Joining God in his mission is a great adventure with so many blessings. But it’s also a lot of hard work. As a church leader, I’m continually amazed at how easily and quickly I can get pulled back into complacency and comfort. It’s true for me personally and it’s true for the Church. It’s that human nature thing that Paul talks about in Romans 7: it’s hard to keep doing the things we know that God has called us to do.
Missional partnerships have been an important part of helping us stay focused as a church. Here, I’m defining missional as simply the posture and intentionality to be the sent Church, joining God in his desire to bring His blessing to the families and nations of the earth.
At Forest Grove Community Church in Saskatoon, we are involved in missions work in a variety of ways. We’ve found that taking the time to clearly articulate the parameters of a missional partnership (in writing) has reaped tremendous benefits. We’ve currently established two in this way, and we are discerning a third one. One is locally with an inner city ministry in Saskatoon called The Bridge (you can read about this in the book, Going Missional: Conversations with 13 Canadian Churches who Have Embraced Missional Life). The other is with a ministry to the indigenous people of the jungles of Panama. We’ve had over 70 members of our congregation participate in this second one, in seven years of sending teams down to Panama.
Here are a few of the benefits — and power — of a clearly articulated missional partnership:
It sharpens your focus. As churches and pastors we can feel pulled in so many different directions. Partnerships help us keep focused and make a true difference in a few areas, rather than feeling frustrated and ineffective in many. It also helps define who exactly the partnership is with and what is the overall purpose we’re trying to accomplish.
It reveals our perspectives, biases and blind spots. North American churches have lots to offer, but we have so much more to learn. When I first went to Linda (director at the Bridge), I said that people in our church truly have a heart and desire to help those in our city who are vulnerable, marginalized and struggling with the many faces of poverty — but we don’t know how. I told her that we needed The Bridge’s help to know how to live our faith. Their ministry (and clients) have helped us so much to see Jesus. Written and wrestled into each of our partnership agreements is a commitment to bless each other — and what this two-way partnership will look like.
It helps our people engage. When we take the time to clearly define the partnership and our mutual commitments to each other, we become family and we get to truly know each other. This helps people see how to live out their faith and where their gifts might be used. Some people will finally step out and try it because so many others have paved the way first.
It makes us evaluate effectiveness. In our written agreements, we’ve defined effectiveness and also put a term-limit on our agreement. Each of our partnerships is up for review every three years. That makes us evaluate (together with our partners) what’s working, what’s not, and whether or not it makes sense to continue. Churches can be great at starting ministries; we’re not so great at evaluating and at times stopping them.
Jesus seemed to wonderfully combine spontaneous ministry — so much happened “as he walked along,” see John 9 — together with great intentionality, whether sending out “the 12” or “the 72.” We will always need both. Being missional requires a posture of spontaneity and an intentionality to truly be effective. Missional partnerships allow for both in a powerful way.
Bruce Enns is lead pastor of Forest Grove Community Church in Saskatoon, Sask.