This book sets forth a compelling vision related to helping churchesbigandsmalldevelop interdependent partnerships and make an impact for the sake of the gospelin their own communities and around the world.
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About the Author
Chris Bruno (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as assistant professor of New Testament and Greek at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.He previously taught Bible and theology at Cedarville University and Northland International University and served as a pastor at Harbor Church in Honolulu, Hawaii. Chris and his wife, Katie, have four sons.
Matt Dirks (MDiv, Talbot School of Theology) is pastor for teaching and leadership at Harbor Church in Honolulu, which he helped to plant in 2006. In addition to training church planters around the world, he has also helped launch partnerships for church-based theological education and ministry training, and worked to rescue sex trafficking victims in Hawaii. He is the author of a curriculum for youth as well as a number of articles and the coauthor (with Chris Bruno) of Churches Partnering Together.
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.
Read an Excerpt
Catching the Vision
Understanding Kingdom Partnership
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
There are a hundred reasons why you shouldn't work together with other churches.
You have limited time, resources, and people in your church. Isn't it possible to overcommit these God-given gifts by deploying them in ways God doesn't intend? Your church has a unique theological and philosophical identity. What if you wake up and find yourself unequally yoked to another church that believes and behaves differently? You have a deep desire to reach people and influence them to see God the way you see him. Won't there be people who are reached by your partnership ministry who decide to go to other churches or denominations? After all, you're only half-joking when you call other churches "the competition."
So why do it? What would drive churches, already stretched thin by their own ministry needs and financial pressures, to engage in kingdom partnership? What would make them work together selflessly, even when their own congregations might not benefit at all?
To answer those questions, we need to dig deeper into the Jerusalem collection partnership. We need to look at what drove Paul and the Gentile churches to join together for the benefit of a faraway group of foreign people many of them had never met. On the face of things, the Jerusalem collection just made no sense.
Why was Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, so zealous about blessing the Jews in Jerusalem? Why did he spend so much time and energy ministering to a group that clearly mistrusted him, probably hated him, and might even have killed him in appreciation for the gift he collected for them? Why did he set aside his burning desire to bring the gospel to Spain, the last unevangelized region of the Mediterranean, in order to take a two thousand-mile detour to visit Jerusalem and deliver the gift himself? Why did he risk his already-fragile relationships with Gentile churches in places such as Corinth and Galatia by pushing them to unite in a partnership that would bless the same people who often shunned them as less than Christian?
Let's start from the beginning.
The Story of the Jerusalem Collection
At the birth of the church (Acts 2), the first believers were Jewish pilgrims from across the Roman empire who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. Many of them were staying with relatives in Judea, but after they were converted and started following the teachings of the incendiary cult leader (as many saw him) named Jesus, their families disowned them and put them out on the streets. In order to survive, these new believers were forced to depend on the generosity of people they barely knew.
Their new brothers and sisters in Christ responded! As they grasped God's generosity toward them, the early believers showed incredible generosity toward one another. Acts 4:34–35 says "there was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need."
But this happy community did not last for long. Only a few years later, a great persecution broke out, which scattered most of the believers in Judea back across the Roman empire. A small group was left in Jerusalem, but they had almost nothing. As despised Christians, it was impossible for them to get jobs and support their families. Added to this struggle was a great famine that occurred in AD 46. Luke described it:
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27–30)
This was most likely the same mission Paul described in Galatians 2:2, when he said he and Barnabas "went up because of a revelation." During this trip, they forged a strategic partnership with the apostles in Jerusalem:
When James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Gal. 2:9–10)
This is the point where Paul's mission crystallized. While the Jerusalem apostles focused on reaching Jews, Paul and Barnabas would go across the Roman empire, planting churches among the Gentiles. And a major goal of their mission would be to "remember the poor" of Jerusalem by connecting the new churches together to support the struggling saints back there.
After Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, they were commissioned by the Holy Spirit for this new mission and then sent out by the church. Over the next decade, Paul planted churches in four major regions: Galatia (Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe; Acts 13–14), Macedonia (Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica; Acts 16–17), Achaia (Corinth; Acts 18), and Asia (Ephesus; Acts 19).
Once Paul had evangelized a city, established a Christian community, strengthened the saints in the church, and raised up leaders to guide the church, he called the church toward partnership in God's greater kingdom. And there was one major task he recruited each of the churches he planted to carry out: collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem.
After spending ten years planting churches, strengthening churches, connecting churches, and collecting from churches, Paul decided it was finally time to deliver the big gift. This obviously wasn't an impulsive effort. He traveled one thousand miles to take the collection to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17–20; 24:17), bringing with him representatives from at least three of the four regions where he had planted churches. The saints in Jerusalem received the gift with great joy and gratitude, but as Paul expected, he was arrested by unbelieving Jews soon after the gift was delivered. Paul was soon on trial for his very life.
