When it comes to the gospel and scattering the seeds of God’s love, grace and message of salvation, we have an enemy. The problem is, we often think that enemy is the church across town or across the street. Too many Christian churches and ministries feel a sense of competition with other Bible-believing and Jesus-loving congregations. We forget that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but spiritual forces in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
The only way we will move forward as a powerful force for the gospel in our world is together. When I say together, I mean all believers in Jesus praying, serving and reaching out in partnership. This does not mean tossing out denominational- or church-distinctive or stylistic preferences. There is something beautiful about the diverse styles and unique characteristics of different churches. We should not lose this. But we are family. We are the body of Christ. We are still one church.
I grew up in a loving, relatively healthy, pagan home. I had no meaningful connection with any church until I was almost 16 years old. But when I became a follower of Jesus, I was amazed at the beauty of the local church. I was also captured by the idea that God could change this world if churches would stand together rather than nitpick and quibble with each other. As the years have passed, my conviction that we need to scatter the seed of the gospel in partnership with other believers in Jesus continues to deepen and grow. Here are some ideas to help us walk this road together.
1. Thank God for his church.
Get in the habit of actually thanking God for other local churches and their ministry. As you drive by other gathering places where Jesus is lifted up and honored, thank God for your brothers and sisters.
2. Pray passionately for other churches.
Be committed to praying for churches locally, nationally and internationally. Offer drive-by prayers for churches you walk or drive past. “God of glory, pour through these brothers and sisters as they worship you, grow in faith and seek to reach the lost!”
Even pray for other churches in your worship service. We do this weekly at the church I pastor. We call other local churches, ask for one big need and pray for the church and their pastor by name. This sends a message that we are in this together. It also unleashes the power of heaven for the sake of the gospel.
3. Major on the majors.
As you pray and partner, keep your focus on the gospel of Jesus and the mission of the church. There is far more that should bind us together than divide us. For three years I served as a teaching pastor at Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, Michigan, and as teaching pastor at Faith Reformed Church in Dyer, Indiana. I had people press me and ask, “How can you serve both a Wesleyan and Reformed Church at the same time!”
The tone of this question always had a sense that these two groups are so radically different that they really can’t work together! I would respond, “I preach the Bible and I lift up Jesus in both churches.” To everyone’s apparent amazement, there was never a problem at either church. We really are one body and on the same team.
4. Honor differences.
When it comes to style, let’s not talk about “right and wrong” and instead commit to honoring distinctive ways churches do their ministry.
When I have someone visit our church and say to me, “I really don’t connect with the more contemporary music or style of ministry that marks your church,” I just smile and encourage them to visit nearby Carmel Presbyterian Church. I love and trust Rick, the lead pastor, and I know they do amazing ministry. They are a bit more traditional than we are, but they do dynamic and biblical ministry.
When someone is looking for a more intimate-sized church than ours, I encourage them to visit Cypress Church, where Ben, a dear friend, is the pastor. Their outreach and discipleship is fantastic. I love that we have many God-honoring churches and leaders in our community. We can honor the differences and work together for the gospel.
5. Learn from each other.
God is moving all over the planet. Let’s commit to learn from anyone who is effective in outreach.
I lead an organization called Organic Outreach International. A dear friend, Ed Stetzer, leads the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. We see each other as friends and partners, and we actively encourage each other. Rick Richardson also serves at the Billy Graham Center and teaches evangelism at Wheaton College. We partner closely, love and respect each other, and I have learned a huge amount from his books and teaching.
Lee Strobel, Mark Mittelberg and Gary Poole are developing the Center for Strategic Evangelism at Houston Baptist University. I consider all three of these men teachers in my life through their writings and teachings, and I learn something every time I am with any of these amazing leaders. We are not competing but working together, and our organizations support and supplement one another.
6. Work together.
Our partnership should go beyond a theoretical thumbs-up. Let’s not just say, “We love each other and are in the work of the gospel together.” Let’s actually move into mission together and connect in meaningful ways. I meet with other local pastors once a month to pray, keep each other accountable and dream about how to serve the church and community more effectively. We collaborate whenever it makes sense.
On a larger scale, the leaders at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism are convening groups of movement leaders as well as theologians from a variety of traditions to pray, strategize and learn best evangelism practices from each other.
The Organic Outreach International ministry is working with numerous local, national and international groups who want to become more effective in growing an evangelistic culture in their denomination, region or movement. These groups represent many church traditions, but what they have in common is a passionate desire to move believers and local churches out into their communities with the amazing news of the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ alone.
7. Give stuff away.
When you come up with something that is effective for outreach or mobilizing churches and believers to share the good news of Jesus, share it. Do all you can to avoid putting a price tag on it. Be sure you don’t protect your idea so no one else can use it. Instead, give it away.
I work with a team that has created free outreach-training videos that we post online. We also have resources for leading groups and teams to share faith naturally. These are all set up as free downloads at OrganicOutreach.com. We are committed to continue developing tools and resources and giving them away for the sake of the gospel.
No more isolation. We are not alone in the work of the gospel. We are a family of faith and we will spend eternity together. Let’s start acting like a healthy and loving family today. Let’s humble ourselves and learn from one another. Let’s be generous and share what we discover and develop.
And for the sake of Jesus and the world he loves, let’s lock hands and hearts and scatter the seed of the gospel together!
Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach series and many other books, studies and articles. For more information: KevinGHarney.com