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Lindsey Gatlin

Lindsey Gatlin

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How Partnerships are Revolutionizing Missions in the Vineyard and Beyond By Jason Chatraw

[We felt this past CE article on Missions Partnerships had a ton of paralleling content to our efforts beginning this fall to begin to build multiple Church Planting Partnerships in the U.S.  We would love to hear your thoughts and/or questions on the article and CP Partnering. Feel free to contact Bob Ugland at [email protected] with your comments. Enjoy!  -VNCP Staff]

Assuming the enormous weight of leading a new church plant in downtown Atlanta, Kris McDaniel had barely begun to consider what missions might look like for his church when opportunity knocked on his door. His sending church, the Atlanta Vineyard, had begun forming a partnership to plant churches in Southeast Asia—and it didn’t take long before his church found themselves joining in the venture.

“We certainly didn’t have missions on the forefront of what we were doing with our church plant,” says McDaniel. “But one woman in our church connected us to a Vineyard missions partnership in our area that was forming to plant churches in Southeast Asia. We jumped at the opportunity to get involved. Had it not been for the partnership forming we probably wouldn’t have been involved with missions so soon. But the partnership allowed us to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”

For years, the Western Church sent potential missionaries to “missions agencies.” While churches financially supported missionaries on the field, the job of preparing and strategizing was left to numerous parachurch organizations. Over the last ten years, however, as the Vineyard began to build in size and momentum, an emerging mission philosophy was debated: develop a missions “sending organization”—or rethink the church’s role in missions?

The Emergence of Partnerships

As the Vineyard’s missions philosophy began to develop, it was clear that the philosophy would emerge out of the Vineyard’s overall approach to ministry: everybody gets to play.

“Partnerships allow churches of all sizes to participate in a significant way in the planting of churches abroad,” says Phil Strout, pastor of the Lewiston Vineyard and former director of the missions partnerships for the Vineyard. “You can’t emphasize that enough. Partnerships allow churches to do things together they could never do by themselves.”

Mission partnerships occur when a group of churches, whether close geographically or not, band together to intentionally plant churches in other areas of the world. Sometimes churches divvy up responsibilities; other times, they all share equally in the responsibilities. However, it gives every church, regardless of size or resources, an immediate opportunity to get involved in missions efforts around the world.

“Our basic proposition is that it is the local church who has received the invitation to work with God and the fulfillment of the Great Commission,” says Mark Field, director of missions for the Vineyard. “I think that’s consistent with our ecclesiology. It’s how we plant in the U.S., so it would make sense that we would center our mission’s philosophy around that same model. The result is we have a lot more people engaged in missions.

“One interesting thing about this approach is that it seems to be what the Holy Spirit is doing throughout the church in the U.S. There are a number of other denominations moving who don’t want to delegate missions to a sending agency any more, either.”

As church planters in the U.S. are infused with this philosophy of ministry, it permeates every area of their church’s ministry, including missions. No longer is missions an isolated ministry—it becomes part of the very fabric of the church.

How Partnerships Function

By giving a group of churches a chance to participate together in the planting of churches abroad, the scope of the mission is expanded both in reach and in logistical needs. By working together, each church can help meet the different needs of an aggressive plan. But every partnership begins with a strong vision and focus.

“You have to have a clear vision of what it is that you want to do,” says Strout, who helped start a partnership to Spain. “You want the churches in each partnership committed to doing it together—and they need to know what it is that they are out to accomplish. By knowing what their particular mission is within a country or among a certain people group, they are able to stick with it until they accomplish what they set out to do.”

As each portion of a church planting effort abroad seems overwhelming, partnerships give shared responsibility, strengthening the overall mission. For example, one church may oversee the administration aspect of sending teams, while another may be responsible for communication, while yet another may manage the finances of the teams and missionaries on location.

Strout also cautions against allowing a partnership to stagnate. “In this synergistic effort, it is important to constantly revitalize a partnership by inviting new churches into the partnership to breathe new life and excitement into what is happening.”

Contextualizing Partnerships

Historically, some church planting efforts succeeded only in planting “American-style churches” in foreign lands. But Vineyard partnerships have seen great success in attempting to contextualize the churches they plant. Just as many Vineyard churches vary in “flavor” within the U.S. according to the group of people they are reaching, the partnerships take that value to heart in the planting of churches abroad, as well.

