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What Can Small Churches Do Together?

guest post

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

guest post

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.


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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The Great (American) Commission – Part 3


This is the third post (part 1, part 2) in a 3-part series by Tim Keesee on the role of American missionaries in the 21st century. He is the author of Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places.

Unoccupied Places

A century ago, Samuel Zwemer wrote one of the first detailed descriptions of the unfinished task of worldwide evangelization. It was titled The Unoccupied Mission Fields of Africa and Asia. Today we have a comprehensive online survey called the Joshua Project. With a few keystrokes, a vast encyclopedic survey of nearly 7,000 unreached people groups is available.

Long before Google, Zwemer’s reports were gathered from books, news clippings, telegrams, and saddlebags. It’s interesting that Zwemer chose to use the word “unoccupied” rather than “unreached.” By that, he was emphasizing the risen, returning King’s words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” With scarred Hands outstretched, Christ said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

Zwemer book cover

His authority extends to the ends of the earth out of which he ransomed people for God from every nation, tongue, and tribe. So he sends His messengers out to occupy the world over which He has all authority, taking the gospel and extending His Kingdom as more and more people hear, believe, and receive their King.

By “unoccupied,” Zwemer was also recalling a parable the Lord gave His disciples just weeks before His Ascension. Fittingly, it’s a parable about a king going to a far country and before leaving, he charges his servants to “occupy till I come.”

Stubborn Citadels

My copy of Zwemer’s book is battered and yellowed, its statistics and even some country names outdated, but Zwemer was a pioneer missionary to Arabia, and his words have both the weight and the glory of the Cross about them. With 40% of the world yet unreached, with vast lands and teeming cities “unoccupied,” his words still speak forcefully:

The challenge of the unoccupied fields of the world is one to great faith and, therefore, to great sacrifice. Our willingness to sacrifice for an enterprise is always in proportion to our faith in that enterprise. Great victory has never been possible without great sacrifice. . . . The unoccupied fields of the world must have their Calvary before they can have their Pentecost.

The stubborn citadels of the world in Zwemer’s day remain largely unoccupied in our day as well—a Great Wall that extends from south and central Asia to the Middle East and across Saharan Africa.
But the walls are coming down! Satellite television and the internet have been breaking through for some time with gospel content, but ground troops are needed for living and giving the Good News and to disciple and gather believers. As Mindy Belz reports from the Horn of Africa:

If you are like me, your image of the church underground formed around stories like Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler, and you picture white men in old cars trundling Bibles and fervent teaching to huddled, olive-skinned masses hungry for the word of God. . . . You’d be wrong, or at least wrong about the way God builds His kingdom. The church in the 10/40 window—the area between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator where mission experts say most unreached people live—is experiencing dizzying growth. . . . And the typical agent of change is himself olive- or dark-skinned—most likely an Egyptian missionary, perhaps an Ethiopian, or a Sudanese.

Creative, Visionary, Opportunistic

So is there still a place for Americans in pioneer missions today? Thankfully, the answer is absolutely yes! With vast regions of the world still unreached, there’s more than enough work to go around—and more than enough joy to go around. It’s the joy of telling people for the first time that Jesus has made a way so that they can live forever.

So here at home, our King is still calling faithful men and women to be pioneers in risk-taking, gospel ministry to the hard places. Oftentimes, though, the first barrier they encounter isn’t a distant border crossing—it’s a lack of vision and resources in our churches for the unoccupied territories. Missions in such places requires the sending and the sent to embrace creative, non-traditional roles in order to get in and stay in.

There’s no blank for “Church Planter” on visa applications to Algeria, Afghanistan, or Laos, but there may be one for “Nurse,” “English Teacher,” “Entrepreneur,” or “Barista.” The goal in all of it is to see vibrant churches planted in native soil.

However, in hostile territories, frontline soldiers must adapt in order to survive and to serve. Churches here at home need to adapt, too—adjusting to the realities of the unfinished task and positioning themselves to be at the forefront of creative, visionary, and opportunistic missions.

A Hazardous Journey

About the same time Zwemer wrote his book, Sir Ernest Shackleton was seeking men for another kind of unoccupied territory—his expedition to Antarctica.

Shackleton ad

His now famous recruiting ad stated,

Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.

These words could well apply to men and women whom Christ is calling to venture out to those who have yet to hear the gospel.

Our motivation is not thrill-seeking or fame—it’s Christ. His grace and mercy are so beautiful and abundant in our own lives that we want to find others who were like we were before we met Jesus—blind and shackled—and see them made new. This is what sustains the pioneer and draws others to take up the hard, unfinished task.

Christ alone can help us see past the unfavorable statistics, past the beards and turbans, past the dreary, lonely places, to the happy work of bringing men and women to the King.

Tim Keesee is the founder and executive director of Frontline Missions International, which for the past 20 years has served to advance the gospel in some of the world’s most difficult places. He has traveled to 80 countries, reporting on the church from the former Iron Curtain countries to war-torn Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is the executive producer of the popular DVD documentary series, Dispatches from the Front, and the author of Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places (excerpt).

