Establishing Key Partnerships in Your Community7 min read

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to do a Baptism for a guy that I’ve known in the Jackson County community longer than I’ve even been a pastor here. I got to know him the summer before my ordination and, after over five years of frequent conversations, he came up to me one day and said, “I’d like to talk to you about Baptism.” I knew and know still that he will likely never become a member of our congregation; his wife is a very devout Roman Catholic and attends church every week. When I got here, he was still “dealing with his Baptist upbringing,” and “not really sure about church.” The Law was working on his conscience, but the Gospel had yet to get to him. In our frequent conversations he realized that, for the sake of his kids, his marriage, and his eternal salvation, he should probably figure out his faith. He started attending church with his wife faithfully, and will likely become a member of her church at some point, but he wanted me to baptize him because of our relationship.

The purpose of sharing that story—and I assume that many other pastors have similar ones—is to point out the impact that is waiting for us. As Jesus said, “The fields are white for the harvest!” (John 4:35). I don’t know whether that man would have ever begun going to church with his family, or if he ever would have become convinced of his need to be baptized if I hadn’t opened many of our conversations with, “Hey, did you get baptized yet?” Because he and I have become friends—a friendship forged by our partnership in a community group—he trusted me enough to have conversations which led to his Baptism. Praise be to God!

Not every partnership that we have leads to Baptisms, but they may. Ultimately, every partnership that we establish as churches, church leaders, or lay members, can lead us to Word ministry. There is no situation into which we cannot speak the Word of Christ. Even in organizations where “talking about the Bible” is frowned upon, we as citizens can take the formation of the Holy Spirit in our lives to it and express what we believe. When the Word of God is spoken (even if people do not know it is the Word of God when they hear it), it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Our unique vocations certainly open doors for opportunities to share the Word.

Opportunities to do Word and Sacrament ministry are a primary reason that we seek partnerships in our community, but they are not the only reason. Three other reasons immediately come to mind:

Key partnerships in our communities provide us with the opportunity for self-reflection and growth.

When was the last time your church leadership took the opportunity for critical self-reflection? Would you even know where to begin? Would you like some help? Many civic organizations in our communities are full of people who work their entire lives trying to help various organizations function better, or who have ideas for everything from better-placed messages to the best way to structure your leadership. Churches as a whole can benefit from associating with “outsiders” who have an unbiased opinion. When we ask the public what their opinion is of our church, it may open our eyes to things we may not want to see but do want to address!  You may even consider a “mystery guest” who will give you crucial feedback as to how your church treats visitors.

Additionally, your leadership may find mentorship from organizations with which they are associated. If you have someone who has experience sitting on the board of your public library, or managing a company, you likely have someone who knows about mentoring. Your called and lay leadership can certainly benefit from mentoring relationships with people who have that experience. What does your congregation really need? Chances are, there is someone in it who has an association with another group and with whom you can partner to help meet your needs—and hopefully you can meet theirs with Jesus.

Key partnerships in our communities provide us with opportunities to improve and increase our other ministries.

What would you do if you have a great idea for a ministry? How would you determine if your church was really poised to make a difference, or if you are even addressing the correct needs of the community? While talking to other churches about how they have done things, attending conferences or seminars, or participating in our Michigan District/FiveTwo StartNew events are all useful tools, the preliminary work can be done in conjunction with other agencies in your community. Perhaps they even have the tools you need, and just need you to come in and work with them. A ministry can really take off, and it might not even cost the church anything.

One example of this within our ministries in Jackson is a logical partnership with the YMCA, which is located right across the street. Pastor Ekong began working out there immediately upon moving to Jackson and has become “The official pastor of the Y.” They have started adopting me, too, as I have begun working out there more frequently as of late. We have partnered with them to put on some community events, and just this week we were asked about the possibility of starting a Christian emphasis group within the YMCA. The parameters are still being worked out, but it sounds like we will be working on establishing Bible studies, service projects, and possibly some other programs aimed at returning the “Christian” to the Young Men’s Christian Association. I do not know how far-reaching this could be, but I do know that we will have the opportunity to reach those who would not yet come into our church for a Bible study or the Divine Service.

Key partnerships in our communities can contribute to the overall well-being of the community.

Psalm 133:1 states, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”  In our theology we must either believe that God is God of all, or He is not God at all. If we believe that God is the God of all, then why should we be unwilling to allow Him to work through us for the betterment of the society? If we have the truths of God (and I believe we do), those truths are something from which the polis, the left-hand kingdom, can benefit. Healthy churches produce healthy communities of believers, and those healthy believers carry the healing Word of God with them wherever they go, including into their communities.

As people become more committed disciples of Christ, they begin to carry His message with them wherever they go. If we have leadership or staff members of the congregation partnered with various organizations, they can carry that influence with them in a way which helps to better rule the left-hand kingdom, as only those of us in the right-hand kingdom can do. What task forces does your community have? What groups exist that you can join in order to allow the love of Christ to influence your community? We have a few that we work with here in Jackson. One is an inner-city rehabilitation area called Partnership Park. Many people from various groups (some churches, some civic-minded leaders, some residents of our highest crime area) gather to discuss ways to address poverty, crime, and other things which negatively impact our city. Without the innovative attempts of the previous pastor, this may never have come into existence. Instead, it is the reason we are able to feed hundreds of people with free community dinners, baptize nine children out of a VBS, and do a variety of other service projects.

In short, community partnerships are key for effective outreach ministry and can come in many forms. Whether it is a staff member, a lay person, or the church as a whole, working with others in the community is paramount to effectively fulfilling our calling as disciples of Christ.

Don’t miss the webinar Key Steps in Starting a New Ministry, hosted by Rev. Dr. Rob Kasper and Rev. Bill Woolsey tomorrow, March 31, at 2 p.m. To register, click here.

Photo (c) IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock

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