You may not think of Germany as an unreached area of the world, but the reality is one out of every thousand people in my city of Frankfurt attend a gospel-teaching church. There is an urgent need for the gospel here. But when my team and I began trying to work with existing churches in Frankfurt to plant new churches, we quickly learned that such an endeavor would require partnership.
Who Do You Think You Are?
I imagine that if I had been approached by a missionary church planter from Germany back when I was a pastor in Memphis, Tennessee—especially one who was offering to train me to reach those in my home community—I would’ve probably viewed it as a sign of arrogance. After all, I was a native. I had biblical training. I poured blood, sweat, and tears into my work as a pastor. What could I possibly gain from a foreigner who struggled to speak English?
A win-win situation is achieved when groups of believers realize that they need one another—not only for their own benefit but also to fulfill the Great Commission.
But that’s exactly the situation I find myself in now. I’m the outsider struggling to speak German and wanting to form meaningful partnerships to reach people in my city with the gospel. Finding a way forward with my German brothers and sisters has been challenging at times. But, by God’s grace, we are seeing progress as we seek to multiply churches in Frankfurt and the surrounding area.
Here’s what we typically see from churches that minister in the same geographic area.
Working Against One Another
Let’s face it—believers sometimes work against one another. The root cause is often insecurity, or worse, believing their work is superior to that of other believers.
Church planters sometimes have this attitude toward existing churches. Missionaries can have this attitude with national believers. Existing churches are not immune. The gospel, however, does not create ignorance, arrogance, insecurity, or personal superiority. The gospel offers confidence in Jesus, what he has done, and what he will accomplish in and through his people.
Working Parallel to One Another
In these cases, missionaries or church planters and local churches do their own work but they ignore one another. This position is preferable to working against one another, but it lacks the depth of gospel reconciliation that Paul describes in Ephesians 2:11–22. Simply working beside one another without reconciliation just leads to isolation and breeds apathy for one another’s work.
Simply working beside one another without reconciliation just leads to isolation and breeds apathy for one another’s work.
Working With One Another
A true gospel vision allows believers to work toward a shared kingdom vision for their city, not just the visions they have for their individual ministries. By working with such a vision, believers combine resources and training to start new projects, missional groups, and churches.
A win-win situation is achieved when autonomous groups of believers realize that they need one another—not only for their own benefit but also to fulfill the Great Commission.
Having been reconciled with Christ, we now not only benefit one another, but, because of the grace Christ gave us through the cross, we can actually sacrifice our desires, plans, and resources to unite around the gospel together (Phil. 2:19–30). It’s this mutual desire that motivates believers toward a healthy interdependence.
Practical Ways to Build True Gospel Partnerships:
Here are a few practical ways that we have found for a missionary in a new cultural context to build true gospel partnerships with others:
- Know the biblical principles behind the work to which God has called you. For instance, have a clear biblical understanding of why missional living, evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and raising up leaders are key to your calling and work. This includes knowing how the gospel affects every aspect of life.
- Seek out a gospel-believing local church (if one exists in your context) and share the biblical principles behind the work to which God has called you. Instead of coming to them as an expert, recognize that they are the cultural experts. Let them share the ways they are already leading their people to follow biblical principles in their context, and listen to their ideas about effective ways to partner together.
Instead of coming to them as an expert, recognize that they are the cultural experts . . . listen to their ideas about effective ways to partner together.
- Draw clear lines between methodology (the how of gospel ministry) and gospel theology (the why of gospel ministry). Don’t allow differences between valid methods extinguish the gospel fire that exists for reaching a city.
These practical steps have helped me as an outsider appreciate various local leaders and view them as true partners. It has also helped my partners understand the motivation for my own ministry goals in this city.
In my experience, developing a gospel vision with local partners strengthens the reach of the gospel in our city, brings biblical principles to the forefront, and helps us pursue a healthy approach to multiplying disciples and churches.
Kelly Seely serves with his wife, Janice, and their two daughters in Frankfurt, Germany, as a church planter. He enjoys a partnership with the Center for Church Planting, a group of local churches and pastors who desire to see a movement of the gospel that would result in multiplying disciples and churches.
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