Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. [Philippians 1:4-6 (NLT)]
Several years ago, my husband came upon a wonderful opportunity to buy a business in another state. He also knew a talented young man capable of running it there. Rather than simply buying the business and hiring the fellow as CEO, my husband loaned him money so that he could buy a share in the business. A firm believer in having what he calls, “skin in the game,” my husband found that partners in a business care about its success far more than any employee ever will. When he and his partner retired, they sold the business to the employees through an ESOP program—now everyone working there is a partner and has “skin in the game.”
Just as there’s a difference between being an employee and a partner, there is a difference between being a member of an organization and being a partner in it. In our northern community, we have 52 members in our home owners’ association. By virtue of moving here and paying their association fees, a resident is a member yet many have little commitment to the welfare of the community and the only time they’re heard from is if they have a complaint. The partners in our community, however, are the ones who attend the meetings, respond to surveys, serve on committees, volunteer on work days, pick up loose trash or broken branches, and show concern for their neighbors. Caring about more than their property, they have invested in their community.
We find a difference between membership and partnership in our churches, as well. Members are names on a roster; partners have a place in the church community. Members are passive but partners are active. Members take and use but partners invest and share. Members complain and criticize but partners build, encourage, and work to correct problems. Members walk away in difficult times but partners stay and try to improve the situation. Members attend church but partners are the church. Reflecting this subtle difference, when people join our old mountain church, rather than becoming members, they now become partners. As partners, they have a vested interest in the success of the church and the welfare of its members.
The church being a partnership is Biblical. There may have been only twelve Apostles and seven elders in the first church but they all were partners in Christ. Luke tells us the believers dedicated themselves to learning about Jesus and their responsibilities as His followers. They worshipped and fellowshipped with one another, shared their resources, and prayed, ate, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. People were partners with one another in their common belief and mission and churches partnered with one another by welcoming Christian travelers into their homes, sending relief to those in need, planting new churches, and sharing doctrine, teachers, and resources.
We continue to share a common belief and mission in today’s church but church attendance is only the beginning of achieving that mission. By partnering with the pastor, church staff, and the rest of the congregation, we can bring our unique abilities and gifts together to work toward a common vision and goal: to be God’s hands, mouth and feet.
Member or partner—which one are you?