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May 23, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Ministry,Evangelism / Missions,Life / Doctrine | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 0 Comments »

The Great (American) Commission – Part 2


This is the second post (part 1) in a 3-part series by Tim Keesee on the role of American missionaries in the 21st century. He is the author of Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places.

Illustrations from the Cupboard

When the King said, “This is what My Kingdom is like,” two of his illustrations—stunningly simple and accessible—seemed to be taken from the corner of a cupboard.

A mustard seed and a pinch of leaven (Matthew 13:31-33) underscore that the Kingdom of Heaven is all about expansion. That expansion can be surprising, in the same way that the tiniest seed grows to become the centerpiece of the garden.

The gospel can also work quietly, like leaven—penetrating, unrelenting, transforming—as the boundaries of Christ’s Kingdom extend to more and more hearts by those who are also permeated with its power.

HerotoHungryThis is really what missionary statesman Samuel Zwemer was describing when he wrote more than a century ago, “The kingdoms and governments of this world have frontiers, which must not be crossed, but the gospel of Jesus Christ knows no frontier. It never has been kept within bounds.”

Who’s the Greatest?

The boundlessness of the gospel of the Kingdom is even more evident in our day. There was a time when missions was mostly from the West to the rest, but a shift has been underway for some time. As Christ is ransoming men and women from all nations, so He is sending them out to all nations. How do goers and senders from the churches of America relate to this globalization of missions?

An answer that truly embraces the change and leverages it for greater gospel impact is by no means an easy one. Organizations and budgets are often capable of only Titanic-like turns. And the stereotype of the American missionary, who arrives on the field as the hero to the huddled masses, is a caricature with, sadly, a few too many real-world examples.

However, some words of caution and clarity (because being a critic can be so smugly comforting). Many Americans do not go with a smarter-than-thou attitude. If some do go that way, it’s not long before the humility of the gospel (and the humiliation of not being able to form a complete sentence in the language of the people they had all the answers for) knocks them off their pedestal and they start being useful. Also, attitudes of pride and self-righteousness are not confined to Christians from the United States. Such sin is stubbornly, and not surprisingly, cross-cultural.

The point isn’t that the greatest Christians are over there rather than over here. Sometimes we sound like another set of disciples, arguing about who is the greatest—when, actually, Christ is the greatest. And in every land he is saving, calling, and enabling cross-bearers to take risks to advance his Kingdom. To borrow Jim Collin’s bus analogy, since we aren’t in the driver’s seat of the gospel Greyhound, which seats do we take to be most effective?

Here are two ways we can be part of what our great King is doing in the world:


Christ said, “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Across the centuries, across oceans, across continents, across every cultural, religious, and ethnic barrier, he has kept his promise. The past history of missions since Acts 1:8 and the present headlines of gospel advance worldwide all serve to build our confidence in the gospel.

As the Kingdom choir continues to grow in strength and numbers, our joy also increases because our worthy Lamb’s fame is rising like the sun! As Paul said in 2 Corinthians, “As grace extends to more and more people, it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15).

So let’s begin with praise. Get a globe, a map app, or a thirty-one day calendar of the 10/40 Window Region. Pray for the persecuted church, but also rejoice in the success of Jesus’s mission. Connecting places and people with gospel advance is just one more way to lift up our eyes and “see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).


Often when I hear about “partnering with nationals,” the “nationals” (also known as “brothers and sisters”) are mostly enablers for accomplishing our mission—whether church planting or running a training center. And, because of the significant differences in the cost of living between a foreigner and a local, these arrangements are also couched in financial terms as a way to get “more bang for the buck.”

But gospel partnership isn’t about outsourcing. It’s a reflection of the gospel itself—how we need each other in the way that the parts of the body need each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Paul underscored this truth in Philippians, from the opening verses with its joyful prison prayer (“because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”) to the closing lines of the letter, the power of partnership is bound up in the gospel itself. The humility, joy, prayer, and side-by-side labor flowing out of pursuing Christ fuels more and more gospel advance.

If you’re a sender—pastor, missions committee member, or just someone passionate about global missions—ask hard questions about whether your missions commitments reflect genuine gospel partnerships on the field. If the answer is “not really,” then do something even harder—work for change.

If you’re a goer and local believers are already present, listen, learn, serve, and seek to fuel their success.

Read Part 3.

Tim Keesee is the founder and executive director of Frontline Missions International, which for the past 20 years has served to advance the gospel in some of the world’s most difficult places. He has traveled to 80 countries, reporting on the church from the former Iron Curtain countries to war-torn Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is the executive producer of the popular DVD documentary series, Dispatches from the Front, and the author of Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places (excerpt).

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May 22, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Ministry,Evangelism / Missions,Life / Doctrine | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 1 Comment »