The Purpose for Partnership
So what sent Paul on this kind of suicide mission? One thing's for sure — it wasn't to impress the apostles in Jerusalem: "Those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me" (Gal. 2:6). Neither was the collection some kind of tax imposed by the Jerusalem mother church on Paul and the churches he had established: "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or undercompulsion" (2 Cor. 9:7). So what drove him to strive and strain toward a partnership of wildly different churches? What motivated him to risk his life delivering their gift?
There are at least three key motivations that propelled the first kingdom partnership, and these still inspire most partnerships today:
Fellowship and Unity. When Paul described the Jerusalem collection, he used many words. Service. Gift. Privilege. But one of the most powerful is the Greek word koinonia (Rom. 15:26). Literally meaning "sharing," this word is often translated as "fellowship." Paul saw the collection as a unique way to draw churches together and display the unity of the Spirit.
This wasn't natural, especially in the racially charged church of the first century. Paul continually challenged churches to pursue gospel unity among all Christians, both Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3; Ephesians 2), but the Jerusalem collection partnership was a powerfully tangible demonstration of how the gospel transcends race, culture, and tradition. Paul made this purpose clear: "For if the Gentiles have come to share in [the Jews'] spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings" (Rom. 15:27).
And not only did the collection unite Gentiles and Jews, but it also bonded Gentile churches to one another. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the collection, he told the story of the churches in Macedonia: "For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord" (2 Cor. 8:2–3). This "reminded the members of these congregations that they were partners in the gospel with one another, no less than with the poor among the saints in Jerusalem." When churches work side by side with one another, they are reminded of their union with one another in Christ.
Evangelism. When Paul delivered the Jerusalem collection, there's a strong possibility that he was blessing not only needy Christians but also needy unbelievers. After he was arrested in Jerusalem, he testified before the Roman governor, Felix, and said: "I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult" (Acts 24:17–18). Paul may have given most of the collection to the church in Jerusalem, but he probably gave a portion of it to the temple for distribution to needy unbelieving Jews. Why did he do this? One reason: "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved" (Rom. 10:1).
Paul knew he couldn't accomplish this goal by himself, so he established the Jerusalem collection partnership to get some help. Evangelism is hard enough even when you're simply displaying and proclaiming the gospel to the family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers God has already put in your life. When you're trying to take the gospel to highly resistant groups and highly dangerous places, it's just too much for one person, or even one church, to handle.
That's why a group of churches in Hawaii partnered together when they sensed God leading them to reach victims of the sex-trafficking industry in Waikiki. Most tourists don't stay up late enough to see the evil that emerges after dark, but every Friday night, believers from different local churches gather in Waikiki to pray for two or three hours. Then they walk the streets of Waikiki from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., looking for prostitutes to engage in conversation. They offer to pray with the young women, many of them runaway girls as young as fourteen or fifteen who are enslaved by coercive pimps. These brave saints offer any assistance they can provide. Sometimes they have a chance to share the gospel, but they usually only have a few minutes to talk before a pimp swoops in to drive them away.
Over the last few years, this partnership has rescued almost a dozen women from slavery in the sex industry. The churches work together to provide safe housing and basic necessities for the young women and their children, connect them with loving Christian sisters and brothers who often become surrogate families, and disciple them toward maturity in Christ.
Compassion. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, possibly with the goal of recruiting them into the partnership, he said, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). Compassion toward the poor and suffering is natural for people who have experienced God's compassion. As Paul said to the Corinthians, "[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:4).
In 2010, this kind of compassion drove two churches to establish a partnership to bring aid to Haiti following the horrific earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left more than a million homeless. James MacDonald from Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago and Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle wanted to respond, but they quickly realized that not even their two megachurches could do much to meet the incredible needs in Haiti by themselves.
So MacDonald and Driscoll spent the next few days putting together a church partnership for disaster relief called Churches Helping Churches. Donations began pouring in from around the world, and less than a week later the churches had a team on the ground in Haiti assessing the damage, praying with the people, and helping Haitian churches begin the long process of recovery. Churches Helping Churches has given millions of dollars and countless resources to churches in Haiti and, after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan.
In thousands of cities across the globe, churches large and small haven't considered the amazing things God could do through them in partnership with others. He used kingdom churches to turn the first-century world upside down (Acts 17:6). What will he do in the twenty-first?
Questions for Discussion:
1. What are some ways you've already seen God expand his kingdom through you and your church? How could partnerships enhance what God is already doing?
2. What aversions do you have to partnering with other churches? Do you have a fear of overcommitting limited time, resources, or people; a desire to maintain theological purity; or feelings of jealousy or competition toward other churches?
3. What motivations are driving you toward cooperative ministry with other churches? Fellowship and unity? Evangelism? Compassion? Something else?CHAPTER 2
Laying the Foundation
Building on the Gospel
I went up because of a revelation and set before them ... the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
When you visit a church in America, you can usually tell within a few minutes what really drives the congregation.
