The Power of Partnership
Partnership is an often overlooked, yet vitally important, aspect of New Testament Christianity. Although the ministry of Paul and other prominent New Testament leaders was in some ways unique (and, therefore, in some ways unrepeatable), the pattern of partnership is repeatable. God still provides suitably gifted people to facilitate such partnerships today. Paul used the word "partnership" to describe both church leaders and churches working together:
“As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit.” (2 Cor. 8:23)
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…because of your partnership in the gospel.” (Phil. 1:3-5)
In the past, partnership happened between individuals and churches, and churches and churches. They helped each other out in terms of doctrine and practice (Acts 8:14-25; Gal. 3), they relocated leaders to strengthen other situations (Acts 11:19-23, 25-26, 12:25, 16:1-3), they sent individuals and teams on short-term strengthening visits (Acts 11:27, 19:21-22; 1 Cor. 4:15-17; Phil. 2:19-29; 2 Tim. 1:18), they sent money to help each other and bless the wider society (Acts 11:28-30), and they helped advance the gospel together and plant churches (Rom. 15:24; 2 Cor. 10:15-16).
Partnership Is Necessary for Mission and Maturity
Our mission from Jesus is to take the gospel to both the neighborhoods and the nations, to both Jerusalem and the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8). How could any local church do that alone? But if we organize ourselves properly, every church can contribute meaningfully to world mission. Every church can consistently pray and give financially to church plants; and every church can periodically contribute leaders to church plants. Together, our mission can be healthier, stronger, longer, and more sustainable.
In terms of maturity, no matter how experienced a team of local elders are, a local church will not reach full maturity without outside perspective and input. In fact, New Testament trans-local ministry had a specific aim to help bring churches to maturity (Col. 1:28, 4:12).
Partnership Is an Expression of Humility and Honors the Body of Christ
Apart from the Biblical precedent of partnership, common sense tells us that no eldership team could maximize their potential without meaningful outside input. On this, Colin Hundermark writes:
In a corporate or not-for-profit context, it would not be frowned upon - more likely encouraged - to use an external source to contribute to the overall cause and direction of the enterprise. This is typically expressed in one of two ways. Firstly, the role of non-executive directors on a board is oftentimes filled by a subject matter expert or industry doyen, that is, someone that can contribute meaningfully to the overall direction and executive strategy of the business. Moreover, global corporate governance standards require that boards of directors have a minimum number of non-executive directors. Secondly, the use of external strategy and management consultants is commonplace, even for tasks considered the domain of internal teams such as understanding new product opportunities, new markets and new geographies. It would be curious to conclude that the use, or encouragement, of external input should be restricted to the corporate environment. Would it not be unwise for local elders to assume that they and their local church could somehow reach their redemptive potential without outside help?
Partnership Provides Protection
Sometimes churches go through immensely challenging seasons. For example, if a church loses a leader to burn out, sickness, or death, it is much easier to support the church and find a suitable replacement leader if the church is part of a partnership.
Partnership Provides Synergy
Lastly, partnership helps enhance a church’s strengths and helps shore up her weaknesses. It helps maximize a church’s potential influence, providing a network through which individuals and churches can influence more broadly than they otherwise could. Partnership provides resources to help a church plant more churches in her region than she could working alone, including prayer, people, finances, encouragement, and skills.