Partnership and Progress in the Gospel
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
Someone has described the bond of churches in relationship with each other as a “rope of sand with the strength of steel.” The IBC is not a single church but a part of God’s global church and, more precisely, a family of churches. Our mission statement says that we “exist to mobilize and multiply disciple-making churches.” We see it to be the local church’s calling to make disciples, but as a family, we come alongside every member of the IBC family to encourage and enable and support. Our vision statement expresses a hope: “We envision a movement of global-minded churches that are reproducing healthy disciples, leaders, and congregations.”
We want to make progress so that every IBC church is moving ahead in effectiveness. I often hear it said that we are “independent” churches but I believe the more biblically correct term would be “autonomous” — self-governing churches. We are not independent but completely dependent on God and, by choice, we are interdependent on one another. We are mutually dependent. As Denton Lotz, long-time General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, Christian spokesman, and father to IBC pastor Carsten Lotz, never tired of saying, “We belong to one another because we belong to Christ.”
We are in Gospel partnership. Every IBC church, when it chooses to join our family of churches, enters into covenant with God and with the other churches of the IBC, committing to work together in a spirit of unity and partnership for the greater good of God’s global glory. I believe it is this bond, sealed in covenant with each other, which expresses our desire and intent to pursue our core values, which define us as an international family of churches and drive all our decisions and ministries. These values enable us to live and serve together in the most effective, God-honoring way. We value fellowship and partnership, unity and diversity, church planting and healthy churches.
Because of that we seek to make progress in our common work together and in our commitment to each other. And that is a challenge. We are widely scattered. Our churches are different sizes. Some of our strongest churches are mostly U.S.-military-related churches, but they are less than 20% of the total. The other 80% are international, multicultural, and multilingual, but even those churches are very different from one another. I meet ambassadors and refugees, teachers and students, business people and the unemployed and stay-at-home dads and moms from more than 130 countries around the world in our churches. Often, many of these diverse people worship and serve together in the same church. And it is a beautiful thing, a “taste of heaven on earth.”
But it also requires acceptance of each other, patience with one another, humility that enables us to learn from one another, and a desire to grow together. This is true in our churches, and it is true among IBC leadership. Even our pastors represent 11 different nationalities and come from different denominational unions and conventions. Although we are united in commitment to basic Christian beliefs found in our Summary of Basic Beliefs, we are diverse in our leadership styles and structures and our preferences in worship and ministry.
How do we progress and build partnership in the Gospel in the future, and particularly in this coming year, which will be a year of transition? I have recommended to our Executive Leadership Team some objectives and goals and categories built around the theme of “Partnership and Progress in the Gospel.” The theme is inspired by Paul’s opening words to the Philippian church, where he greets the church, gives thanks to God, and prays for the believers. His desire was to see them make progress and continue in gospel partnership.
Paul’s ministry was a partnership with God, fellow workers, and the church. We see it in his opening greeting: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.” This attitude of “together with” continues throughout his letter.
He gives thanks to God: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians about 10 years after he started the church. The partnership (koinonia) began when a successful businesswoman, a demon-possessed slave girl, a jailer and his family and others came to faith to form a small church that grew.
As a family of churches, the IBC began as a vision of two churches and two pastors, twins Herbert and Herman Stout who started churches in Wiesbaden and Frankfurt in 1957 and 1958. Together these two churches envisioned a movement of churches. In six years, they worked to begin 32 churches and missions: 23 in Germany, seven in France, one in Spain, and one in Luxembourg. From our “first day until now”, some 61 years have passed. Given the turnover in almost all of our churches, that is about 20 generations of believers who have passed through our churches. Churches have come and gone. We have expanded from the one country to 24 countries. And today we are praying that the initial church-planting vision will continue and progress both through collaborative partnerships as we see opportunities in strategic locations and as we support our churches who are planting daughter churches.
The international church movement is not a new phenomenon, but it has grown exponentially in the last 20 years or so as travel and communication and technology have brought globalization to unparalleled levels. This past spring, we met with other international church networks and learned from each other at the Global Church Global World conference in Dubai. We are part of a global international church movement that is reaching the world at our doorsteps. And to think, in many ways, it all started with the Philippian church as the gospel moved from Asia to what today is Europe.
Paul continues: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:7-8). For Paul, partnership was personal. His heart and soul were in it. These were his brothers and sisters. He cared about them. His victories were theirs, and his struggles as well. As I speak to pastors and leaders, there is often pain and hurt in their lives and the lives of their families. We need each other, but we don’t always risk sharing our pains. Isolation in ministry is crippling; it is not good for you or your family, nor is it healthy for your church. Pastors and leaders and churches should not be islands. We are making a real effort to encourage more involvement in each other’s lives. That is partnership.
I am thankful for the foresight of past IBC leaders who, out of the tragedy of the loss of life, began a fund that we now call the IBC Endowment Fund to help churches to build. We expanded that fund at our last ACM to include churches making needed repairs and renovations. This past year Jurbise in Belgium, Stavanger in Norway, and Little Stukeley in England have been helped. We have just approved a $50,000 grant to help another church, Bratislava Faith Community in Slovakia, to purchase an apartment for their pastor. Along with these building projects, we were able to start the IBC Residency Program that is helping to raise a new generation of IBC church planters and leaders by giving potential leaders experience in an IBC church. So far, two of our churches — Wiesbaden and Paris — have started this in their churches. We are also talking with several other churches about bringing the residency program to their church.
