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Adventures in partnership: from Jesus, Jews and Gentiles to the contemporary church

Equipping Christian Leaders Feature Article: Fall 2019


Dr. David Goodman, CEO, Entrust

Dr. David Goodman
Dr. David Goodman

Few things are more desperately needed, but all too often neglected, in obeying the Great Commission, than partnerships. To complete the monumental task of making disciples, baptizing and teaching all that Jesus commanded in all the nations of the world, we need every bit of cooperation and teamwork we can muster.

Jesus and the Father

When we consider Jesus’ prayer for his apostles, prayed just hours before they would take over the work of establishing his church, we see the theme of unity looming large in his mind and heart. He knew unity and partnership would be one of the apostles’ greatest challenges.

In the first part of his high priestly prayer, Jesus characterizes his ministry as intended not only to bring glory to his Father, but executed in total and complete cooperation with the Father. (John 17:1-5) Even as Jesus is fully equal to God in his deity, it is not a contradiction for him to submit to his Father’s will. Jesus modeled this humble unity for his disciples, whom he knew were inclined to compete with each other. Ever the teacher, Jesus’ prayer explains how he has modeled this truth, this need for unity, for his image bearers. Such unity becomes the backdrop of his prayer for the disciples, asking God to protect them “so that they may be one as we” (Jesus and God the Father) “are one.” (John 17:11b)

When Jesus prays for you, me and all those who would believe through the ministry of the apostles, he asks that we “may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” (John 17:21a) Perhaps the most important reason Jesus gives for unity between Christ-followers around the world is “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21b) Our ability to overcome differences and unite around essentials is one of our most powerful testimonies to the polarized world around us.

The church

Still, it is not our role to create this unity. In his commentary on the Lausanne Covenant, John Stott pointed out “the church’s unity already exists and can no more be destroyed than the unity of the Godhead (Eph. 4:4-6), but this invisible, indestructible unity still needs to become a visible unity (Eph. 4:3)”[1].

God sees us much like a parent who sees his children squabbling. I am one of four siblings. How easily we battled each other over minor concerns, but how quickly those differences dissolved, how readily we embraced our true unity, when one of us was attacked.

Until we are actually attacked, we as Christians forget we are on the front lines. Ministry organizations need to be wary of developing a rear echelon mentality, wasting energy squabbling over incidental differences while lives are being lost for all eternity![2]

Group of happy people in a circle

Philip and the government official

Realizing that the Spirit of God is already working to forge partnership between Christians all over the world, we need to constantly search for those relationships he is already preparing for us. Sometimes, we might follow the example of Philip, who found himself hitching a ride with a strategically prepared official from Ethiopia who needed help piecing together what he was reading in God’s word. (Acts 8:26-39)

Most partnerships aren’t developed that easily. In Jesus’ prayer for unity, he prays for a unity built around “truth,” God’s word[3] entrusted to the apostles, along with additional instruction he would give through the writers of the New Testament.

Saul/Paul and the disciples

Even among New Testament believers, partnerships were not easily forged. A very courageous disciple named Ananias had to obediently find Saul—the most feared persecutor of the church—to validate Paul’s remarkable conversion and baptize him. When Saul’s outspoken proclamation of the gospel message resulted in a conspiracy to take his life, he fled to Jerusalem where the disciples rejected his desire to partner with them. God then used a gifted, discerning Barnabas to check out Paul’s message and find it consistent with the message of the apostles. Only then was Paul accepted as a partner and apostle.

Jews and Gentiles

The unlikely union of Jews and Gentiles became the next adventure in partnership in the book of Acts. It is not clear what the apostles imagined when Jesus said they would “receive power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses … to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Little did they suspect that their need of power from the Holy Spirit might have more to do with character change than traveling mercies. Soon, they would find themselves sitting down to eat with unwashed, uncircumcised Gentiles. We can hardly imagine how difficult such a change in behavior and adjustment to conscience would have been for even the most godly of Jewish Christ-followers. In a spirited discussion, God would use his newest apostle, Paul, to persuade the other apostles that indeed Gentiles should be accepted as full partners in the church.

One of the strongest inhibitors to strategic partnership is that it often forces us to work with people we may not like much. However, the genius of God’s design for the church is that it forces each of us out of our comfort zone to work with difficult, even unreasonable people whom God has also drawn to himself. Paul wrote to one group of believers, the Corinthians:

“… there must be (my emphasis) factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”[4] The body of Christ benefits from the exercise of unity just as our physical bodies do. The fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23a) are developed through the body building exercises of frustration, resistance and opposition so commonplace in partnering together for the cause of Christ.

The maturity we gain (“genuineness,” as Paul calls it) in the local body of Christ is what qualifies us for leadership. Leading (and partnering with other leaders) places us into more advanced and often more arduous exercise classes for continued character development.

Peter and Paul

No doubt, Peter and Paul were in one of those advanced body building workouts as they worked through their differences in what has been called the Jerusalem conference, as described in Acts 15. God had blessed the church in unexpected ways but left it to them to sort out the ramifications of how they should deal with these Gentiles who were drawn to Jesus, and what sort of partnership God might desire between them and the Jewish believers. A vigorous debate in a public gathering eventually concluded that Gentiles should be full partners with Jewish believers. It would take some time to work out the details; the process itself would continue to be a character-building unity exercise for the early church.

Paul and Barnabas

Even godly leaders can find themselves in strong disagreement. While Paul’s apostolic ministry officially began in partnership with Barnabas, that union would suffer strain. The two of them would dissolve their partnership because of sharp disagreement about including another partner, John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). Luke does not try to spiritualize this conflict and we are the better for it. By all indications their disagreement does not become personal. Paul would continue to refer to Barnabas as his colleague (1 Cor. 9:6) and later wrote very positively about John Mark, whom many believe would become the author of the gospel that bears his name. It seems this parting of ways may have benefited the kingdom even more than if Paul and Barnabas had remained together.

We see that partnership is never easy. But it is biblical and well worth the effort. Here are my conclusions about partnerships in ministry:

  1. Only in partnership will we fulfill the Great Commission.

  2. Healthy partnership demonstrates God’s transformation and unifying power in our lives.

  3. Jesus expects us, as he did his disciples, to partner well with others.

  4. We must continually be on the lookout for those God is preparing for us to serve with as partners.

  5. The difficulties and even disagreements in partnerships should be welcomed as opportunity for God’s sanctifying work in our lives and ministries.

Questions to consider

  1. What kind of partners might you seek out to help you further your work of ministry?

  2. How is God transforming you or your ministry as you partner with others?

  3. Make a list of every potential source (no matter how unlikely) that God could use to bring future partnerships your way. Are there any you might reject out of hand as the early apostles did with Saul?


[1] John Stott, The Lausanne Covenant: An Exposition and Commentary by John Stott (LOP 3), Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 1975, accessed Sept. 23, 2019,

[2] Frank R. Tillapaugh, Unleashing the Church: Getting People Out of the Fortress and into Ministry (Ventura, Calif., Regal Books, 1985), pp. 123-130.

[3] See Jesus’ repeated emphasis of both God’s “truth” and “word” in John 17.

[4] “Everyone does not have the same point of view, or the same background; everyone has not had the same training and upbringing, and so there are bound to be points of view that are different, and that is normal, Paul says. In fact, it is healthy for it allows those who are approved, who are mature, to become manifest.” Ray Stedman, “The Lord’s Supper,” Ray Stedman Authentic Christianity, accessed Sept. 23, 2019,

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