When we first decided to pursue planting a church in our city, we needed to think carefully about why we would plant and how we would do it. This was particularly important for our core team. If these brothers and sisters were going to link arms with me and my family, leave their current church homes, and invest time and resources into starting a new church, then we needed to see the need and be convinced of the strategic nature of the venture.
However, even though we were convinced of the need to plant, not everyone in our town shared the sentiment. The truth is, sadly, established churches often feel threatened by new churches. I get that. When new churches begin, transfer growth is a reality. Church planters can say (and mean) they are not after transfer growth. But it often comes with the territory. New churches simply attract people from other churches.
We knew we would deal with transfer growth, but we were adamant about cultivating a reputation of partnering with other churches in order to reach the unchurched.
Partners, not competitors. That was and is our goal.
What I hope to do in this article is encourage planting pastors and pastors of established churches to partner (rather than compete) for gospel mission as much as they can.
Cross Lines and Spur Each Other On
Historically, great things happen when churches link arms.
In studying the First Great Awakening under the leadership of Whitefield, Edwards, the Tennents, and others, one cannot help but appreciate its trans-denominational and multi-ethnic character (see Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America). Christians from different theological and cultural backgrounds came together in order to see the good news of Jesus flourish. Not only did revival happen among white evangelicals, but among Native-American and African-American communities.
In our day, as we seek outpourings of God’s Spirit, pastors are wise to build relationships with those who are different than themselves. Pastors, are you so tied to denominational allegiances that you miss the chance to partner with other faithful Christians in order to promote the gospel in your city? Build relationships with those who are outside your own cultural and ethnic heritage. We are better together.
One of the joys that I’ve had is meeting with a brother pastor from a different church in our town for encouragement. This pastor is outside of my own theological tribe, but loves the same Jesus. We do not sweep our theological differences under the rug, but we agree to disagree over important but secondary matters in order to see people in our city impacted by the gospel.
Encouraging each other along the way is a biblical idea. Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews called Christians to a ministry of encouragement (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb 10:25). It seems appropriate to encourage every Christian we can while heading towards Heaven through the present evil age.
One of the ways you can foster a spirit of partnership instead of competitiveness is by encouraging the pastors around your city, especially those who are not like you. Let them know that you’re for them, not against them. Make it clear that you’ll rejoice with the angels if God sees fit to bless their gospel-driven and gospel-faithful efforts.
When we cross denominational and ethnic lines in order to spur each other on, we put flesh on the idea that we are planting a partner, not a competitor.
Let me encourage you with a few simple ideas to get started. First, if you’ve never crossed any of the divides I’m talking about, simply start with a cup of coffee. Email a local pastor – someone outside your network – and sit down for a chat. You don’t need to debate the atonement, church government, or their views on women in ministry. Those days might come, but at this initial cup of coffee, leave those hot topics alone and enjoy a hot drink and pleasant conversation. Get to know the pastor in front of you.
Second, if you notice events that other churches are having, and if they’ve invited the community at large, consider attending. You don’t have to attend everything, but sometimes being in these places lets others know that you are not looking down your nose at everything they do and are supportive of gospel effort. The flip side of this is to let them know that you’re happy to have them around your people and involved in what you’re doing, as well.
Third, if appropriate, plan events together. I recently sat down with a group of local pastors and planned an event where four of the churches in our town linked arms to serve our city in tangible ways. Not only are we happy to have coffee with these brothers, to support their events and invite them to ours, but we will link arms in appropriate ways in order to share the love of Jesus.
Fourth, pray for other churches by name. Make sure your people and any visitors that come to your church understand that you are serious about partnering, not competing. One of the ways to do this is to pray for other churches to flourish. We often pray for churches by name and ask the Lord to bless their ministries.
Fifth, and last, send people back to their churches. This one is hard but worth it. We are serious about reaching the lost, not merely swapping sheep. I’ve sat with more than one person who has visited our gathering and asked them to go back to their church, talk to their pastors about the issues they are having, and let their elders shepherd them. That isn’t always necessary, but most of the time, it seems prudent and communicates a spirit of partnership.
We believe we are better when we work together for the cause of Christ. Though we can’t partner in every way with every church, we can link arms for mission and evangelism with those who are with us in the gospel. It’s wise for planting pastors and pastors of established churches to work at crossing lines, denominationally and ethnically. And we cross those lines in order to partner together so that the fame of Jesus spreads across the globe for the joy of all peoples and the glory of our God.