Someone has asked my opinion on local churches cooperating or interacting with other organizations, and possibly other ministries. What principles should we keep in mind, what practical issues might develop, and what are some of the perplexing perils in fulfilling our mission? I will try to integrate some of the “perplexing perils” (PP) as I articulate principles and practical issues. Here is a start to discussion.
I write from the perspective of someone who was an urban pastor trying to reach and minister to poor people, and in a cross-cultural context.
1. Know your own identity and mission as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is unique, it is essential, and it must not be compromised as to its Gospel message, call to conversion and discipleship, and moral and ethical integrity.
(PP-If you care about the social conditions surrounding you the temptation might be to think the Church and its message are neither relevant nor practical enough to really help people. Other social agencies may ridicule your call to faith as proselytizing and reject your involvement. We must not be intimidated by the weight of social pathology nor by the social activist-despisers of our religion. Even (many) non-believers expect religious leaders and institutions to be moral and ethical as a standard of behavior, it is an important reputation to keep.)
2. Remember that preaching and teaching (Grace, Gospel and Bible truth) are life giving and life enhancing moments to individuals, families, and thus the whole community. Preaching Biblical sermons that meet real human needs are not irrelevant to the life of the community but essential to human flourishing.
3. No interaction, collaboration, or cooperation with other institutions or agencies should move the church from its primary mission of proclaiming the Gospel and its care of souls. This must be consistent throughout a congregation’s “owned” ministries. The local church must protect its freedom to speak from a religious, spiritual, and dogmatic perspective within the realm of its own ministry.
4. The leadership of a local church must consider the reputation of other institutions, agencies, and individuals when it considers an agreement or cooperating partnership. There are some arrangements which are essentially neutral, and others which are compromising of reputation, and still others that are enhancing of reputation. Leadership has to be wise and prayerfully discerning as to which is which. The attitude of the church should always be love, even when trying to protect its testimony, and should always have an attitude and practice of loving kindness even when it must keep distance from some involvements. [I have probably taken more risks than others in such involvement, but tried to be bold in my witness at the same time.]
5. The local church has to be mindful of the involvement of their pastor with other institutions and agencies, his reputation, his time commitments, and his freedom to serve Christ in every situation he formally and professionally places himself in. (PP-when does a pastor represent only himself, or is representing his congregation? He always represents God, or else shouldn’t be a pastor.)
6. Local churches can interact with other ministry, institutions, and agencies in various ways and for various purposes. A key principle for the local church is to know how this particular involvement moves the mission of the church forward, or is it a diversion of focus and resources? (PP-most non-profits want money and people from local congregations but not all of them further the mission of the congregation or enhance the ministry of the church, and some do not want any spiritual input from Christians.)
7. While local church involvement in other institutions can be by way of volunteer hours, financial support, facility cooperation, etc. the practice of resource investment (especially that of church member man hours) must be weighed against how it brings people to Christ and into the membership of the body? This principle must always be balanced against any other purpose, no matter how well meaning. Ministries of mercy, helps, kindness, or any other noble or good thing people can do, as we “do good to all men,” are not a substitute for being “fishers of men,” but all can be a means to that end if we are intentional about it.
8. It is good for church leadership to regularly, on some periodic basis, to reevaluate the stewardship of the resources of the church (especially the volunteer ministry hours of the membership) as to whether they are effective for…
· The name recognition of the church
· A proto-evangelism of the community
· Direct evangelism of the community
· In conflict with the functioning of the worship and activities of the church, including the shepherding of the children of the church.
· The bringing of justice and mercy to the community in the name of Christ.
· Doing what must be done to help the people of the community survive and thrive as an act of love.
9. The Pastor especially may be called upon to serve on community boards of various sorts. He is asked because he is a pastor of a specific church and not usually simply because he lives in the neighborhood. Some of these activities are neutral, that is they don’t hurt the pastor or church’s reputation. However, every involvement takes time and pastors need counsel from church leaders to be careful about their commitments. He needs to humble himself to ask others to speak into these decisions so he doesn’t hurt himself, his family, or the congregation.
10.Taking money from anyone, or any agency, that hinders the church’s ministry or message has to be rejected. Thankfully there are government programs, and grants from foundations and businesses that don’t prohibit churches from their message or ministry, but these must be carefully assessed and evaluated. Many institutions want to do good, and are willing to do it through a congregation, and these may coincide with a congregation’s own vision and mission for ministry. Things such as the feeding of children, tutoring or after school programs, sports programs, arts and music programs, health and medical programs, housing, etc are all possible areas of collaboration. A church has to ask what it wants to accomplish in such programs, and if or when does it feel its primary purpose is being compromised.
11.Once money is taken from an agency with commitments as to its use and reporting congregations must be strictly ethical in fulfilling their commitments and not funnel money into some other use, no matter how seemingly good or necessary that use may be.
12.Congregations have to ask themselves if their building is “holy” and is totally and only committed to their doctrinal identity? Will the church let a public school rent the building, or use the building for a ceremony? Will the church let another denomination rent space to worship there, even if there is not total doctrinal agreement? How about a cult? How about AA or some other 12 step program? Many Evangelical congregations have rented space from Synagogues and other religious institutions, will we be reciprocal in their hour of need?