The heart of Refocharismissional Ireland is for a partnership of churches across the island who link arms to advance the gospel in our generation. David Varney examines a powerful partnership of churches in Acts 11 and asks what this may look like for us in Ireland.
Features of Gospel Partnership
One great marker of kingdom-minded and missional churches is their willingness to share their resources with others outside of themselves. We see three beautiful examples of open-handed sharing between the various churches in Acts 11:
- The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch (11:22). Barnabas was ‘the Encourager’ – a warm-hearted and pastoral leader who would be perfect to nurture and encourage the new believers in Antioch as they live out their newfound faith.
- Saul was then brought up from Tarsus to join the ministry at Antioch (25-6). We are not told specifically that there was a church in Tarsus, but seeing as Saul had a knack of converting people to Jesus, we can assume he was part of a Christian community in his hometown.
- Then we see resources flowing from Antioch to the churches in Judea in response to a prophecy about an immanent famine in the province (29-30).
Resources can be financial as in the third example but it needn’t be limited to sending money. They can also include sending believers with specific gifts, timely for the unique needs of the receiving church.
There is a powerful sense of unity between partner churches in Acts 11, chiefly seen in their unity around the gospel of Jesus. When the good news about Jesus is heard and believed, traditional barriers and distinctions between people become greatly relegated in significance, if not destroyed altogether.
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.Acts 11:21
Jewish believers in Jerusalem looked at Gentile believers in Antioch as brothers and sisters in Jesus. Such an amazing transformation in societal attitudes can be explained only by the powerful work of grace among them all (11:23).
When we see fellow Christians who have been transformed by grace our hearts should grow towards them and our hands will follow suit. Partnership is fired up when grace is flowing.
Sovereign Work of God
We must be on our guard against thinking that goes like this: it’s by our networking, resourcing, planning, and strategy that churches are started and strengthened. God should be glad we’re on board with him!
Of course, no one consciously thinks like this (hopefully), but with all our interest in networking and strategy and cultural analysis etc., we can functionally buy into the lie that it’s all down to us. These things have their place, no doubt about that. They are tools for the contemporary church.
But this passage highlights it is the supreme and sovereign work of God that causes this incredible work of gospel transformation. It was because of the persecution in Jerusalem (11:19 cf 8:1) that believers were scattered far afield, bringing the gospel with them. It was the ‘hand of the Lord’ that caused a great number to turn to Jesus in faith (21). It was God the Spirit who gave potent gifts to leaders such as Barnabas, Saul and Agabus, so that the church can be built up.
Churches that enjoy a gospel partnership with one another are fortified by the variety of gifts that are able to flow between them. This formidable church partnership in Acts 11 demonstrates the input of gifted:
- Apostles (22, 25)
- Prophets (27-8)
- Evangelists (20-1)
- Pastors (22)
- Teachers (25)
Unnamed and audacious evangelists took the good news of Christ to a Gentile audience in Antioch. The Jerusalem Apostles dispatched Barnabas who himself later brought in further apostolic input from Saul. Prophetic fire-power was supplied by numerous prophetically-gifted individuals including Agabus. Barnabas brought a nurturing and pastoral edge to the new believers, exhorting faithfulness to Jesus, whilst Saul the teacher provided enriching instruction.
This Spirit-led distribution of gifted servants among the churches mirrors the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 4:
And [the ascended Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of ChristEphesians 4:11-12
This glorious and diverse sharing of resources prevents churches from stagnation or becoming insular. As churches grow and develop, many gifts are given by the Spirit and exercised from within the community. However, as Acts 11 shows us, openness to trusted outside voices helps to maintain health and integrity within the churches, not to mention a significant amplification of the ministry that is already taking place.
Growth of Healthy Churches
The new church in Antioch was an exciting place to be, buzzing with new life, and the grace of God in full view of all (23). Antioch immediately became full of missional zeal to bring this good news to their neighbouring cities. As a brand new church, the net flow of resources was into Antioch from outside. However we see very quickly resources flow from Antioch, initially in the form of a financial gift to the churches in Judea in response to the prophetic word from Agabus.
Fast forward to Acts 13 and we see very soon the Antioch church became a significant base for the developing mission. The Holy Spirit spoke during an immense time of prayer, fasting and worship, selecting Barnabas and Saul for further ministry beyond Antioch (13:2). This could have been considered a huge loss for the Antioch church – two of their most gifted leaders moving on. But the church’s passion for Jesus plus their awareness of his mission meant that they were open-handed; listening to the Spirit’s voice and commissioning the apostolic pair to advance the gospel.
They left behind them a vibrant, healthy, Jesus-loving, Spirit-filled, and missional church. Their ongoing connection with Barnabas and Saul remained strong. After their various missionary journeys, the Apostles returned to Antioch telling ‘all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles’ (14:27 cf 18:23).
Need For Gospel Partnership in Ireland
Distribution and deployment of kingdom resource already happens within every healthy local church. Similar to blood flowing around a living body, so life-giving spiritual gifts and graces should be continually flowing around the local church.
Likewise a similar sharing of kingdom resources can be noted within various denominations and networks. Here, closely aligned local churches may chose to share their resources as part of these groupings – but clearly such kingdom capital is restricted to those within these denominational groups. In other words there is no cross-denominational cooperation as such. This can (unwittingly) foster a silo mentality: such thinking that says, ‘the only mission is OUR mission.’
When we broaden our view to take in the entire island of Ireland and our mission to see gospel transformation across the land, both local church-only and denomination-only approaches are insufficient forms of partnership if we are to see success in our mission.
The kind of gospel partnership we are talking about is where kingdom resources are willingly given and received so that churches in Ireland are built up to become increasingly healthy, vibrant, and influential for the mission of God in our land.
It is this kind of trans-local, trans-denominational, whole-region partnership that we want to facilitate at Refocharismissional. We call it partnership: the linking of arms together so that we may strengthen one another, share our resources, and cheer one another on as we see the grace of God at play. Others might like to call this a collaboration, or even a movement. Neil Powell and John James do a great job in delineating the church/denomination/network/movement distinction in their book Together for the City.
We want Refocharismissional to catalyse rich relational connections between diverse churches: diverse in geography, practice, and context. As churches and leaders we agree to partner around the threefold principles of reformed theology, charismatic spirituality, and missional practice. With these firmly in place and firing up our missional engine, we shall set about connecting, serving, sharing, resourcing, and encouraging one another.
At the moment this looks like online articles from voices across Ireland, discussing theology, mission and practice. But as our connections grow, we want to actually DO partnership – actively live out what we see taking place in Acts 11. The sharing of material and spiritual resources so help advance the gospel in Ireland.
Ireland needs Jesus. We dream of a great movement of the Holy Spirit across our land. Whether it is revival, reformation, revangelism, renewal, or the breaking of entirely new spiritual ground, it is abundantly clear we cannot do this on our own.
We need God to come in power and ignite the church in Ireland once again. The gospel transformation of Ireland is simply too great a task for any one of us. Even our largest denominations cannot do the job on their own. Under God’s sovereign grace we must partner together to advance the gospel.
That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.John 17:21