The activity-driven church has a list of all its upcoming events in the bulletin, and you need a microscope to read it, because there are ten to twenty activities every day of the week. The experience-driven church sings every song eight or ten times, and when you talk to people during greeting time, they start every other sentence with "God told me ..." The social/political-action-driven church has a table in the lobby with, depending on its political persuasion, either (1) family-values voter information guides or (2) fair-trade coffee that was hand-roasted by widows in a remote village in South America. The counseling-driven church has a rack on the wall advertising recovery groups for caffeine addiction and every other dependency under the sun. The family-driven church has entire rows taken up by families with five or six kids since there are no children's programs that might split families apart. The Bible-driven church hands you a bulletin as thick as your thumb, containing the pastor's seven-page sermon outline (plus fourteen pages of footnotes).
How many of those characteristics mark your own church? We can see three or four in our own! Few of these things are necessarily wrong, and many of them are attractive to us because they emphasize an implication of the gospel. God calls us to study his Word, to experience him through worship and prayer, to shepherd our families, and to influence our culture. The problem comes when you reduce the gospel to any of these things. Then your church becomes the family worship church down the street from the social justice church, rather than simply being a gospel church.
This kind of reductionism is a particularly strong temptation for churches that work together in kingdom ministry, because kingdom partnerships are usually focused on one specific gospel implication: assisting the poor locally or overseas; influencing one area of culture, such as the arts; or teaching biblical interpretation to rising church leaders. Gospel implications may be the focus of a partnership, but they cannot be the foundation. When a single implication of the gospel is all that's holding us together, rather than the gospel itself, the ministry will fall apart as soon as the money runs out or differences arise, as they always do.
Kingdom partnerships must be built on the gospel alone. This means that there should be a direct line between the aims of the partnership and Jesus's life, death, and resurrection. As the implications of what Jesus has done are worked out in our churches, we will be compelled to partner with other churches to make the gospel and its implications clear across our cities and around the world.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Churches Partnering Together"
Copyright © 2014 Christopher R. Bruno and Matthew D. Dirks.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword D. A. Carson 11
1 Catching the Vision: Understanding Kingdom Partnership 23
2 Laying the Foundation: Building on the Gospel 32
3 Clarifying the Mission: Identifying Roles and Resources 49
4 Leading the Charge: Catalytic Leaders and Churches 66
5 Staying the Course: Patience and Perseverance 83
6 Giving and Receiving: Interdependence in Partnership 99
7 Expanding Ownership: Building Engagement, Enthusiasm, and Dedication 114
8 Launching a Movement: Multiplying Ministries for God's Glory 128
9 Putting It All Together: Kingdom Partnership Step by Step 145
Appendix: Frequently Asked Questions 161
General Index 165
Scripture Index 173
What People are Saying About This
“One of the most important lessons from the New Testament is that gospel churches naturally cooperate in gospel ministries. That’s why I welcome this new book by Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks. The rising generation of young evangelicals needs to embrace once again a fully biblical understanding of cooperation so churches united in faith can cooperate together to share the gospel with the world.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“God’s mission is too big for any one church to accomplish. We know that. Yet we often act as if our church must do it allalone. How freeing to discover what can happen when churches join forces. Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks are scholars with pastors’ hearts, and they tackle the topic with theological depth and practical wisdom. Their strategies for kingdom partnerships will leave readers inspired to seek out partner congregations and well equipped to make the partnerships flourish. For church leaders more excited about building God’s kingdom than their own, this is the book to read.”
Drew Dyck, Managing Editor, Leadership Journal; author, Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying
“The world has become too complex and challenging, and gospel opportunities too numerous, for Christ’s followers to work in isolation from one another, much less compete with each other. The twenty-first century must be a century of partnerships; as long as the Lord tarries, we need to work together to advance the gospel. That’s why I’m delighted to commend this thoroughly biblical and eminently practical book.”
Todd Wilson, President, Center for Pastor Theologians; author,Real Christian andThe Pastor Theologian
"God can and does work miracles through local churches linked together by the gospel for the sake of loving their communities by introducing them to Jesus. I love the vision Chris and Matt live out and lay out in this book. May their tribe increase!”
Collin Hansen, Editorial Director, The Gospel Coalition; author, Blind Spots
“Unfortunately, smaller churches are too often deemed to be less faithful or significant. Bruno and Dirks cast a biblical vision for how such churches can partner together, providing a biblical foundation and practical strategies for such endeavors. The book makes a fresh and important contribution, and should be read widely.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“When gospel renewal grips our communities, it will be the fruit of churches collaborating in kingdom partnerships. Churches Partnering Together provides the requisite instruction and inspiration to make this vision a reality.”
