Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 3c: Partnership for the Sake of the Gospel (3)

In the two previous posts in this series on gospel partnership we have been examining what it means for our partnership to be for the sake of the gospel. We shall continue to explore this in this week's post. Two weeks ago we saw that partnership for the sake of the gospel means (1) defending the gospel and (2) proclaiming the gospel. Last week we saw that it means (3) training and deploying gospel workers and (4) supporting gospel workers. In this post we shall look at two final implications of partnership for the sake of the gospel:

5) Resourcing Gospel Work
The work of the gospel is costly. Not only in terms of the suffering and hardship that is the lot of the gospel worker, but also in terms of finances and other resources. I’m sure all of us are aware that gospel work cannot function without such resources. If there is no building, where shall people meet? If there is no money, how shall those set aside for the ministry of the word and prayer pay for food, shelter and clothing? How shall the expenses of the different ministries in churches be covered?

This means that one of the areas that gospel partnership must be addressing is that of where the finances and resources needed for the continuing and furthering of the work of the gospel are going to come from. It is very often the case that one of the areas that we are most reluctant to speak about is that of money. However, if the gospel affects every area of life and addresses every area of life then this means that we need to think and talk about how our wallets can be shaped by the gospel (whilst heeding Jesus’ warning about blowing trumpets when we give money). One of the great examples in the New Testament of such gospel shaped wallets is the Macedonian church (2 Corinthians 8) who “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity…” (2 Corinthians 8:2). Even though they were extremely poor they begged to be able to serve their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem by giving financially (v. 3). All of this was God’s work in them (v. 1) Oh, that God might give such hearts to our churches. Generosity begets generosity, therefore the gospel of God’s generosity in Christ ought to lead to generosity in us and our churches.

As with all the other areas, there is so much more that could and needs to be said under this heading. But there is not the space to do it here. So I want to mention two brief areas to think about in this regard:

First, our local churches should not be focussed in on themselves financially. Rather, we want to foster an attitude of sacrifice. This means that, instead of using our resources in a way that is just serving our own congregation and merely seeking to build up our own churches, we want to see the finances that God has given our church being used to serve the work of the gospel elsewhere. A healthy, gospel shaped church will not be seeking to hoard all its resources to itself and only being concerned with building up and serving itself, instead it will be looking outward and sacrificing themselves for the sake of the work of the gospel elsewhere and giving to ministries that they will never directly benefit from. When a church is like this, we will find that, instead of struggling, people in the church will grow and mature because of such a gospel shaped mentality. The sacrificial service that is seen in giving to support work and workers elsewhere, shall rub off and lead to sacrificial service within the church which leads to the church growing and maturing. This could be worked out in practice by supporting an apprentice, women’s worker, youth worker or assistant minister at a church that cannot afford to support one. It could mean using the building that God has given your congregation for training events etc. One church I know of is committed to giving away over half of its income to support gospel work elsewhere, and they intend to increase that percentage when they are able. This is a great example of a gospel hearted mentality when it comes to the financial resources that God has given them.

Secondly, there is also space for thinking about something more formal being set up to fund the costs involved in training and supporting gospel workers. Theological training costs money, a lot of money needs to be raised in order to fund someone's time at theological college. Many of those who have been through such training will know the great uncertainty of not knowing where the funds for training are going to come from, or being sent by a church that are not able to support us financially. One of the ways to address this could be by setting up a gospel trust to support gospel workers. This would be a trust fund where churches and individuals are setting aside money that is to be used in support of people training at theological college and going into areas of ministry where there is not the financial support needed. Such a trust would be stewarded by a group of godly and discerning men and women, both those in full time gospel work and those serving the Lord in a secular job, who would make decisions about how the resources might be best used for the glory of God in the advancement of the gospel.

6) Praying for Gospel Work
It has been noted by many that the revivals of the eighteenth century came off the back of years of persevering prayer by faithful believers. The work of the gospel is not ultimately our work, it is God’s, it is not dependant ultimately on us, nor can it be done by our own strength or strategy. Therefore, if we want to see Ireland and the nations reached with the gospel and men and women bowing the knee in trusting submission to the Lord Jesus we must be committed to prayer. This is a vital, and often overlooked, part of gospel partnership.

Being partners in prayer, as with the above areas, is something that should be happening on many different levels. It will mean wrestling in prayer for one another and the work of the gospel in private prayer. It will mean that our churches ought not to be focussed solely on praying for needs within the congregation (as hugely important as this is); rather, we want to help our churches to lift their eyes to the work of the gospel further afield. We need churches that are committed to praying for other churches, mission organisations, and missionaries as well as the needs in their midst and local area. This could be done by a church committing to pray for a certain number of churches in their prayer meeting and setting aside time within the church’s regular prayer meeting for this purpose. It will mean that as pastors that we are committed to praying for, and with, each other. It could mean organising times to join together with other churches in a certain area to pray for the work of the gospel.

These are just a few suggestions to get us thinking. Whatever shape it takes, we must be committed to the joyful discipline of wrestling in prayer for the work of the gospel in Ireland and further afield. Prayer is so often the first thing to let slip in the business of gospel ministry and of gospel partnership, so we must do all we can to guard the persevering of the people of God in prayer for the work of the gospel. Seeking to go ahead in the work of the gospel without praying is arrogance, because it is says that we are sufficient for this work by ourselves, that our strength and strategy are sufficient.

When we look at all of what we have covered under the heading of 'partnership for the sake of the gospel' over the last three posts, it becomes quite clear that any one church or ministry is going to struggle to carry out all of these areas. They may only have the resources or gifts to carry out work in one or two of these areas. This is why partnership is crucial. We need one another. We all have strengths in different areas and will able to provide resources for and serve in different areas. We will be serving in different churches and ministry contexts which will have different strengths and resources, and thus be able provide help in the areas in which they are rich.

Next week we shall,God willing, look at the third major implication of gospel partnership: partnership shaped by the gospel.

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