23 Feb, 2011 Partnership is the way forward
One of the core values of this ministry is that partnership is the way forward. This is simply to say that through working together we can accomplish more than were we to stay only in our smaller groups or identities. While there is nothing to say we have to partnership in various things (as will be discussed below), the fundamentals of this particular ministry are all about seeing such partnerships come about. Here are a few reflections on this.
(1) PRELUDE — we will reflect on…
Unity being a big deal to God
The primary differences between our denominations today
How to respond to prominent ‘personality driven’ Churches
Who to protect our people from (as pastors or spiritual leaders), and how
(2) REFLECTION – we will reflect on partnership as the way forward…
Why we do not have to partner
Why we could partner
Why partnership is a core value of this ministry
Note: To read why partnership is a core value of this ministry, skip down to the last point in this blog.
(1) PRELUDE – REFLECTIONS ON OUR DENOMINATIONS AND DIFFERENCES
Unity and partnership are different things.
(a) About unity: Its a big thing to God.
The whole idea of ‘unity in diversity’ is at the core of Gods very being, such as is seen in God being simultaneously both the Father and the Son. God is a being well beyond our ability to comprehend. His very being demonstrates perfect unity within diversity.
The unity of believers is a big deal to God. A prayer for our unity was Jesus’ big request in His prayer for all who would believe in Him in the future (us), as recorded in John 17. There is ONE Church, and we have ONE purpose.
(b) The primary differences between our denominations today
The day of denominations, in our time, seems to be largely over. Allegiance is increasingly less to a denomination. Hopefully this means it is increasingly more to the Lord. Many older people are the best illustration of this, having attended various denominations.
My own reflection on denominations is that there are really only two overarching kinds of ‘Christian’s’ today, and then four further sub-groups. The two overarching ‘kinds’ of Christians are evangelical and liberal. Evangelical broadly refers to those who are evangelistic, who believe the gospel and Bible to be actually true. Liberal broadly refers to those who don’t actually believe Jesus was God or that the Bible is historically accurate, such as that the miracles actually happened, etc. The latter group seem a contradiction in terms to the former, but, although significantly decreasing in numbers, have vocal proponents and significant influence in our nation, often getting significant air time in TV debates and talk back shows.
Breaking down the evangelical Churches, these denominations beliefs are essentially the same these days. Many of the traditional differences are now blurred, and what remains is primarily stylistic. I theorise that there are FOUR TYPES OF EVANGELICAL CHURCHES: (1) More traditional style hymn singing, (2) family friendly chorus singing with some clapping, (3) contemporary music with clapping and some jumping, (4) truly chandelier swinging. The differences, rather than being about beliefs, are more about ‘personality’ and style. Sure, there are differences in leadership structures and in matters such as the extent of emphasis given to the workings of the Spirit, but these differences are not nearly as significant as a few decades ago, and no longer exist between denominations – they now exist within them (for example, there are Churches within most denominations that pursue opportunity for spiritual gifts to be exercised within services, and also Churches in the same denominations who are more ‘cautious’ on these things). I, like many in our time, have been in Churches of all flavours and feel comfortable in them. I enjoy the reverence for God felt in the more traditional Churches, and the passionate love for God felt in the more expressive.
With respect to our discussion on the partnership between various Christian groups, because of the above, partnerships have never been easier.
(c) How to respond to ‘personality driven’ Churches?
A few Churches are more strongly based around personalities. In any discussion on the benefits of partnerships between Churches this is a significant topic, as this is likely where the strongest divisions in opinion now lie. The more prominent of these ‘personality driven’ Churches in any decade have, no doubt, been topics of debate and discussion by others at those times.
My take on this is this. I believe God sometimes gifts people to have such influence. I’ve heard many people speak negatively of larger Churches (which are usually led by more charismatic leaders). What they often don’t seem to realise is that these larger Churches were once smaller Churches. They are only big because they accomplished goals in the areas of outreach and relevance. If we are honest, their success could equally said to be our failure! I think they should be complimented for their successes, and prayed for in their unenviable responsibilities. Leading larger Churches is far from easy!
