In the New Testament, the word ‘partnership’ describes Christians who are together in active pursuit towards a common, gospel purpose (Titus 1:4; Jude 3; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Philippians 1:5). This is easy to imagine for a local church, but what does it look like to ‘partner’ with someone who is the other side of the world?
You may be thousands of miles away from your mission partner so it’d be tempting to think ‘out of sight out of mind’. But partnerships built around gospel priorities can flourish despite distance.
One mission partner writes, ‘Sitting down for a curry with members of the church family at St Andrews was a real treat. Time to go deeper with individual people was precious and helps me feel I know those who are praying for me much better - and now I can pray for them with deeper affection too.’
The Apostle Paul – one of the first missionaries – had a very deep relationship with his partner church in Thessalonica. He wrote, ‘But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face’ (1 Thessalonians 2:17). Their relationship was deep, despite the distance.
Financial giving may be one-way, but it runs the risk of creating one-way expectations – you support me. When churches give, pray, write to or house a visiting missionary, they too are gaining.
For example, Paul writes to another of his partner churches, ‘…you sent me aid more than once when I was in need … what I desire is that more be credited to your account.’ (Philippians 4:16-17) What is it that Paul expects the Philippian Christians to receive in return? It is a share in the advance of the gospel. As their gifts keep Paul afloat, they are a major stake-holder in gospel ministry!
One church pastor writes, ‘Through receiving timely prayer information each month, plus visits and videos, we feel that we know what is happening in Naples. By praying for them regularly and a good number of our church members helping out financially, we really feel invested in their mission. Also, supporting them as they establish a new church helps us to go back to basics ourselves and reminds us what the essentials are in seeing the Lord build his church.’ Their mission partner writes back, ‘Conversations with people from St Nicholas has really shaped and directed our work out here. And, hearing of individuals there taking risks for the sake of the gospel has spurred us on to do the same.’
The apostle Paul illustrates this in his letter to Timothy: ‘Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry … bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.’ 2 Timothy 4: 11-13
Paul sought out the company of Mark because he needed his help, and he asked for a winter coat, his books and his parchments. He didn’t hesitate from expressing his vulnerability and needs.
One mission partner writes, ‘I’d had an email from a partner church on the day I smashed my mobile phone… they got my frustrations in my reply! I was so grateful for the speedy response offering to cover the cost of a new phone.’ And Crosslinks’ Study Partner Uauandja Karamata writes, ‘A big thank you to the Christchurch youth group for the letters. They were so encouraging and uplifting. It is wonderful to know that there are brothers and sisters praying for you and for the gospel to be spread.’
Authentic gospel partnerships often span great distances but they are also relational, two-way and practical. There should never be cause to think ‘out of sight out of mind’.
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