“I am a huge believer in contextualization,” Fields says. “I look and see who is contextualizing ministry for their situation and people group as I travel around the world visiting other Vineyards. And it looks very similar to what our churches here in the U.S. do—it’s just tweaked for their particular culture.” Instead of trying to develop cookie-cutter churches abroad, partnerships develop national leaders and focus on sharing principles and values, according to Fields.

“Some of the values that are very much alive here are alive overseas,” Fields says. “Wherever I go, I see a commitment to power evangelism and a commitment to caring for the poor. I don’t know any church internationally that is not engaged in helping the poor. And these churches are committed to helping raise up leaders. That keeps things hot in the forefront, and I think it stirs the pot to make us think about what that looks like for us in our context back home.”

Lending a Helping Hand

As the direction of missions in the 21st century begins to take shape, other leading missiologists are trumpeting the same message: local churches need to be directly involved in missions.

Dr. Lamin Sanneh, the renowned missiologist and professor at Yale Divinity School, believes the church in the U.S. stands at a precipice in history and must accept the responsibility to train Christian leaders on the forefront of an exploding worldwide revival.

“If churches in America want to be part of that future, they have to step into that world,” Dr. Sanneh tells Cutting Edge. “It might empower the churches here and wake them up to their responsibilities for not only people over there, but the people here as well.

“Many of these societies are recreating themselves and reinventing themselves. And the churches here have a major role to play to educate and inspire and lead, especially to prepare young people for leadership in the future. It is a tremendous contribution that churches can make.

“I don’t think churches have to send a lot of money to make an impact. I think they can make it through personal association with these churches and these leaders, having periodic exchanges with these leaders who can describe what is going on. It is helpful to the churches over there to know that churches here are thinking of them and closely involved in their lives.”

But to get to the point where churches in the U.S. are ready to make a major investment in the lives of church leaders abroad, Dr. Sanneh suggests there must be a major shift in the thinking of churches here.

“The main problem is that there is a lack of confidence in the West in the power of Christianity to change lives,” Dr. Sanneh says. “This loss of confidence is coinciding with the most astounding expansion of Christianity around the world. You can see the problem in the West, and, as a result, there is a credibility issue with these churches. There are small groups of churches here that actually believe in the power of God to change people, but the way we treat them is we marginalize them. In the mainstream, we don’t believe that Christianity can change lives.

“But the spread of Christianity is changing lives, and you don’t have to look too hard to encounter the new life and new spirit that is turning the people of the world toward the Gospel. It is an astonishing story. If you see what is going on in other countries overseas, it’s unbelievable.”

Increasing Effectiveness

As the Vineyard movement helps pioneer this radical shift in missions philosophy, there are still areas that need attention. Two such areas that have already garnered Fields’ attention are those of increasing effectiveness in sending and sustaining missionaries and cultivating micro-business enterprises in developing countries.

“Because Latin America has somewhat of a Christian background, there have been many countries where we’ve been able to find some pastors with our same values–and we’ve been able to build off of that,” Fields says. “In Asia, that’s not the case. The work is much more pioneering in nature when you’re in a Buddhist, Islamic, or Hindu area. So, we’re helping churches do a better job of sending and sustaining missionaries on the field. We’re putting resources toward training our churches on how to do that.”

In many countries that are closed to the Gospel, micro-enterprises are an effective way to penetrate the borders and begin the process of building relationships and earning trust.

“If our efforts to reach Asia become based on how many dollars we can raise, we run the risk of tremendously slowing down the speed at which things are developing,” Fields says. “We need to look at models where the pastors can be financially cared for through micro-enterprise systems. This way, they can fund their own businesses and can break into the field much more quickly than a missionary who must raise thousands of dollars before he ever sets foot in the country.

“The tension is that much of the world doesn’t have part-time employment options. You have to either work full-time or be self-employed. The congregation will tithe, but they tithe with fruit or eggs or something else. There is still a need for hard currency. We want to help missionaries develop systems for becoming an entrepreneur, so they can meet the needs of an agrarian society.”

Kris McDaniel and his church plant, the Trinity Vineyard, are already seeing the fruit of being actively involved in a partnership. Church members have already visited church planting sites in Southeast Asia—and they’re bringing back a passion for doing more in that region.

Taking seriously the charge of the Great Commission, the Vineyard aims to remain on the forefront of taking the hope of the Gospel to the world.

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