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What Can Small Churches Do Together?

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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.


September 2, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Leadership,Church Ministry,Community,Evangelism / Missions,Life / Doctrine | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 0 Comments »

The Biblical Foundation for Church Partnerships

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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.

A Challenging Prospect

Every Christian understands that the world will know we are Christ’s disciples by our love, so you probably have a desire to display Christ’s love by connecting with other churches in your community. So you plan a park cleanup day together. Or a pastors prayer gathering. Maybe, if you’re daring, a joint Easter sunrise service. But to go beyond that, into long-term committed partnership? There are a hundred reasons why that wouldn’t work.

You have a limited amount of time, resources, and people in your church. Isn’t it possible to overcommit these God-given gifts by deploying them in ways God doesn’t intend? Your church has a unique theological and philosophical identity. What if you wake up and find yourself unequally yoked to another church that believes and behaves differently? You have a deep desire to reach people and influence them to see God the way you see him. Won’t there be people who are reached by your partnership ministry who decide to go to other churches or denominations? After all, you’re only half-joking when you call other churches “the competition.”

Learning from Paul

To answer those questions, we need to start by looking at Paul’s missionary strategies and practices. Once he had evangelized a city, established a Christian community, strengthened the saints in the church, and raised up leaders to guide the church, he called the church toward partnership in God’s greater kingdom. And there was one major task he recruited each of the churches he planted to carry out: collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem.

After spending ten years planting churches, strengthening churches, connecting churches, and collecting from churches, Paul finally decided it was time to deliver the big gift. This obviously wasn’t an impulsive effort. He traveled one thousand miles to take the collection to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17–20; 24:17), bringing with him representatives from at least three of the four regions where he had planted churches. The saints in Jerusalem received the gift with great joy and gratitude, but as Paul expected, he was arrested by unbelieving Jews soon after the gift was delivered.

What drove Paul to strive and strain toward a partnership of wildly different churches? What motivated him to risk his life delivering their gift? There are at least three key reasons that propelled Paul, and these still inspire most partnerships today:

1. Compassion

When Paul wrote to the Galatians, possibly with the goal of recruiting them into the partnership, he said, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Compassion toward the poor and suffering is natural for people who have experienced Gods compassion. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

2. Evangelism

When Paul delivered the Jerusalem collection, there’s a strong possibility that he was blessing not only needy Christians but also needy unbelievers. After he was arrested in Jerusalem, he testified before the Roman governor, Felix, and said: “I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult” (Acts 24:17–18). Paul may have given most of the collection to the church in Jerusalem, but he probably gave a portion of it to the temple for distribution to needy unbelieving Jews. Why did he do this? “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1).

3. Fellowship and Unity

When Paul described the Jerusalem collection, he used many words. Service. Gift. Privilege. But one of the most powerful is the Greek word koinonia (Rom. 15:26). Literally meaning “sharing,” this word is often translated as “fellowship.” Paul saw the collection as a unique way to draw churches together and display the unity of the Spirit.

This wasn’t natural, especially in the racially charged church of the first century. Paul continually challenged churches to pursue gospel unity among all Christians, both Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3; Ephesians 2), but the Jerusalem collection partnership was a powerfully tangible demonstration of how the gospel transcends race, culture, and tradition. Paul made this purpose clear: “For if the Gentiles have come to share in [the Jews’] spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Rom. 15:27).

And not only did the collection unite Gentiles and Jews, it also bonded Gentile churches to one another. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the collection, he told the story of the churches in Macedonia: “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:2–3). This “reminded the members of these congregations that they were partners in the gospel with one another, no less than with the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”When churches work side by side with one another, they are reminded of their union with one another in Christ.

In thousands of cities across the globe, churches large and small haven’t considered the amazing things God could do through them in partnership with others. He used kingdom churches to turn the first-century world upside down (Acts 17:6).

What will he do in the twenty-first?

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.


How to Be an Effective Bible Study Leader

WOWM - Tips and Encouragement

This is a guest post by Nancy Guthrie and is part of Women of the Word Month, a free 31-day campaign designed to encourage and equip women for transformative Bible study. Learn more or sign up at crossway.org/women.

Have you ever led a Bible study?

If so, you know how hard it can be to manage your group’s limited time and make sure you use that time wisely.

While some participants may be very casual about how the time is used, others in your group are very aware of the time and become frustrated when they feel their valuable time is being wasted. There are several issues, I’ve found, that have a significant impact on using the time allotted for small-group discussion effectively:

Getting Started

So often we run out of time because we are slow to get started. We are waiting for latecomers, or chatting, or enjoying some food together and simply let valuable discussion time get away from us. All groups develop a culture, and members learn whether the group will really start on time or not, and they adjust their sense of urgency in regard to arrival time accordingly.

