iServe Africa exists through partnerships – a wonderfully complex web of apprentices, placements, staff team, board, individuals, families and churches. Partnership for us is not just a funding model that we are committed to (though it is that), it is also the way that we live and breath and grow. When it works well, gospel partnership is a really exciting and beautiful thing.
The Bible gives us at least four pictures of partnership:
Going into business together
Partnership is basically a business word – Luke 5:9-10:
Partnership is being in business together. The question is what business are we in? To answer that let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians; the great partnership letter. Paul is in prison but he isn’t moaning about the bad food and the rats – Philippians 1:3-5:
“The Gospel.” That’s the business we’re in together. This is a business where the aim is not to grow our empire but Christ’s, where we’re not trying to please shareholders but Christ, where we’re not promoting ourselves but the Cross of Christ, where the bottom line is not success but faithfulness, where we’re not trying to go up a corporate ladder but go down to serve, where we don’t want customers but disciples. This is a business where we’re not selling anything but holding out the grace of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. And Paul is so excited to be in that business with the Philippians – to be partners in the gospel with them.
What does that partnership actually mean in practice?
A many-stranded rope
Read through Philippians and you notice that partnership between Paul and the Philippians is a rich relationship with many aspects intertwined. That is it’s strength – like a multi-stranded rope. The central core around which all the other strands are wrapped is our Unity in Christ. Paul and the Philippians are together IN Christ – the deepest and strongest unity you can possibly have. From day one Paul and the Philippians have been partners in preaching the same gospel, living lives worthy of the gospel, suffering together for the sake of the gospel. They’re prayer partners – Paul prays for them, Philippians pray for him. They communicate – by letters by sending and receiving people. They are partners in giving and receiving material resources. You notice that all of these things are two-way.
So gospel partnership is a two-way, multi-stranded thing. Let’s never reduce it to one strand or a one-way road.
Gospel partnership is not a formal, transactional thing. It is not contractual in a cold way. It is not distant and unconcerned about the one on the other end of the ‘rope’. The whole thing is very warm – Philippians 1:7-8:
It’s not just about sending money and receiving prayer letters – it’s a relationship – incredibly close and warm (for an Englishman almost embarrassing warm!): “my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1).
And one final image:
Fighting on the front line together
Paul says that he and the Philippians are:
Later he calls Epaphroditus, his “fellow soldier”. Obviously our enemy is not human and our weapons are not human weapons. The point is when we’re in partnership together it isn’t really that there are the guys on the front-line doing the exciting stuff and there are the guys back home. The mission front line is in Nairobi and Moyale and Wajir and London and Northampton. When we’re in partnership with one another – praying for one another and communicating and loving one another – it’s like we’re fighting side by side.
Basically if we’re in Christ we’re all missionaries. It’s hard being a Christian anywhere in the world because we’re in a conflict (mainly with our own sinful nature) and it’s a wonderful privilege being a Christian anywhere in the world because we have Christ and we have one another.
That’s what we mean by partnership.