Those of you who regularly read the Connect publication may have recently seen this umbrella which gives a visual representation of how missiology fits under ecclesiology. In the following paragraphs I would like to flesh out what that looks like in real life as BCP, a mission agency, assists churches in fulfilling the Great Commission. How that commission is fulfilled by churches is rooted in the biblical principles governing the basic practices of the early church as seen in Acts 2:42 – continuing in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. Paul serves as an example to us in the relationships he nurtured for partners in ministry. The church at Philippi is an example of a partnering church. The churches in Galatia are an example of a fellowship of partnering churches. The ramifications of the meaning of this concept provide us with the motivation and methodology for our model of ministry.
After hinting at his relationship with his coworkers in previous epistles (“companion”, “fellow workers”, “co-laborers”), Paul made a startling statement in his epistle to the Philippian church (1:5) when he said, “Because of your partnership in the Gospel.” I have recently wondered why sometimes the word “partnership” is translated as “fellowship.” This word is used frequently in the NT, and this gives reason to pause and consider its importance. It is actually a very familiar term; we are most familiar with the Greek term “koinonia,” which means communion or joint participation. “Fellowship” conjures up many emotions and images when it is mentioned, but what did that word bring to mind in the thoughts of the original readers of the NT? Perhaps D.A. Carson can help us better understand. In his comments on Philippians 1:5 he writes:
“In common use ‘fellowship’ has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.
In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15:26)”
D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 16.
If we follow Carson’s reasoning, we discover that the New Testament concept of fellowship is a self-sacrificing partnership. He states further on that “the heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment.” Notice how those in partnership are linked by their ‘shared vision.’
As we consider BCP’s philosophy of ministry, we first must consider this biblical basis. We seek partnerships because of the Gospel and for the Gospel. Indeed, this philosophical foundation has shaped our purpose and practice:
- BCP emphasizes the importance of the local church in the placement of church plants.
- BCP encourages connections between churches (in local, state and national fellowships) and church plants and missionaries.
- BCP encourages its missionaries to foster individual and church partnerships for the purpose of prayer and funding through the sharing of resources.
Partnership is multifaceted. We want to further explore these truths of God’s Word and how they impact the why and how of what BCP does. Our series on partnership continues in our next Connect as we look at what having a consistent emphasis on partnership provides in the lives and ministries of those involved.