Certainly you need to allow some time for participants to greet each other and to share their lives with each other, but you will want to determine how long that will last and give the group a firm start time for the discussion. If you set a culture of starting on time regardless of whether or not everyone in the group has arrived, and not allowing latecomers to interrupt your discussion when they arrive, you may likely find that group members become more punctual.

On the first day you meet, be sure to ask members to join the group and enter into the already-commenced discussion as unobtrusively as possible when they arrive after the discussion on the lesson has started. When we stop the discussion while everyone greets the late arriver, perhaps hearing the story of what caused the lateness, it can be challenging to get started again. As the leader, you will need to manage this area with a blend of appropriate firmness and grace.

Prayer Requests

Many times, we want our small-group discussion times to include a time of sharing prayer requests, which is a meaningful way of sharing our lives together and exercising our trust and relationship with God. But we also know that sometimes sharing requests can turn into telling long stories and lengthy discussions as other members offer advice or input.

One way to handle this, if the use of time for prayer requests is a concern for your group, is to provide note-cards for people to write down their requests and share them at the end or simply have members swap cards with someone else. Or you may simply want to determine a time to bring your discussion to a close that will allow for time at the end for sharing requests, praying together over those requests, and praying through the truths presented in the lesson.

Getting Stuck Along the Way

So often we give too much time to earlier questions and simply don’t have time to work our way through all that we want to cover. You might want to look over the content you want to cover before your group time to determine how you will use the time. Mark the key questions and topics you must get to. Make a note beside each question you want to be sure to include, indicating an estimate of how much time you want to give for discussing that question, and then watch the clock along the way to keep on track.

Keeping the Focus on God’s Word

People come to a Bible study for many reasons, from many situations and struggles, and with varying levels of knowledge of and interest in the Bible. Sometimes our groups can easily slip from being a Bible study group into becoming more of a personal support group. Finding that right balance between biblical study and personal support is a significant challenge for every small-group leader.

I’ve sometimes heard group leaders say that when a group member arrives with a significant struggle or sorrow, the leader feels she must set the study aside to listen and give input to that hurting person. Perhaps there are situations where this is the best thing to do, but we must also remember that the Word of God speaks into every need and situation in our lives. It heals, it gives perspective, it instructs, convicts, restores, and renews. Be sure that you do not assume that the advice and input of group members has more power than your discussion of the truths of God’s Word to help that hurting person.

Keep in mind that while some participants may come more for the fellowship and sharing of their lives with each other, many other participants are hungry to feast on biblical teaching and discussion of God’s Word. If, over time, these participants find that the Word is often set aside or given short shrift, they may look for another forum in which to study God’s Word with others.

Ending On Time

Because participants have plans after the study, people to meet, children to pick up from childcare, etc., it is important that you end on time so that participants will not be slipping out one-by-one, or be unable to focus on the discussion because of the distraction of needing to be somewhere else.

Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at conferences around the country and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Covenant Theological Seminary. She and her husband, David, are the co-hosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 8,500 churches nationwide and they also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is the author of numerous books including Holding on to HopeHearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow, and the five-book Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible study series.

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10 Things You Should Know About Evangelism


This is a guest post by Mack Stiles, author of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, which is part of the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series.

1. Our evangelistic efforts must stem from a biblical understanding of evangelism.

There are so many ways to go wrong in evangelism—impulses of fear on the one side, vain ambition on the other—that if we do not nail down a truly biblical understanding, we will quickly veer off course. So we start by understanding that biblical evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.

2. Evangelism is often the label given to things that are not evangelism.

Is sharing your testimony evangelism? Is defending the Christian faith evangelism? How about doing good deeds for the oppressed? Certainly those are good things that serve and support evangelism. But they are not evangelism itself. We must not confuse the gospel with the fruit of the gospel.

3. Evangelism entails teaching the gospel first and foremost.

God teaches us the gospel through his Word; we can’t just  ”figure it out” on our own. So it stands to reason that we must speak and teach the gospel to others: the truth about who God is, why we’re in the mess we’re in, what Jesus came to do, and how we are to respond to him. It’s no wonder that Paul often described his evangelistic ministry as a teaching ministry.

4. Evangelism aims to persuade.

We want to see people move from darkness to light. Having that aim helps us know what things to talk about and what things to lay aside. Evangelism isn’t just data transfer; we must listen to people, hear their objections, and model gentleness because we know that souls are at stake. And we know what it means to truly convert: a true Christian has put his complete faith and trust in Jesus, so much so that he has repented of a lifestyle of unbelief and sin. Understanding this guards us from false conversions, which are the assisted suicide of the church.

