Today at First Presbyterian we looked at the passage where Jesus’ disciples tell him they saw some guy casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and they told Jesus that they told the guy to stop doing this. The guy was obviously not affiliated directly with the disciples, so they figured Jesus wouldn’t really want some renegade doing things in his name. Jesus response was “Do not stop him…. No-one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”
Sometimes Christians don’t do well at serving in partnership with other Christians. Not long ago, it would be strange to see Lutherans and Presbyterians cooperating, much less Catholics and protestants and orthodox working together. One nice example of this cooperation is the local “Neighbors United” ministry organized by Mosaic Community Development, put on in the 1st Baptist church at Park and Harney, and supported by 10 churches in the community. They feed often over 150 needy people each week, and distribute free clothing as well. (see our partner link to neighbors united) These churches are cooperating to do something that alone none of them could probably do.
It seems from Jesus words that the key is that whatever is done is done in his name. The disciples had just been arguing about who was greatest– John was probably disturbed that this guy was casting out demons successfully without official approval– maybe out of jealousy even. When work is done for the sake of anything other than the sake of Jesus and building his Kingdom, it probably is off track. And when we are opposed to work being done for the sake of Christ, because it conflicts with our personal plans, then we are probably off track. But Christians talking together and working together can help eliminate some of these conflicts. Being willing to work for the sake of the kingdom, rather than the sake of our denomenation, our programatic plans, or our church empire-building 5 year plan– is the mark of real selflessness. Hopefully we and our churches have the selfless attitude of being more concerned about making Jesus a reality than in building up ourselves or our churches. That sacrificial attitude makes one a strong leader, a strong church, and that attitude helps make more good stuff happen through Christ’s Church.
It seems important for Churches to communicate with each other about plans and projects so that a. they don’t duplicate work and b. they can do things together that they can’t do alone. It is more difficult to work with other churches, and of course there are real doctrinal distinctions which may make it unworkable when it comes to certain types of projects.
Churches new to a neighborhood maybe have the most to think about in these sorts of situations. If a church from west omaha, for example, wants to start a new ministry in a part of town where there are older established churches, do they take the time to talk with those churches and discuss possible partnerships? Sometimes the work of megachurches can be akin to walmart driving out the mom and pop shops– and while it is often done by these churches in the name of effectiveness and efficiency even, if it is done without concern for those churches which have been faithfully serving in these neighborhoods for years, then it seems something isn’t right. And if the established churches aren’t doing what they should, it seems that there might be ways to partner up with what is established. If a megachurch wants to do a VBS in an inner city part of town, why not partner with a local church which has an established program which could use some help? Why reinvent the wheel?
I guess I feel about church development like I feel about housing development– some would rather just tear down the old and build all-new because its more efficient and cost effective and also you can do what you want. I myself prefer to use old established structures if possible, because to tear them down seems like an irreversible destruction, and to reuse, recycle and restrengthen the old seems like a redemptive creative act which, although it takes more work in some ways, is a very rewarding and tradition-honoring way to proceed “for the name of Christ”.
On the other hand, established churches need to be willing to be flexible for the sake of Christ and not let their traditions and comfortable norms keep them from continuing to thrive and be actively engaged in their community. An infusion of new blood can be invigorating, but it is an infusion, and invasion of sorts– something new from outside. It seems that the important things are to a. make sure that our goal is to serve Christ, not to become great b. whe should have an open generous attitude towards cooperating with other Christian groups and even seek that out, and c. beware of letting your programs or denomenation affiliation or market-brand focus of your church become more important than letting yourselves be used with or by other Christians for the greater sake of Christ.