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23 Feb '10

Do it alone or do it together

Posted by T.J. Addington in church, holistic ministry, missions, partnerships

I am always fascinated by the tendency of local churches to get involved with ministry internationally by themselves rather than partnering with others. Take Haiti for example: Thousands of churches in the United States have projects in Haiti that are isolated from what anyone else is doing. Even in the face of the earthquake, each one does its thing rather than partnering with others where the synergies of partnership would far outweigh the benefits of doing it alone.

Perhaps it is the American spirit of independence or the need to control and count something as ours. In the end, while good work is often done, better work could have been done if there was cooperation and partnership with others who were committed to like minded projects.  Even within denominations, churches work in places like Haiti oblivious to what their fellow churches are doing or even the mission arm of the denomination. One has to ask the question of why?

Doing it together with others has some amazing payoffs for ministry results. First, we learn from others. We pay an amazing amount of "dumb tax" when we go it alone and have to learn the hard way lessons that have been learned countless times before by others that we could have avoided if we worked together rather than alone. Countless times I have heard from local churches the of the expensive and painful mistakes that were made and how hard it was to extricate themselves from them - particularly dependencies that they created because they didn't have a better model. I for one don't want to pay "dumb tax" that I don't need to pay. I want to learn from whoever I can learn from, find best practices and avoid unnecessary complications.

Doing it together provides a critical mass of energy, people, resources and ideas that can dramatically increase the ministry punch and effectiveness over doing it alone. For instance, many churches adopt a sister church in another country. What would happen if rather than simply trying to impact one church in that community we found partners who would work with us to partner with all the evangelical churches in that community and move from making a small difference to making a big difference? 

Doing it together provides for long term sustainability because it is no longer dependent just on my church but on a group of churches. When we do it alone we actually put the ministry we work with at risk because if the vision, personnel or budget of the church shifts there is a cost to those we partner with.

The New Testament gives us a great example of doing it together rather than doing it alone. When money was raised for the needy in Jerusalem it was the churches together who cooperated and did what could never have been done by just one church.

I am convinced that our desire for autonomy, for counting something as ours is an anti value to God and His work. It is better than doing nothing but it is far from the ideal and it leaves an amazing amount of ministry opportunity on the table. I may not work to cooperate and partner with everyone but that is no excuse to not partner with some. The cost to us is seeing our work as "ours together" rather than "mine alone." This is true for churches and mission organizations and even our national partners who tend to guard their turf as diligently as we guard ours.

This is why in our organization, ReachGlobal we proclaim loudly that we don't own anything, control anything or count anything as ours. It is God's not ours. We are also partnership driven whether with multiple partners in the US or overseas - including partners that are not from our parent denomination and other mission agencies. God did not die for the EFCA, He died for His bride - the church. In that spirit we are also not intent on multiplying EFC churches globally but healthy, interdependent, self supporting, indigenous and reproducing churches no matter what the name over the door.

Doing it alone may satisfy our ego needs but it is not what most satisfies the heart of God for His people to work in concert to build His church. And it leaves tremendous opportunity on the table that could have been claimed for Him. I for one, pray for a new spirit of cooperation among God's people to build His church and to do so in partnership with like minded partners, domestic and international.