“Two are better than one” is a statement most people would affirm, at least until the two are left fighting over a single cinnamon roll. Who would disagree that sharing, working together, or getting along with others is virtuous? But when we're considering God’s mission to redeem a lost world, we must have a more substantial foundation for partnership than generic moral platitudes.
Certainly, there are practical considerations that encourage Christians to work with others.
Two people can accomplish a bigger job more efficiently than someone working alone.
Globalization forces interaction across cultures whether it is pursued or not.
Working with local people more adept at culture and language has obvious benefits.
Specialization and cheaper labor can lead to “more bang for the buck.”
While these pragmatic advantages are not inconsequential, missionaries need biblical support and guidance for entering cross-cultural partnerships.
Partnership is necessary because the gospel is universally relevant and provides the singular plan of redemption for sinners separated from God.
I would like to address four foundational biblical truths that lead to partnership in mission. In subsequent posts, I will propose a definition of partnership and offer principles and practices for healthy partnership.
1. Common faith in the gospel message brings believers together in missional partnership.
The starting point for healthy relationships is having something in common that all parties believe is valuable. The message of the good news of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection provides a common foundation for Christians on mission (1 Cor 15:1–4). The belief that only those who trust in Christ alone will be saved from eternal separation provides a second reason (Rom 10:9–10). Finally, the belief that every Christian has the joy and responsibility of bearing witness to this wonderful gift of grace provides a reason to engage in God’s work together (2 Cor 5:17–21).
Partnership is necessary because the gospel is universally relevant and provides the singular plan of redemption for sinners separated from God. Sound theological convictions bind believers to one another as they participate together in Christ (Eph 1:3–23).
2. Common identity as members of the body of Christ brings believers together in missional partnership.
Membership in the body of Christ comes through faith in Jesus, the head of the church (Eph 4:1–16). As a result of this union with the head, members are brought into union with all the other members. Connection to Christ through repentance and faith gives individuals a new identity as they are now new creatures (2 Cor 5:17). Christ is the head who provides direction and sustenance for growth, while individual members have interdependent relationships with one another. The health, function, and growth of the body is dependent on each member functioning properly in the role assigned to them by God. Independent or isolated members are contrary to the intentions of God.
3. The common purpose of the Great Commission brings believers together in missional partnership.
Partnerships need purpose. Relationships inevitably pass through seasons of tension and strife. Cross-cultural partnerships have added stresses that compound the potential for misunderstanding or miscommunication, leading to relational breakdowns. Without common goals or tasks, failure seems probable, if not inevitable.
A shared faith, a shared Lord, and a shared mission all compel the universal church to partner together.
On top of a common belief and a common identity, Jesus gave everyone who believes in his name a common mission (Matt 28:18–20). A shared faith, a shared Lord, and a shared mission all compel the universal church to partner together. Participation in the mission is not optional for faithful believers, and neither is partnership with other believers. Churches realize that because of the size of the task and diversity of gifts within the body, they need others. God gave diverse gifts, skills, and resources to individual members and intended them to be complementary to one another, resulting in faithfulness and fruitfulness.
4. A common hope in Christ’s return brings believers together in missional partnership.
The people of God engage in the mission of God in the interim period between the First and Second Coming of Christ (Acts 1:6–11). Christians await the return of Christ and have a common hope and assurance that he will return. The missionary task of making disciples who worship the one true God is a temporal task because it will end when Christ returns. Missions is urgent because Christians know the condition of those without the gospel and the reality of coming judgment. These factors motivate Christians to grab the hands of other believers and engage in missions together for the glory of God.
The church is a partnership of believers who take the whole gospel to the whole world until the end of time.
Believers are told to be alert and faithful as they steward the gifts given to them by God (Matt 24:36–51; 25:14–30). Believers are not passive bystanders waiting for safe passage to eternal mansions. All who have been rescued have been enlisted as ambassadors to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. Christians are co-laborers, co-proclaimers, co-participants—partners—in the mission of God, even as they rest in the promise of what will be in the future.
The church is a partnership of believers who take the whole gospel to the whole world until the end of time. Believers unite and strive together because they have a rich and deep biblical foundation. Missional partnership is built on the premise of a common faith, a common identity, a common mission, and a common hope.
After Christ comes again, partnership will continue even though missions will cease. Partnership according to Revelation will no longer be pleading with the lost to be saved, but will be people from every tribe, language, people, and nation worshipping the one who alone is worthy (Rev 5:9–10).
Joshua Bowman holds a PhD in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is Assistant Professor of Missions and Theology at Cedarville University. He served with his wife, Amy, and their four children in Zambia and South Asia with the International Mission Board for seventeen years as a church planter, church strengthening strategist, and team leader.