A lot of talk floats around about partnership. We want to partner with people, and be ‘gospel generous’. We want to have a ‘kingdom mindset’ and ‘resource others’. No doubt you’ve heard all the chat before. But what does that really mean?
When we talk about gospel generosity, we might have all sorts of things in mind. But lets quickly name a couple of things that often get called generous that, really, are no such thing.
First, loaning out preachers isn’t particularly generous. I have 5 guys (including me) who can preach in my church. I have one pulpit. Just how generous is it for me to let one of them go somewhere else to preach when I am preaching at our church? Not very. In fact, I consider other churches who want preachers to be sent to be serving us! We need more opportunities to train our men to preach than we can provide for them. So, just as I learnt to cut my teeth preaching by going out to other churches and ‘serving them’ (though they were really serving me), I consider it the same when we send our people out to preach. It helps us, I think, more than it helps the church we’re filling a preaching slot for. It’s not what I would call being generous.
Second, offering to periodically pray for people isn’t generous. Don’t get me wrong, prayer is valuable and to be prayed for is a great thing. But let’s not pretend it costs us very much. It doesn’t take much time to pray, it doesn’t cost us financially and we don’t really have to give anything away to do it. It is a great thing to have from people, but it’s not anything that requires much, if any, generosity on the part of those offering it. Ditto, incidentally, signing up for people’s prayer letters (and even less so if, in getting them, you read them for the juice and then don’t actually pray for the stuff in them).
Generosity, by definition, means giving more than is necessary. It is the giving of something that is above and beyond what might reasonably be expected. It often goes hand-in-hand with the words ‘plentiful’ or ‘largesse’. It isn’t sacrificial if we won’t miss it and it isn’t generous if the thing is neither plentiful nor beyond what one might reasonably expect. Weighed against that, the loaning of the occasional preacher or a periodic prayer probably doesn’t qualify.
So, what might qualify as generosity? I think we might be generous as churches to one another in three main ways: time, money and people. Our prayer for a church, for example, might be generous if it is more than perfunctory. If it is rooted in time and energy expended finding out what is going on meaningfully and then works out in regular, frequent prayer that might qualify as generous. Likewise, giving financial gifts is generous. None of us should expect to be given money and there are any number of worthy places finances might be sent. To be a recipient of finances that a church could either use themselves or legitimately give elsewhere is to receive real generosity. The same applies when churches are glad to release their members so they might serve in a needier work elsewhere. Again, that goes above and beyond what might ordinarily be expected and is a meaningful act of generosity.
Again, it bears asking what we mean when we talk about partnership. Some, for example, would consider themselves in partnership with others simply by sitting in the same affiliate groups as others. Whilst those organisations might well facilitate some excellent partnerships, just being in them of itself is not partnership. Belonging to that group, of itself, is simply saying that we are on the same page as the others in the fellowship and we are happy to be associated with them under the same banner. It maybe says that we are, in principle, willing to partner with others in the same association. But just being in it of itself is not partnership.
Nor is partnership foisting yourself onto another church as a ‘mentor’ and imposing your models of church onto them. You might be giving them your time, but that really isn’t partnership. Partnership means working together, serving alongside each other, maybe even learning from each other. It is not a power trip and it is not arrogantly asserting that you know how to make a church ‘successful’ and here’s your five-point plan for the smaller church to follow.
Being in partnership implies doing something together. It implies working together. It may well be – likely will be – two parties bringing different things to the partnership. But partnership implies both of them doing something valuable. It is not one mothering the other, but both working together.
We can partner with people in pray, with money and by sending people. All of those things would mean that one party is providing resources of one sort of another while the other is, perhaps, about the specific work of mission and ministry that the other is unable to do (for whatever reason). But we can also partner by jointly working in things together. We might run joint missions or send our people – not long term – but to help with a specific ministry for a time. There might be specific needs we can fulfil, whatever they may be, without imposing ourselves upon the other group but offering to work alongside them. Partnership is (or should be) a two way street.