Real need requires real partnership

As I have mentioned here and here, ours is a small church in an area that many would consider insalubrious. We do not have lots of members. Many of them are simply in no position to financially support the church in substantive ways nor is it always possible for them to serve in all aspects of the work due to the considerable variety of nationalities and languages present. That is not to say they don’t give and never serve (though it must be said that I do not keep the accounts to know), it is to say that their giving and service comes with considerable limitations beyond their control. We praise God for those who, despite such circumstances, give and serve as they are able. When those with next to nothing give to the work of the gospel from their pittance, and for whom it takes considerable faith to give and trust that the Lord will provide the next meal, this is surely a sign of the Spirit at work in God’s people.

Nonetheless, the reality of these circumstances mean that the need considerably outweighs the resources. As a church, we generate somewhere between half and two-thirds of our running costs depending on the particular circumstances of a given month. These costs change depending on a multitude of different factors. About the only stable and consistent outgoing would be the pastor’s stipend. Those who have become destitute, or who have been granted asylum and are without support until they have navigated a new system, or who suddenly find they have no home, or who are faced with huge utility bills that they simply cannot afford are all regular occurrences. That is not to mention the seemingly never-ending stream of ‘one-off’ costs that continually crop up.

None of these things are especially unique to us. There are other churches out there who regularly struggle to meet their running costs and who have similar, if not identical, reasons for ebbing and flowing outgoings. The question is what’s to be done about it?

Ideally, as I suggested here, we would see an influx of gospel-hearted workers ready to put their time, energy and money into a needy gospel endeavour as active members of these churches. As I also lamented in that same piece, they simply ain’t coming. Too many of us are comfortable where we are, or at best are only willing to “sacrifice” to go to the places that kind of appeal to us already. And while some are full of good intentions (and we know where those tend to end up), to be frank, we’ve given up waiting for the cavalry to come.

The reality is that for small churches in supposedly undesirable areas to sustain fruitful work, it necessitates real gospel partnerships. A lot is spoken of gospel partnership but it so often feels like something we say when we happen to be aware of other churches who are a bit like us. We deem ourselves partners by virtue of the fact that we think many of the same things and acknowledge each other’s existence. For some of us, it goes a bit deeper than that, perhaps even going as far as to send the occasional speaker here and there. And without wishing to denigrate that at all, if that’s where our partnership stops, it’s all a bit feeble isn’t it?

Now, clearly different churches need different things. It also bears saying that different churches are in a position to give different things. But let’s get down to brass tacks here, churches like ours need these things (in no particular order): members to settle, workers to help and regular amounts of money, prayer and fellowship. Prayer is usually the only one of those we get, at least the promise of it anyway, and that’s only if you remember to pray for us in the mass of other stuff you’ve got going on. I’m not pointing fingers here, I am as bad a culprit as anybody on that score. We might get a bit of fellowship if we’re lucky, but it’s probably not going to be regular. Those things aren’t to be sniffed at as if they don’t matter, but the lack of response in the other areas tells its own story.

Despite the prayers of many and a fellowship of some, we have no outside funding to draw upon, no partners sending us financial support and – as of yet – nobody who has actively sought to send us any workers (whether short or long term). We are drawing upon funds that, once gone, will see the work finished. We continue to trust in the sovereign goodness of God and, somehow, he continues to support us. When I was appointed as minister, I was given three years before the well ran dry. I’m now in my third year and, by God’s grace, I still seem to have as long as when I began. My predecessor experienced much the same. Nonetheless, we run a continual deficit and have no plan B on which to draw.

So let me make four suggestions as to how you might partner with us in practical and meaningful ways:

  1. Commission some workers to move to Oldham long-term. As I mentioned here, unless we are prepared to actively send workers and support them both financially and prayerfully as they go, nobody is going to come. The best way to sustain any work is to fill it with gospel-hearted workers who want to see it bear fruit. If you have those within your congregation who have a heart for Muslim outreach, then ours is a work for them. If you have people who have a desire to reach the destitute and poor, then ours is a work for them. If you have people who simply have a desire to see small works multiply, then ours is a work for them. The best way for us to reach our community and to grow our people through a sustainable work is for workers to come and support the ministry with their time, money and other resources.
  2. Send short-term workers. You may not have the people who are ready to commit to moving lock-stock to Oldham. However, you may have people who are willing to come for a limited period to get a sense of the work. Between us we may be able to organise teams to undertake mission weeks or setup longer term works that can be run with a rolling programme of short-medium term workers. Such short term trips may well become longer term in due time. But even if they don’t, it would serve the gospel here to have short-term teams to bolster the ministry in this place.
  3. Commit to supporting us with funds. You may not have anybody who is willing to come or that you feel able to send. Nonetheless, you can help by supporting us financially. The ongoing running costs of the church are simply beyond the means of the majority of our members. Whilst we are all aware of many opportunities for giving, and no doubt the majority of these are well worthy of your attention, it is right to point out that Oldham is a borough of c. 230,000 people and is woefully understocked by gospel-centred churches. Our own area is predominantly populated by Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims with whom we are making significant inroads. Beyond this, we have many Iranian people coming into the church. Some are believers when they arrive, others are not. Many come to know the Lord Jesus personally during their time with us. They have a variety of needs – both physical and spiritual – that we seek to serve as we are able. Offering to partner with us financially will allow us to maintain our gospel witness as well as build up the body of believers the Lord has given to us.
  4. Commit to praying regularly. We truly covet the prayers of those who know about the work. Though we believe in a sovereign God, we also believe he uses means. One of the means of God working in the world is through the prayers of believers. He folds our prayers into his sovereign plan. And so we would ask you to partner with us in prayer. Pray that the Lord would raise up more workers for the harvest field. Pray that the Lord would provide for the financial needs of the church. Pray that the Lord would both build up his people and increase his kingdom here in Oldham. The apostle James says ‘you do not have, because you do not ask’ (Jam 4:2), so we are asking you to ask the Lord with us to meet these needs.

So here are four ways you can partner practically and effectively with us. However, partnership should not be a one-way street and so I hope to follow this post up in due course with one about how churches like ours can partner well with others.