It was one of the most uncomfortable meals of my life. I had called a semi-local likeminded pastor in order to make him aware of a situation that may impact his small, rural church. After a brief phone conversation, we agreed to meet for lunch the next week. And after some initial pleasantries, he thanked me for calling him, and then he began to weep, and he kept weeping for well over an hour. The reason he wept was this, he felt utterly alone in ministry and his small little church, only a little over an hour away from us, felt utterly isolated from the universal church. He and they felt utterly alone in the cause of Christ, and so he was overcome that another pastor would call him, and care enough for the church he serves to drive out to see him and warn him of a danger to his church. No one had ever done anything like that in the entirety of his ministry there. In fact he had had no fellowship or really any contact with another pastor or another church for over 5 years. It should not be like this.
A very odd thing has happened in North American culture. With all of the increases in connectivity, the proliferation of technology, and the fact that no one (essentially) is ever truly unreachable, we have oddly become more and more of an isolationist society. Perhaps nothing illustrates this more than the change in home architecture over the past decades. Houses used to have front porches, now they have back decks. I think even more tellingly garages used to be detached or on the back of the house, now they are the most prominent architectural feature on the front of houses. A button is hit, the door comes up, the car rolls in, a button is hit, and the door rolls down. Modern houses are designed to come and go while minimizing the risk of human interaction. And once the home is entered, it is designed to be a cocoon. Even inside of the home, many homes are subdivided into individualized cocoons; rooms aren’t called man caves because they are designed for the family to spend time together. As a culture, we have taken isolationism and individualism to the extreme.
And this view has crept into the church too. The universal Church has too often been relegated to being a mere theological concept or preaching point. Sure we talk about the universal church when it comes to missions, but how does it impact us as churchmen (and women) where we live?
Rudyard Kipling was entirely right when he wrote in The Jungle Book (which bears virtually no resemblance to its name sake Disney movie; it was written to vividly illustrate important life lessons for young adults, rest assured that the “law of the jungle” isn’t “you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, people like you and you can do anything you put your mind to”) that the strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of pack is the wolf. Biblical churches, especially small ones, need one another. We are exponentially stronger when we work in cooperation.
Now to be clear I am not talking about “interfaith” cooperation, nor am I talking about indiscriminately cooperating with “churches” that are Christian in name only. Nor am I saying that all theological differences, apart from the barest minimum of fidelity to the gospel needs to be laid aside in the name of unity. But what I am saying is that when like-minded local bodies, prefer isolation to cooperation, the Church hobbles itself.
And it is not just my opinion, transcongregational cooperation is entirely biblical. 1 Peter is addressed to all of the Christians scattered throughout the provinces of Asia Minor, modern Turkey, (1 Peter 1:1) yet it is loaded with one another commands, including to show one another hospitality (1 Peter 4:9). Biblical hospitality is not having your friends over for dinner, it is welcoming someone you don’t know into your home and providing for their needs. Regional ministry and especially evangelism was utterly dependent on Christians showing hospitality to one another, especially to those from other local churches. (We should note that at the time Peter was writing a town or even a city likely would have just one local church). We also see the spirit of cooperation in the ministry of Titus. Titus, likely from Corinth, not only joined Paul in his missionary work, he stayed on Crete (at Paul’s direction) to strengthen the Cretan churches and to appoint elders there (Titus 1:5). The major theme of 3 John is a affirmation of Gaius in his ministry of aiding other Christians in their ministries, although they were strangers to him (3 John 5). John brings his argument and the importance if intercongregational cooperation home in verse 8: Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
It is clear that like-minded churches cooperating is biblical and it is evident that this kind of cooperation makes the universal Church stronger, but where do we start? Well, we have to know one another to start. If you are on the church staff, or a leader in the church and you don’t know who the like-minded churches around you are, you are part of the problem. Find out! Make some calls, take some men out to lunch or for coffee.
If you are a pastor or a church leader, make the effort not only to identify, but to get to know the leaders of those of those like-minded churches. Organize a monthly fellowship lunch or make some midweek phone calls to encourage those men.
Whether you are a leader or just a member of the church, pray for those like-minded churches and the men who stand in their pulpits. Every week at PBC we pray for other churches from the pulpit, and praying for those who labor in the gospel ministry is a regular part of my personal prayer life.
And finally I would suggest being a part of a regional fellowship and attending regional conference. These kinds of conferences might not have speaker lists loaded with big names, and they may not have great book give aways, but they will be more in tune with regional issues and challenges, and packed with people who love and are passionate for Christ and the local church.
Piedmont Bible Church, the church I serve, is affiliated with the Grace Advance Mid-Atlantic fellowship, and this coming Saturday we will be gathering at Hope Bible Church in Columbia Maryland for our annual equipping conference. This conference is not just for church leaders, but for the men and women (and children too) who sit in the pews to help us all grow as followers of Christ and as members of His body. The theme of this year’s conference is unity of family, local church and region. And best of all for a daylong conference it is downright inexpensive, only $25 per person/$35 per couple/ or $40 per family, including lunch and child care. For more information or to register (online registration closes today, although walk ups are welcome for a small additional fee) click here. If you are in the mid-Atlantic region, I’d love to meet you there.
And if you are in another region I’d encourage you to think beyond your local church, and pray for and cooperate in ministry with other like-minded believers. You will grow as a believer, and more importantly you will be well pleasing to the Lord.
Note: the 2019 GAMA conference is past, but I’d love to meet you at the 2020 conference October 16, 2020.