Four Reasons Why Spiritual Maturity is Impossible Without Global Partnerships

Photo: "Somos" by Miguel Cabrera
First, two moments . . .

#1.  As I sat listening to the Sunday sermon at Worship Harvest Ministries in Kampala, Uganda my mind filled with gratitude at the countless and consistent opportunities I have to learn from, work with and be sharpened and challenged by brothers and sisters, friends and partners from every part of the globe.  I relished in the thought and praised God and then tweeted this:
#2.  Yesterday in a fairly randomly (from my perspective) chosen coffee house in the Chicago suburbs, I caught wind of a business as mission venture that they just happened to be starting up that involved coffee, coffee beans, Uganda, and community transformation.  Now, that sounds pretty much exactly like what we are working on with Endiro Coffee so my fist thought was, "Ahh, DRAT ... competitors!"  But then, the Lord graciously let me to a new thought, "No, no, no ... partners!"  And we started to talk.

The evangelical missions world has always been sparsely populated, but when you are in the midst of it, it seems like everyone and their dog is clamoring around one or two ideas -- usually the same ones you are -- and it feels crowded.  It's like Toronto.  There are two valid and biblical options for dealing with the crowds.  First, you can move to Manitoba or, two, you can learn to make friends and work together.  

So, let's talk about this idea of global partnership for a moment.  I'll begin with a quote from the Lausanne Movement which is as poingnant today as when it was written a few years ago in advance of the 3rd Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa:

Partnering in the Body of Christ: Toward a New Global Equilibrium
Seismic Shifts in Global Christianity.  Global PARNTERSHIPS for world evangelization, unlike anything possible in the previous twenty centuries, are now attainable as we develop relationships that are based on mutual respect – acknowledging that God has called us to be one in Him. These new partnerships, increasingly led by visionary leaders from the majority world, will also involve more lay people who comprise the vast majority of those who bear witness to Christ in this Century.  By sharing the best available resources and best practices, together “the whole church (will) take the whole gospel to the whole world.”

Now the practical question for me as a mission leader is, Why?  Why should I lead my team and seek to mobilize others to enter into partnerships within and outside of the denomination, within and outside of the nation? Putting all the obvious (or at least they should be obvious) practical considerations aside, let's consider the deeper, theological impetus for engaging in and committing to global partnerships as individuals, churches, ministries, agencies, and denominations.  Here's Paul:

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have power to comprehendwith all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NRSV)

Paul’s prayer declares that it is impossible for local bodies of Christians to reach (or even significantly approach) spiritual maturity without engagement in genuine relationships with other Christ-followers outside their local group.  We can point out at least four theological foundations for global partnership in this text:

  1. The Desired Result is Spiritual Maturity – note Paul’s “so that” in verse 19.  Everything that Paul is praying is “so that” something will result in the lives of those for whom he is praying.  It is “so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Which is a wonderfully evocative way of speaking of spiritual formation, maturity, sanctification -- i.e. God’s work to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ.
  2. The Cause of the “So That” – It is clear that Paul believes that when a disciple of Lord Jesus is enabled to comprehend and know the multidimensional, knowledge-surpassing love of God, the result is spiritual maturity -- the “so that” of verse 19.
  3. The Essential Conditions of Comprehending – Note that Paul’s prayer assumes that this comprehending and knowing of God’s love is only possible together "with all the saints” (v. 18).  This fellowship is presented here as a necessary condition for which Paul is praying on behalf of his readers and without which, the Apostle is convinced, grasping the love of God and thus spiritual maturity is an utter impossibility.
  4. The Plurality of You – The Biblical demand for partnership comes into full relief when we recognize that the “you” of Paul’s prayer (v. 16, 17, 18, and 19) is plural (by the way, a nice benefit of global partnerships is having friends that speak languages which use plural forms of "you".  Thanks, Nepalis, for "timiharu"!) That is, the “you” being rooted and grounded in love in verse 17 is the local body of believers that has received and is now corporately reading Paul’s epistle.  Thus is it a local body of believers for whom Paul is praying in verse 18 when he says, “I pray that you [all] may have power to” comprehend and know the love of God. It is this plural "you" then that must enter into relationship, dialogue, and indeed partnership “with all the saints” – Christ-devotees from outside that specific community – “so that” spiritual maturity may result in their body.
What we are left with is an inspired prayer that sees spiritual maturity as only attainable when local bodies of disciples are engaged in meaningful partnerships with other communities outside their immediate context.  That is, we may say confidently from this text that any given mission team, church, agency, denomination, or Christ-centered business will be unable to be all that God would have them be as evangelists, medical missionaries, church planters, Bible translators, campus ministers, educators, relief workers, worshippers, intercessors, disciples, or whatever apart from the pursuit of global partnership as a corporate spiritual discipline.  Or, to put it positively:

The active pursuit of ever-deepening global partnerships by local bodies of Christ-followers enables those communities to better and increasingly comprehend and know God’s love which results in dramatic spiritual transformation and growth.

This is true, I assume, because there is actually only one body of Christ in the world (4:4) with one triune God indwelling, ruling over, and guiding that whole body (4:4-6).  That the gifts of Christ are distributed among all parts of that body (4:7ff) further testifies to the fact that it is when that global body is peacefully bonded together (4:3), pursuing and gradually arriving at the unity of faith (4:13) that the family of Jesus Christ in the world functions as it should (4:16).  It is when the whole Church builds itself up in love (4:16) – which it cannot do outside of the exercise of the spiritual discipline global partnership – that it “grows up in every way
into him who is the head, into Christ” (4:15).

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