Four marks of meaningful partnership

I was asked to do a thing on partnership from Philippians 1 this week. Whilst I’m not going to give you the talk verbatim – if you weren’t at the thing, you won’t get the full shebang – I did think it might be worth sharing the main headlines. Or, rather, the main ideas.

Partnership is between churches, not just leaders

I like the way Paul speaks in Philippians 1:1:

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.

I love the way he is writing to the church and adds, ‘including the overseers and the deacons’. He’s not just writing to the leaders. He is writing to the church. And the leaders are just members of the church, no more special than anyone else.

I think our tendency is to create partnerships that revolve around leaders. On one level, it is natural because we meet someone, become friends and then form a partnership. That’s okay. But proper gospel partnership shouldn’t stop there. It seems the gospel partnership Paul envisaged was church to church, not just pastor to pastor.

Partnership should be a joy, not a burden

Throughout the letter to the Philippians, joy is a key feature. Paul writes about the joy he has in this particular church. The joy he has wells up inside him every time he remembers them or he think they have remembered him. Paul has real and genuine affection for this church and takes great joy in what the Lord is doing in and through them.

Our partnerships often aren’t like that. We typically roll our eyes when we have to write our prayer letter because it is a bit of a hassle. Seeing other people’s prayer letters roll in adds yet another to do onto our growing list of stuff for which we need to carve out time. being invited to share at someone else’s prayer meeting, even more burdensome still! Then there is the endless need to fundraise just to keep the church going. It’s enough to drive you bonkers. But the truth is, I’ve never been unhappy with someone saying they’re praying for us. I’ve never been unhappy to hear someone wants to give to support the gospel work here. I’ve never been sad because people visited and wanted to see with their own eyes what we’re doing. I’ve never not been encouraged by people taking joy and encouragement from the pokey little work we’re doing.

I suspect I’ve found partnerships burdensome when they revolve around me – leader to leader – rather than being something that involves the whole church. Church to church partnership is a joy because your whole church can see what the Lord is doing through their prayers for another church. And nothing brings more joy to a church leader than seeing your own people excited about what the Lord may do among you because of what they have been seeing him do somewhere else as a result of their prayers.

Partnership means praying meaningfully

This is what Paul models in Philippians. He knows what is going on with the church and he prays specific prayers for the church. They, in turn, pray pointed and specific prayers for Paul, knowing about what he is doing too.

I said before, your people will grow in joy as they see the Lord answering their prayers. But the fact is, they won’t really see the Lord answering their prayers if all they ever pray is deeply unspecific prayers. If they don’t know what is going on with the church they are praying for, they won’t pray specifically. If they don’t pray specifically, they won’t really see how the Lord is working through their prayers. It’ll all be generic and uninspiring.

It’s far too easy to let our partnerships amount to little more than a picture on a website. It’s too easy to only rely on a prayer letter – which whilst more specific and not unhelpful – will never give you the full picture of what is happening or the specificity for which we can pray most helpfully and meaningfully. You have to know people and hear from people and speak to people to know what is going on so you can pray properly for them. There are all sorts of ways you might achieve that – in person or not – but to see the Lord answer prayer, it helps if our prayers are specific and meaningful. Meaningful partnership must mean meaningful prayer.

Partnership extends beyond prayer

Our partnership shouldn’t be less than prayer, but true partnership goes beyond prayer. Paul is clear with the Philippians that they had done more than pray. Throughout the letter, it is clear that they have been actively involved in his ministry in various ways. Acts 16 gives some of the ways they were involved with him and the letter gives various indications beyond that.

We can often look at partnerships a bit like James talks about the poor and needy. We see needs among partners, that we could meet, and we immediately say, ‘I’ll pray for that’. Don’t get me wrong, prayer matters. Prayer is valuable. But it is dishonest to offer to pray to meet a need that we could very well meet ourselves. It is the same as saying ‘be well, be fed’ to a hungry person.

Proper partnership will involve prayers, but it will go beyond prayer. If there are needs we can meet, then we will seek to meet them. Prayer that doesn’t lead to practical outworking from our prayers – particularly when we are in a position to do so – is a flimsy partnership at best and disingenuous at worst. True partnership will certainly involve meaningful prayer, but where we have the means, it will surely extend beyond it.