There are a number of questions that arise in many of our minds when it comes to Ministry Partnership. What is Ministry Partnership? Why become a Ministry Partner? Does the Bible even mention it? Why join a local church when I'm already a member of the universal church?, to name a few.
In January of 2016 we preached a sermon series called BELONGING that addresses ministry partnership (among other things) and compels followers of Jesus to belong to a local church. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to address the FAQ's that may be on your mind regarding it (here are FAQ's about Baptism).
WHAT IS MINISTRY PARTNERSHIP?
Ministry Partnership is our language for membership, for belonging to Central as your local church. We call it Ministry Partnership because we see belonging to a church as being just that: a frequently gathering, committed group of followers of Jesus, together on mission. The individual partners with a body of believers and the body of believers partners with the individual.
You can’t live the real Christian life except as part of the church. – J.I. Packer
DOES THE BIBLE TALK ABOUT MINISTRY PARTNERSHIP OR MEMBERSHIP?
A word search for membership or ministry partnership doesn't bring up any hits in a Bible word search, but it's there. Though predominantly implicit in the text, a faithful reading of the New Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles will lead you to one explicit conclusion: the early church knew who they were and were committed to their local congregation.
Epistle means letter or message and the ones we find in the New Testament were written to local churches in specific places. Romans was to the Roman church. 1 & 2 Corinthians was to the church in Corinth, To the church of God that is in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2). Galatians was was to the churches in the region of Galatia. Ephesians to the local church in Ephesus. And on and on. Every church in every place was made up of followers of Jesus who were committed to their Saviour and each other.
The very first missionaries were not independent, autonomous Christians. They were sent from their local church (i.e. Jerusalem; Antioch) to make disciples in other places. One of these particular missionary journeys was where Saul and Barnabas were commissioned from the Antioch church to go about the work they were called by God to do (13:2-3). Then some time later they returned to Antioch, where they gathered the church together, and they gave a report to their sending church about all that God had done (14:26).
The Bible weaves an unmistakably clear picture of sacrificial, committed, close-knit, generous Christians giving themselves to Jesus and one another. Meeting needs among them and spurring one another on in the faith.
Belonging to a local church is thoroughly biblical.
Why Join a Local Church When I'm Already a Member of the Universal Church?
Tying in with what was said above about New Testament Christians being committed to their local churches, we see time and time again in Scripture that we need accountability, teaching, and to share this Christian life with others. By not belonging to a local church, you lack the marks of a New Testament Christian who is locally accountable and built up in the faith by a committed group of Jesus followers in a particular place.
...he who forsakes the Church of Christ [cannot] attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.
What reasons are there for Ministry Partnership?
There are many. Biblical faithfulness has already been mentioned as one. Let me list a few more:
1. For the Good of Others in the Church
By becoming a ministry partner you accept responsibility for a group of fellow believers. By "just attending" you stand at a distance from the kind of commitment that accepts responsibility for a group of fellow believers.
Hebrews 10:24-25 puts it this way, Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.
Part of what Ministry Partnership does is say, "I'm committed to encouraging a particular group of people week in and week out". Opportunity exists to lovingly work through difficulties, disagreement, and hardship when a commitment has been made. Depth is built through that. Lack of commitment makes leaving easy. Just like marriage. Someone who is married is still able to leave but the covenant made leads to a greater attempt to work through differences and see reconciliation take place.
Ministry Partnership, therefore, flies in the face of expressive individualism and our age of authenticity (defined as: above all, I must be true to myself and whatever I desire and feel inside I must do). Ministry Parntership is an antidote to that toxic societal norm. It swims against the current of consumer Christianity that only thinks of self.
Ministry Partnership speak of sacrificial commitment to others and establishes a commitment where we can be counted on to be reliable and caring for others. It's committing to each other, to be there for each other when life is hard, when suffering comes, and to walk with each other week in and week out to encourage one another in the faith.
Your belonging to a local church is for the good of others in the church.
2. For Your Own Good
Just as your commitment to the church is for the investment and good of others, that same care and commitment from others towards yourself is a good thing for you.
The people who will care for you best are those who are willing to commit to you. And not only your close-knit (likely very similar to each other) friend group. But a diverse, multi-generational and cultural community of fellow believers committed to your good. For example, someone older and coming from a different station in life may see your blind spots and support you in a way a close friend can't. Diverse, broad, committed community is important for your faith.
To paraphrase Galatians 6:1-2, as all are committed to restoring one another away from sin and towards Christlikeness with gentleness, you yourself become accountable to mature brothers and sisters in Christ. That culture creates spiritual growth and the New Testament places a major emphasis on the need for Christians to be accountable to each other for it.
Belonging to a local church is for your good.
3. For the Good of Your Leaders
In short, church leaders (Elders) are instructed to shepherd the flock that is among them. The New Testament's use of the term flock always refers to a local church. The early church always understood who the flock was. Typically, the Christians in each city made up each local church. Now, two thousand years later, our cities are bigger and our church options are diverse. At least in our context.
So, practically speaking, who is that Central's leaders are to shepherd? Any Christian in Chilliwack and Agassiz? Those who have attended Central once? Those who have introduced themselves to a pastor? Our practical method for knowing who the flock of God among us is that we are to shepherd are those who become Ministry Partners, and thereby declaring, "I'm in. This is my church family. I want to be a part of Central".
Your Ministry Partnership helps your leaders be more faithful shepherds.
4. For the Good of Those Outside of the Church
Making a commitment makes a powerful statement in a low-commitment culture. Most sports beer leagues and cell phone providers, not to mention Costco, require more of their members than our churches do. That should not be. In the midst of a consumer culture that is tailored to meet our felt needs and preferences, becoming a committed ministry partner in a local church makes a counter-cultural statement.
A committed community of people who love and invest in one another and a common mission of making disciples, pooling our resources, vibrantly flourishing in our varied gifts, is a powerful witness (Ephesians 3:8-10; 1 Peter 2:9-12; John 13:35). That contrast, if we commit to living as a contrasting community, shines a bright light to the watching world.
Your belonging to a local church is for the good of others outside of the church.
What Should My Next Steps Be?
If you are looking for a church, find one and commit long-term. Finding and committing to a local church will do a world of good in a number of ways. As one preacher put it, Membership is one way to stop dating churches, and marry one.
If you have been attending Central, make it official. We would love to see you become a Ministry Partner here and give yourself fully to this local expression of Christ's church with all of the responsibilities and blessings that come with it.
If you are a ministry partner, continue in the beautiful unity and missional focus that comes as we submit to one another and to Christ. Continue to grow in what it means to partner in the ministry of this local church. It's biblical, culturally compelling, practically helpful, and beneficial for yourself and others.
My prayer is that Jesus and His Church be the highest priorities of your life and that God continue to use us as a church to Love God, Love One Another, and Serve our World.
Click here to fill out a Baptism & Ministry Partnership form.