Chris Castaldo,Pastor, New Covenant Church, Naperville, Illinois; author, Talking with Catholics about the Gospel; coauthor, The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants after 500 Years
“Gospel partnership, rightly understood, always extends beyond individuals to churches. This book is an outstanding resource. It lays out, compellingly, the biblical rationale for churches partnering together with the aim of gospel advance. It is full of useful examples and practical advice about partnership in action. I recommend it wholeheartedly.”
William Taylor,Rector, St. Helen's Bishopsgate, London; author,Understanding the Times and Partnership
“Having recently begun to benefit from this very kind of relationship with four other local churches, I find myself very excited about Churches Partnering Together. I trust God will use this book to expose many more to the beauty and strength of these partnerships of mutual encouragement, shared resources, and shared labor. The work that Jesus has called his church to do will be greatly empowered as more of us follow the course that Chris and Matt lay out here. They give us not just a compelling vision but also the practicalities of pursuing these partnerships, with due attention to important things such as a solid relational foundation and prayer.”
Mike Bullmore, Senior Pastor, CrossWay Community Church, Bristol, Wisconsin
“Can even a small congregation play a large part in the Great Commission? This book answers the question with a resounding yesas they develop kingdom partnerships where they don’t own anything, control anything, or count anything as their own. If you want to make a difference in the expansion of the gospel, read this book! It provides simple advice that can yield profound results.”
William J. Hamel, President, Evangelical Free Church of America
“Partnerships make the most important things in life happen. What none of us can do alone can often be done in collaboration with others. Many pastors and church planters will benefit enormously from the wisdom, biblical insight, and practical experience that Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks provide for us here. May God be pleased to spread the vision, and share the work, for the growth of kingdom churches that advance the gospel of Christ.”
Bruce A. Ware,T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Chris and Matt illustrate the power and multiplication factor of partnerships to see the kingdom of God expand. Out of their own experiences, they provide a road map for congregations of any size to partner together with others for powerful results. They write with kingdom hearts and gospel-centered focus. I highly recommend this book to any who are involved in the Great Commission.”
T. J. Addington, Senior Vice President, Evangelical Free Church of America; Leader, ReachGlobal; author,High-Impact Church BoardsandLeading from the Sandbox
“Ever since the apostle Paul thanked the church at Philippi for their partnership in the gospel, churches with a vision bigger than themselves have joined together to establish kingdom partnerships. Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks help us to see how local fellowships willing to walk humbly and depend together on the power of God can become catalysts for gospel-centered outreach to their communities and to the nations. How might we multiply the seed God has entrusted to us and extend the reign of Christ with one another to the glory of God? You will be both challenged and encouraged as you read this strong exhortation to kingdom building through church partnerships.”
Bill Mills, Founder, Leadership Resources International
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I recently finished reading Churches Partnering Together by Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks. This book offered a wonderful perspective on Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion. These three words should be fundamental to our faith, and should be part of our daily attitude and actions. I found this book to be refreshing in its simple approach to practices that are often overlooked, under-appreciated, and basically shoved aside as we muddle through our Christian walk. Bruno and Dirks offer 9 sets to our partnership: Catching the Vision Laying the Foundation Clarifying the Mission Leading the Charge Staying the Course Giving and Receiving Expanding Ownership Launching a Movement Putting it all Together If you are part of a local church this book is for you. If you are looking for a church to call your own this book will give you some great insight in what to look for. If you have given up on church, this book will challenge you to reflect on and reevaluate your decision to leave. Any church of any size in any location can partner with another church for the sake of the kingdom. This will not be an easy road, nor will it always be a fun one, but it is a possible one. Partnership is a role, not a position; it is a goal, not a precedent. This book approaches this mission through a biblically sound basis, thoroughly explaining the process, and offers support for the duration of the goal-meeting. Summarizing questions: Did the book change how you think about God, the church, or this world? Draw a connection to your job, relationships, or devotional life. This book challenged how I look at the roles of others in the church…not necessarily by name, but more like position and overall usefulness to the church. It challenged me to spend more time thinking of what God wants me to accomplish and who in my ministry circles can support me in reaching the goals God has set forth for me to accomplish. Were you compelled to implement something new as a parent, spouse, friend, student, or employee? Share where God’s grace is at work. I am compelled to start a ladies bible study which incorporates ladies from surrounding churches so we can grow as a community of Christians, support each other’s ministries, and become better equipped to serve in our local church knowing we have the moral and prayer support of others of like faith in churches just like our own. Are you seeing new ways the gospel affects your hobbies, your past, your dreams? The gospel should be an integral part of my daily life, and I realize that this is sadly not so. Through reading this book I was challenged to put more gospel in my whole life and not just parts of it I chose to let it “leak” through. This book was provided by Crossway as a complimentary copy through Beyond the Page. I am not being compensated for my review.