Sure, some of these Churches leaders seem convinced they are right and that everyone who disagrees with them is wrong, but I’ve seen pastors in small Churches succumb to the same attitudes. It is easy to see that pride is in this equation, but we should not be quick to judge, firstly because our judgments may be wrong, but secondly because we do well to consider who is not prone to pride? There can be as much pride in the leadership of small Churches as these bigger ones. Church leaders are sincere in their desires, even if we may consider them sometimes sincerely wrong. As fellow believers who do not really know them, it is not our role to judge them. I believe God can challenge them if they are out of line in an area. I also believe that in each case, there are those God has positioned to have influence on these charismatic leaders where needed – friends and contemporaries who are able to speak into these leaders lives along the way. These few can speak wisely about these leaders possible excesses – we do not all need to speak. I think we should pray for these leaders, guard our words carefully, and only speak when – on that rare occasion – we might find ourselves positioned by God to have a quiet influence for good in some matter.
Regarding our conversations with non-believers on such matters (such as I had at a BBQ a couple of weeks back), I think we do well to make no negative comments about Christian leaders, though maybe to empathise with the criticisms that those we talk with make where we recognise potential validity. It is not wise that we ever add ‘fuel to the fire’ in such things when discussing with non-believers. There are many shades of grey, and God alone has the true perspective.
(d) Who to protect our people from, and how.
What a potentially contentious sub-title – but again relevant when considering Church partnerships, as we may legitimately not want to partner with some organisations, people or projects.
Pastors are responsible to lead their members in the directions they feel will be most beneficial for them. They might thus ‘neglect’ to encourage them in directions in which they feel there might be questionable things happening. To do such is every pastors (and spiritual leaders) duty, even though the things they might encourage their people toward might be different from each other.
Considering the heart, the caution in this is against manipulation. Leaders in all spheres have influence, and we are well reminded that we will each have to give an account to God for how we lead. In the Church arena, while there is a ‘truth’ to defend, there are necessary balances. To share personally, my attempt in Christian leadership has been to rightly protect those I ‘shepherd’ from things I consider could harm them, but at the same time to be (a) careful to protect the unity of the Church, (b) to not undermine their freedom of choice, and (c) to intentionally grow them in perspectives rather than to follow ‘my’ rules (I shall explain). If a matter seemed serious to me I might caution those I lead against such a thing, but would be careful not to condemn it outright in the process (unless it was worthy of ‘condemnation’ by Biblical standards, which is rare). This is because the impression my words leave is important, as I should not leave those I lead with a judgmental attitude toward those believers who are involved in whatever thing or group I feel concerned about (such as following a leader I feel is becoming unhealthily dogmatic on particular emphasis thus causing wider disunity), or who might see a few things differently to myself. Those people are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the unity of the Church is very important. The harvest field is big enough that we don’t all have to do the same thing, or believe the same things in smaller matters where there are a legitimate variety of views. As in 1 Corinthians, ‘some follow Apollos and some follow Paul’, and the harvest field is big enough for this to not be a problem. My responsibility as a pastor is also to disciple ‘world Christians’, capable of partnering with other believers in their work places, schools, neighborhoods and communities. These are the places where true mission takes place. If believers are divided in these places because of the over-stated peculiarities of their various pastors, then the Church truly is divided – as our unity is surely best seen in our ability to sit and share and pray with one another in the marketplace, irrespective of the ‘traditions’ we come from.
The danger in being too dogmatic on these things is that we ‘indoctrinate’ our people too strongly with a particular view, where a variety of views validly exists. Such leadership can be manipulative, and undermine health in disciples! Such leadership can create ‘legalisms’ – and long term these are proven to not work. The ‘indoctrinated’ believer later hear reasons that show that the ‘once condemned’ things actually have some validity. The question is then raised in their minds as to how many of the other things they were told are also wrong. In the process many cannot differentiate the ‘Biblical essentials’ from the ‘particular leaders opinions on smaller matters’, and the confusion results in a loss of confidence in the the validity of a large proportion of (or all of)their Christian beliefs, or a sublime loss of conviction in following their once ‘sure’ beliefs. In contrast to this, I suggest we should be discipling an ability to discern truth in those we lead rather than an obedient following to our particular version of the truth (noting again that I am referring to smaller matters where a variance in perspectives legitimately exists, not foundational Truths).
