples helped him escape threats upon his life. The interpersonal tension of ministry partnership first became evident when the disciples in Jerusalem avoided him, considering his conversion a fake, until the highly respected Barnabas intervened on his behalf (Acts 9:26-28). Dealing with this tension carefully and scripturally resulted in effective ministry partnership as Paul was accepted by the disciples in Jerusalem.
Paul again appears in ministry partnership when he was recruited by Barnabas to join the team in Antioch (Acts 11:25, 26). The partnership continued when the church at Antioch commissioned Barnabas and Paul for what has become known as Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:2, 3). The ministry team included John Mark. Two interpersonal relationship matters are noted in the account of God’s working during this first missionary trek: John Mark abandoned the team and Paul became the spokesman of the team. While no details are given, these are just the kind of situations that frequently cause great tensions among ministry partners.
Paul and Barnabas: interpersonal tensions
The tension that often accompanies partnership is perhaps most evident in Acts 15:36-41 when Paul suggested to Barnabas that they initiate a second missionary tour. Barnabas was determined to take John Mark with them. Because John Mark abandoned the group during the first trek (Acts 12:25; 13:13), Paul contended that he should not be part of this second trek. So great was the contention that they parted company; Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and, commended by the brethren, returned to strengthen the churches established on the first trip. Scripture relates only the cause, intensity, and result of this conflict. Imagination might fill in the gaps of how this was handled, but for this review two things are most evident.
First, neither Paul nor Barnabas went solo from this point. Both continued in ministry partnerships. Second, though Barnabas disappears from the pages of Scripture at this point, his ministry does not, because John Mark whom he chose as his partner developed into a faithful servant of God. Near the end of his life Paul wrote to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). What a great testimony of the value of partnerships as well as the long-term positive reward of working through the conflicts they can cause.
The first church planted on this second missionary journey was at Philippi. Paul seems to have established a very unique relationship with this church, and his appreciation for their partnership is evident in the letter he sent them during his imprisonment. In that letter he mentions their fellowship in the gospel (Philippians 1:5, 7), his confidence of their continued spiritual prosperity (1:6, 11), and his appreciation for their financial sacrifices for the furtherance of the gospel. He writes to them as well about his appreciation for both Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30). In this context he also makes two references to interpersonal conflicts. One is positive, one negative.
Not all similar ministries are partners
Paul discovered that his imprisonment encouraged most of the brethren to preach the gospel more boldly (Philippians 1:14). He makes an interesting statement about these brethren. Some he counts as partners in the gospel because their increased boldness was the result of their love for him and their respect for his commitment to the defense of the gospel (Philippians 1:17). Others he describes very differently.
These, he says, “Preach Christ of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains.” (Philippians 1:16). In both cases Christ is preached and because of this Paul says he will rejoice in both. Notice that the Apostle’s greatest concern was that the Gospel was preached and not that some love him and others did not. In this same chapter he declares, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). This is important in our present consideration because it illustrates that not all who engage in similar, doctrinally compatible ministries are ministry partners.
The second reference to interpersonal conflict in the context of ministry partnership is an almost passing personal note in Philippians 4:2, 3. Paul pleads for Euodia and Syntyche to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” His plea is based upon his concern for these women arising from their labor with him in the gospel. In the same context he mentions Clement and others whom he refers to as “the rest of my fellow workers.” Though brief, this account presents one of the often overlooked responsibilities and benefits of ministry partnerships. The relationships formed through ministry partnerships uniquely prepare the participants to minister to one another, in the manner urged in Hebrews 10:24: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” Such exhortation is productive among those who labor together in the gospel. It is not productive when it comes from an uninvolved person watching with a critical eye.
Paul addressed both the value and the difficulty of ministry partnerships in his last letter in which he passes the torch of ministry to Timothy. Early in the letter he urges Timothy to make training of ministry partners a priority: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Near the end of the letter he turns to the matter of interpersonal conflict in partnership when he writes, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia” (4:9). He rejoiced in Luke’s presence (4:10), and indicates that he has sent yet another partner, Tychicus, to Ephesus (4:12).
This letter to Timothy then closes with one more indication of the importance of ministry partners. In 2 Timothy 4:19-21 nine additional ministry partners are cited even as Paul urges Timothy to bring Mark with him (4:11) and come before winter (4:21).
Several important conclusions can be drawn from this quick review of how people interact in partnerships:
- Interpersonal issues will always be present in partnership ministries.
- Partnerships provide unique opportunities of ministry to one another while pursuing the ministry of the gospel.
- The perils of partnerships are far outweighed by its potential for more effective ministry.
- Ministry partnerships are valuable that they should be created and pursued it in spite of their difficulties.
- Partnerships are best facilitated through mentoring others for ministry who eventually become partners in ministry.
- Ministry partnerships must be built upon common vision, and goals. Partnerships may need to be dissolved because vision and goals have changed.
- Though partnerships enhance ministry, solo ministries are sometimes necessary and are used of God.
Ministry partnerships are an exceptionally effective way of increasing both the effectiveness and scope of one’s ministry. Partnerships not only afford faithful prayer partners and encouragers, but also enable pursuit of vision that is beyond one’s personal gifting and abilities. Partnerships help us maintain ministry focus through difficult circumstances that might otherwise result in overt ministry failure or even abandonment one’s God given calling.
Earl Brubaker is a vetern church planting missionary in the NW United States. He served as General Director of the Northwest Independent Church Extension, located in Tacoma, WA and as president of the IFCA Board of Directors from 2009-2013.