This is a guest post by Chris Bruno. He is the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion.
An Unlikely Partnership
Matthew grew up in an idyllic Scottish village by the sea. Mez grew up in institutions in Ireland, moving from foster home to children’s home to prison. No, this isn’t the opening to a Charles Dickens story.
Matthew grew up trying to avoid the Mezs of the world. Mez grew up trying to steal from the Matthews of the world. But God intervened to bring these two men to Christ and, ultimately, to an unlikely partnership.
Mez had replanted a dying church in the poorest community in Scotland, called Niddrie Community Church (it sounds better with a Scottish accent). The church is located in the middle of the worst “scheme” (low-income housing project) in Edinburgh, a community plagued by drugs and prostitution. But the congregation was composed of middle-class Christians who commuted in for Sunday services and left as soon as the benediction was given. Completely isolated from the neighborhood, Niddrie was regularly firebombed by antagonistic residents.
On his first night at the church, Mez was pulled over and arrested by the police, who couldn’t believe a thuggish-looking guy like him would be driving a nice car registered to a gentleman named Rev. Mez McConnell. By God’s sense of humor, Mez’s arrest gave him immediate street cred with his new neighbors. The church started to fill with unbelievers from the scheme, and it quickly became a vibrant hub of community life. Many people were redeemed and radically transformed by Christ. The difference between their old lives and their new was as stark as black and white.
Matthew had moved to America and planted a church in rural Kentucky called Bardstown Christian Fellowship (he says it sounds better with a redneck accent). He had a deep desire to return to Scotland to plant churches, but never felt released by God to leave his church in Kentucky. Then, at a pastors’ conference, he met Mez. Hearing about the incredible things God was doing in the schemes, Matthew saw a way to fulfill his dream and God’s calling: form a partnership between the two churches.
Niddrie Community Church needed funds and full-time workers to fulfill its vision to plant gospel churches across the schemes of Scotland. Reaching the residents of the schemes requires endless hours of intense personal counseling. So Bardstown Christian Fellowship began to recruit and send trained workers for long-term ministry at Niddrie.
Expanding the Vision
The partnership’s vision quickly began to expand. The partner churches asked, What would it take to plant or replant gospel-driven churches in the twenty neediest schemes in Scotland? The answer: a highly trained church planter and five full-time workers for each scheme, along with the financial resources to sustain them.
This was far beyond the capacity of two churches, so Matthew and Mez got to work finding additional partners. More churches soon signed on. Each church personally invests in one scheme church plant, sending money, long-term workers, and short-term teams. The church knows that if it doesn’t follow through on its commitments, a church on the other side of the ocean might not be planted or revitalized.
But this isn’t just about giving. The American churches feel that they are receiving as much as they give. After sending its first team, Bardstown Christian saw short-term missionaries come back from Scotland better equipped to reach the same kind of people they met in the schemes. Alcoholics and drug addicts started showing up at their Sunday services. Broken people with messy lives soon met Jesus through a group of Christians who, just a few years before, would have been very uncomfortable even talking to them. Matthew explained, “Making disciples in the schemes of Scotland helps us make disciples in rural Kentucky.”
Guidance from the First Century
These twenty-first century churches are imitating the church of the first century, when Gentile churches across the Roman Empire partnered together to invest resources, leaders, and prayer for the ministry of the poverty-stricken church of Jerusalem. This ten-year-long project consumed more of Paul’s time, energy, and emotion, than any other single initiative in his ministry. He saw it as a way to accomplish kingdom goals of fellowship, compassion, and evangelism that no single church could achieve on its own.
And even better, Paul saw it as a way each church could be blessed in its giving: “Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need” (2 Cor 8:14). Like Bardstown Christian Church discovered, true partnership is interdependent. It’s not just a way for bigger, wealthier churches to feel better about themselves by helping smaller, poorer churches. Everyone can expect to gain something from one another in partnership. Churches of all sizes can accomplish great things and benefit in amazing ways when they partner together for God’s glory.
In what ways might God be calling your church to partner with others?
Chris Bruno (PhD, Wheaton College) is the executive director of the Antioch School Hawai‘i and pastor for discipleship and training at Harbor Church. He spends most of his time leading a church partnership for theological education and church planting. He has written numerous articles and reviews and is the author of The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses and the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together.