(2) REFLECTION: PARTNERSHIP IS THE WAY FORWARD
I find myself amused at this reflection, as I am saying what I am not saying all the way through. But this balancing is quite important. As much as I believe partnership is the way forward, to say such too strongly without giving the necessary balances would be manipulative, as the obvious question is ‘partnership with what?’ and ‘partner with whom?’ I mean, who gets to choose what Churches ‘should’ be partnering with?
(a) Why we do not have to partner
As a pastor I use to receive many invitations to attend conferences – but to attend them all would have burnt our members out! We received many invitations to partner with different groups for overseas ‘mission exposure’ trips – but we would only send a few groups per year.
And then there were the groups (just like what I intend to be doing) who invited us to partner with them in larger outreach projects. Each pastor had to decide for himself / herself which of these they believed were actually God-initiated, and which were or were not for their Churches partnership at that time.
The unity of the Church, thus, does not mean all the Churches in a place have to partner in the same events – though that might also be the result of unity. It does not mean all the denominations have to partner with national Christian organisations various works, or with national outreach projects – but could equally mean that they did. Each spiritual leader is responsible before God to discern what the Spirit is saying to them, and will have to give account to God for that also. It is not ours to judge – only to pray, and to ensure that we walk as ‘rightly’ before God as we can in the things we are responsible for. Those who honour the Lord, the Lord will honour.
(b) Why we could partner
(1) Together we can accomplish more than apart.
We could find those with similar goals and values to partner with, and it could work out very well for all involved.
(2) The Spirit might lead us to do so in certain things.
For example, how do national projects, with partnership from the majority of Churches, come about? Hopefully it is the leading of God that brings this about (not just good leadership and publicity), for certainly God does have an agenda in each region of a country, and an agenda for the country as a whole as well. We must believe this! God has plans for our nation, and, from time to time, this no doubt includes various projects coming about which we would all be involved in, and which might benefit of all of the Churches, or even all who live in our nation.
Hopefully God is leading what is going on nationally in His Church!
Hopefully He has plans, not only for each Church, but for us all together, impacting our nation in timely and relevant ways.
Hopefully, despite our frailties and failures, we can each discern our times, and God’s work, and find ourselves united from time to time in the things He has ordained.
(c) Why Partnership is a core value of this ministry
These are the reasons why ‘partnership’ is a core value of this ministry. This ministry does not aim to ‘do its own thing’. My hope is actually to be largely invisible. There are only a few envisioned projects, and – if these even come about – I am convinced they would be best done under existing denominational structures and paraChurch organisations. I have no plans to run these projects under the ‘Shining Lights’ banner. The name ‘Shining Lights’ may never become that widely known – but hopefully the name of Jesus does as a result of what is done! My whole vision is for partnership.
Some of the visions I have are larger in nature. I know I cannot accomplish these. My hope and prayer is that God will favour this ministry to find denominations and paraChurch organisations who have the same heart and values; that the timing of the various projects would be God led (point 2 above); that through partnership we might accomplish together what none of us would have ever accomplished alone (point 1 above).
I am not a prophet. This is to say, I do not have a clear perspective on what God is doing in this nation at this time. I am only freshly back in this nation from years overseas. I do not believe I am ‘God’s gift to the Church in New Zealand‘, or any such thing. But I do have some ideas I feel led to try. I do hope that these will turn out to be a useful in a bigger picture of things that ‘pre-exists’ me. I am hoping that God is in this – that what I do will be part of a jigsaw puzzle that God is putting together at this time.
These things are my continual prayer.
If these things do not come about I will need to find a new ‘job’ in two to three years time, because, while partnership is a core value of this ministry…
…for this ministry, partnership is not only ‘the way forward’, its the only way forward!
Go back to / see ‘Core Values’.
POST-SCRIPT WRITTEN IN 2014: The above turned out to be idealism. We were unable to find established organisations willing to attempt the efforts we sough to initiate. After 6 months discussion with one such organisation, they decided not to partner in the key planned project. With balls already in the air we sought advice from some key national church leaders. Upon advice, Shining Lights becaues the ‘Shining Lights Trust’, because a structure was needed to provide clear financial accountability before collecting any funds. We were disappointed. We had to create all the networks and organisational systems and accounting ‘standard operational procedures’ from scratch. The ideal was a nice idea. Organisations become comfortable in set expressions of their purpose. It is only human to be risk-adverse.