5. Evangelism flourishes in a culture of evangelism.

Much instruction is given about personal evangelism. And that’s right and good since we’re each called to testify to our own personal encounter with Jesus. But when people are pulling together to share the gospel, when there is less emphasis on getting “a decision,” when the people of God are pitching in to teach the gospel together, a culture forms that leads us to ask “Are we all helping our non-Christian friends understand the gospel?” rather than “Who has led the most people to Jesus?”

6. Evangelistic programs will kill evangelism.

We need to replace evangelistic programs with a culture of evangelism. Programs are to evangelism what sugar is to nutrition: a strict diet of evangelistic programs produces malnourished evangelism. So, we should feel a healthy unease with regard to evangelistic programs. We must use them strategically and in moderation, if at all.

7. Evangelism is designed for the church and the church is designed for evangelism.

A healthy church with a culture of evangelism is the key to great evangelism. Jesus did not forget the gospel when he built his church; in fact, a healthy church is meant to display the gospel. Think of the ways that the gathered church displays the gospel: we sing the gospel, we see the gospel in the sacraments, and we hear the gospel when we preach and pray. A healthy culture of evangelism does not aim at remaking the church for the sake of evangelism. Instead, we must highlight the way God designed the church to display and proclaim the gospel simply by being the church.

8. Evangelism is undergirded by love and unity.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In that same discourse, he prayed that his disciples would be unified “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21). Jesus says the love we have for one another in the church is evidence that we are truly converted. And when we are unified in the church, we show the world that Jesus is the Son of God. Love confirms our discipleship, and unity confirms Christ’s deity. What a powerful witness!

9. A culture of evangelism is strengthened by right practices and right attitudes.

We need to make sure that we see evangelism as a spiritual discipline. Just as we pray for our non-Christian friends, we must be intentional about sharing our faith with them. Furthermore, we must never assume the gospel in conversations with non-Christians lest we lose it. We need to view the gospel as the center of how we align our lives to God as well as come to God in salvation.

10. Evangelism must be modeled.

One of the greatest needs in our churches today is for church leaders to boldly model what it means to be an ambassador of the gospel. Pastors and elders must lead the way in sharing their faith, teaching others how to be ambassadors for Christ, and calling their congregations to do the same.

J. Mack Stiles is CEO of Gulf Digital Solutions and general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates. He has worked for many years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the United States. He is the author of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.



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When the Podcast Preacher Isn’t Enough

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This is a guest post by Rob Bentz. He is the author of The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress.

Vitamins vs. Meals

I love to listen to a Timothy Keller sermon. I’m challenged by a Matt Chandler message. I’m intrigued by a Rick McKinley teaching. These three pastors teach God’s Word faithfully, focus on the power of the Gospel, and do it through the most culturally relevant means available—the podcast or via online video.

When I listen (or watch), I get to learn from their fresh insights into biblical texts. I have the privilege of hearing their thoughts on culture-shaping issues of our day. And finally, I get to consider how the text becomes applicable to my day-to-day life.

These are all really great things. All are helpful for my personal faith journey. Yet, listening to a podcast or watching an online sermon is the equivalent of taking a vitamin—instead of enjoying a healthy, well-rounded meal—purely supplemental for my walk of faith.

We Need More

I need more. You need more. We need more than a weekly listen of a great podcast from our favorite preacher—we need the church! You and I need the people of God. We need the consistent face-to-face interaction with other Christ followers. We need other men and women on the journey. We need other believers to speak truth into our lives. And they need us to do the same.

At its core, the church is a group of called-out, redeemed Christ followers—recognizing each other’s place in God’s unfinished church—living in authentic, honest, forgiving, grace-giving community. It’s not something that can be downloaded to your desktop or uploaded to your iPhone.

Listening to Jesus

Jesus himself beckons you and me to engage more deeply. He invites each of us to be part of a unique community that he is creating—not stand apart from it.

Consider the words of Jesus in John’s gospel,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Jesus tells us that love is the signature of the Christ follower. Love is our mark in a world crying out to be loved and to see love in action. Love is the one primary thing that God gave us to represent Him. How can we model this if we are participating in a podcast church without anyone to love us or anyone to be loved by us? How can we grow in love if the only person we engage with is the individual in the mirror?

The role of the podcast sermon in our culture is undeniable. To avoid it or downplay its value would be silly at best—ignorant at worst. Yet, the most inspiring and intellectually challenging pastor’s sermons cannot take the place of the people of God in my life and the people of God in yours. They are a mere supplement for the Christ follower’s real experience of God’s church.

Rob Bentz (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary) is the pastor of small groups and spiritual growth at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Rob has written numerous articles for various ministry websites and is currently a featured blog writer at ChurchLeaders.com. He and his wife, Bonnie, have two children and live in Colorado Springs. He is the author of The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress (excerpt).