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God has called us from various parts of the world to serve him. We have come together to respond to the Great Commission in obedience to the Lord. In so doing, we share our faith. This has led us to be partners in the gospel. It is important to share the same understanding of what we mean by partnership in the gospel.
Partnership can be defined according to two perspectives: biblical and social.
The Bible reveals that God made the human being as his partner. In Gen 1:26, God said: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (NIV). Then God blessed mankind and gave them the power to rule over the universe (1:28). In this partnership, God is also the provider of resources that the human being needs to rule over the world (1:29).
Socially speaking, partnership is an arrangement in which parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests. It is a cooperative relationship between people or groups who agree to share responsibility for achieving some specific goal. This definition raises questions about what the interests are and what the goal to achieve is. Our interest is serving the Lord, and our goal is mission.
The source of partnership in the gospel is God’s redeeming love and transformational power. Jesus told his followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
The church has been sent to fulfill God’s plan and will for humankind. As God desires that all should have abundant life, we (the church) should help others realize their potential for living as God intended. As the Father urges that “justice roll down like waters” (Amos 5:24, ESV), the church must work toward creating the kind of society that pleases God. As the Creator of all takes delight in his work and promises to renew the earth, we the church should serve as responsible, creative stewards over the earth’s resources. As God incarnate in Christ appealed to all to receive the good news, our work and witness offers an invitation to others: “See what love God has for the world!”2
Our goal as the church and body of Christ is well reflected in Matt 28:19. Jesus sends the church to make disciples of all nations.
For Christopher Wright, “Scripture reveals that God’s mission encompasses three overarching themes: building the church (by means of evangelism and teaching), serving society (by means of justice and compassion), and caring for creation.”3 Justice and compassion is the expression of the church’s service to the society, or the world.
The Mandate of the Church
The terms or reference of the mission are given by Jesus: “To proclaim good news to the poor [preaching the gospel, witnessing to the world],” “freedom for prisoners,” “ recovery of sight to the blind,” and “to set the oppressed free [service], to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”— in other words, repentance, salvation, love, peace, and justice (Luke 4:18).
It is all about serving God with word and deed. The mandate of the church is holistic. This leads to the questions: What does it mean to serve the Lord? What is good news for a poor person? How can the gospel be good news to the blind? Isaiah 58:6–10 puts forward the question of the kind of worship and service that pleases God. It also raises the question of true fasting. Similarly, Jas 1:27 depicts the religion that God accepts. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Service at its best is thus:
- To proclaim the good news of salvation;
- To lose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke: working to dissolve every tie that unjustly binds our fellow humans and to promote justice;
- To set the oppressed free;
- To share food with the hungry and provide shelter to the homeless;
- To clothe the naked;
- To look after the orphans and the widows.
The church’s mandate is holistic and we are partners in achieving it, for God has equipped us with various gifts (1 Cor 12:4–12). There is no mission without service, nor service without mission. It is a matter of partnership, and the ultimate goal is to make disciples of all nations by not only preaching the gospel but also by serving the world through acts of love and compassion.
God has granted a diversity of gifts to the global church, but there is one Spirit leading to the common goal. There are different kinds of service, but these are being fulfilled for the same and only Lord. There are different kinds of operations, but the same God, the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ works all of them in all of us. This is the bedrock of our partnership in the gospel. Witness is accompanied by service to the world in order to show God’s love.
As there is one body and one Spirit, word and deed are inseparable components of the Great Commission. God gave this diversity (word and deed) for the perfecting of saints, for the work of his ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ, which is the church (see Eph 4:4, 12). It is work of the Spirit of the Lord to call us to partnership in the gospel. The church is called to be salt and light to the world (Matt 5:13–14). In other words, the church is called to bring about and show its difference from the world by acts of love. And the best expression of being salt and light is proclaiming the good news of salvation, and serving people.
For this reason, our mission or evangelism work goes along with education; medical, development, and relief services; and assistance to the poor and the needy. The Lord holds the church responsible for taking care of people. This responsibility includes spreading the good news so that people can be saved and showing compassion by responding to their needs. Fulfilling our responsibility is to obey the Lord. On that day, the King will say to those who were obedient: “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’” (Matt 25:35–36). Faith without works is dead. There is no faith without works and no works without faith (cf. Jas 2:15–17).
The whole gospel brings salvation in its fullest sense. The gospel entails sharing salvation through word and deed. Therefore, we are called as a global church to reach our communities with the whole gospel for the whole person through whole churches. By living out the whole gospel, holistic ministry overcomes artificial divisions, such as those between social action and evangelism, between ministering to individuals and seeking social justice, between an emphasis on discipleship and a passion for outreach.
We partner because we obey our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We partner because we believe in the Scriptures. And the Scriptures say that we have been called to serve God by serving the world, and service is a holistic mandate. It is about making disciples of all nations by our witness, and showing love and compassion to the world by our deeds. These two are inseparable components of mission. “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (Jas 2:16–17).
As Anabaptists, we are called by God to make a difference: to share God’s love for the world in word and deed. We are partners in this call. Our mandate is to work toward transformation of persons and communities, building wholeness in body, soul, and spirit. And we are doing it with confidence in what Paul says in Phil 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (ESV).
Let’s partner together in the gospel. “Let [our] light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NIV).
We are already doing this, but it is time to think about what we can do to reinforce this partnership. What should we do to reinforce it?
- Look at various gifts that God has given us as the global church and body of Christ;
- Strive to keep witness and service inseparable in our work;
- Keep our faith alive by showing love to the world;
- Proclaim the good news of salvation and serve the world for the perfecting of saints;
- Be a church that makes a difference by reaching the world;
- Empower the global church to be active in the partnership.
John Fumana is Chair of the Mennonite World Conference Global Anabaptist Service Network. He is a layman and member of the Mennonite Brethren Church of the Congo. He is committed to work with the church in promoting the Assets-Based Community Development Approach (engaging the vision, skills, and resourcefulness of people to help them reach their developmental ministry goals). This essay was a plenary presentation at the meeting of the Mennonite World Conference Mission Commission, the Global Mission Fellowship, and the Global Anabaptist Service Network, July 2015, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
See Ronald J. Sider, Philip N. Olson, and Heidi Rolland Unruh, Churches That Make a Difference: Reaching Your Community with Good News and Good Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002).
Chris Wright, “The Church and Global Mission,” Wycliffe Global Alliance, September 2012, http://www.wycliffe.net/missiology?id=2729.