Speaking of partnership, the concept of financial support for one another in the IBC is built upon the biblical principle of “not equal gifts but equal sacrifice.” The Philippian church was Paul’s example to other churches that any church can give to help support other churches. Paul commends the church in this letter for their support of him but also in the Corinthian letter for their generosity in supporting the Jerusalem church as it was suffering. And he gives them the promise that, because of their generosity, God would meet all their “needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (4:19). Working with all IBC churches I see the blessing that our giving is to churches in need as we share our resources with one another. In the first nine months of 2019, 47 of 62 churches have given to support the IBC and its churches. I am thankful for their generosity. I pray that the 15 churches that have not given this year will fulfill the commitments they have made as members of the IBC. Together, we are making a difference
Paul continues with a prayer: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (1:9-11). The need for love in our churches and among our churches is at the heart of the gospel partnership we have. Love enables us to make wise decisions, to discern what is best. We come to know God in a deeper way when our love for each other increases. Praying with one another for direction and spiritual power will only come about when we give each other time and space to share with each other.
Along with Paul’s desire for partnership, this text is filled with Paul’s hopes for progress. He was confident that God, who began a good work, would continue it until the day of Christ Jesus. And he prays their love would progress — “abound more and more… until the day of Christ.”
Three years ago we began a renewed journey with a fresh vision and strategy. We are seeing progress. In the area of church planting, God is stirring our churches. EIC Paris, not one of our largest or wealthiest churches, has a vision of planting churches in different parts of that great city with millions of English-speakers. They have planted one and several others are in their prayers. IBC Cologne in Germany has recently spawned a new work in nearby Bonn, and they are hoping to start new churches in the next few years. MultiNation Church in Frankfurt, after doing a feasibility study and receiving coaching, decided to change locations. With a fresh vision, they are moving from survival to outreach and multiplication. ICF Oberursel is working to plant a new church in the Frankfurt area. And other churches are doing the same. Statistically, new churches reach more unbelievers with the gospel.
I appreciate the work of the EBF’s Mission Partnerships program that Daniel Trusiewicz is leading. Just this year, we are supporting seven churches in seven different countries—Moldova, Latvia, Israel, Georgia, Ukraine, Iraq, and Croatia. Most of these are being supported by individual IBC churches, who see this as a beautiful way to expand the church-planting vision beyond their Jerusalem and Judea. I urge you to see if this might be a great way for you to stretch the borders of your church mission.
And as the vision for planting progresses, so does health in churches. We don’t want to plant unhealthy churches, but the result of a healthy church with a fresh vision can result in starting healthy new churches, which will continue to increase health in a church. Recently we have focused on trying to define what a healthy IBC church looks like so we can help churches self-assess and take steps toward health and growth.
This next year we want to see more leaders developed with greater effectiveness. I have mentioned our residency program. One of our residents is Phillip Vandergrift. He is a product of God’s transforming power. He is also seeking to grow as a Christian disciple and a leader through the residency program of his church.
We desire to see more disciples made with greater commitment to multiply. A number of our churches have made a commitment to raising up leaders in their churches rather than only harvesting leaders who come into the church. A few months ago I was in Jurbise to take part in the ordination of one of their men who had been trained in the church to serve as a leader. Now he is leaving the church to serve as a minister of the gospel with military members and their families.
Reaching people with the gospel is every church’s and every Christian’s calling. Some have the gift, but all of us should be ready to share with compassion and effectiveness. I hope this next year we can offer some additional resources and training to help us to grow in effectiveness as we seek to reach people in our new day of postmodernism where objective truth is made subjective, moral values are relative, relationships are transactional and provisional, authority is suspect, and social institutions are undermined. The message remains the same, but a changing audience needs to hear the gospel in a fresh way.
One of the ways we can encourage one another toward progress is the sharing of stories for greater encouragement and prayer. Luke tells us three stories in Acts 16 of people’s lives transformed by the gospel in Philippi. What an encouragement. But every life transformed is an encouragement to us to not grow weary in doing good. At our men’s conference this year, one soldier told his story of how God changed his life. At his lowest point, in a military jail in Vicenza, Italy, a military policeman took a chance to encourage this man. Hope, dim as it was, began to awaken his conscience. Eventually he moved to Ramstein, Germany, and was embraced by people at Frontline Community Church. Frontline discipled him and brought him to the men’s conference where he shared his story of transformation. A few weeks later I was in Jurbise, Belgium, where one of the men in the church who had also attended the men’s conference told about hearing this solder’s story and realizing that he was that military policeman. God is so good to let us hear and be a part of each other’s lives as we share our stories.
In October 2020 we hope to celebrate a year of progress and participation. We also hope to celebrate a smooth, effective transition of a new General Secretary who will begin a new day in the leadership of the IBC. I, along with the IBC staff, our Core Strategy Directors, our Presidential Leadership Team, and the General Secretary Search Team will all be working toward what I pray will bring God’s good work toward greater partnership and progress.
It has been said, “The church is never more than one generation from extinction.” But it is also true that we are people of hope in a resurrected Christ. God is our Partner. We believe the world can be turned upside down in a generation, but we must do our part if our churches are to make progress.
As we face the challenges and opportunities before us this next year, let’s follow the example of Paul to pursue partnership and progress together. Let’s make our attitude and prayer for one another be that of Paul’s: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry in on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
by Jimmy Martin
Goals for 2019-2020
Partnership and Progress in the Gospel (Phil. 1:1-11)
- Gospel Partnership. We will encourage and enable leaders and churches to find meaningful connections points for greater fellowship and partnership.
- Pastors and leaders committed to church planting together
- Teams mobilized for mission ventures with partners
- Churches giving and receiving financial support for gospel projects
- Pastors and leaders encouraging others and being encouraged by others
- Pastors and leaders joining others to grow in strategic leadership skills
- IBC church members invited into convention involvement
- Pastors and churches sharing resources with one another
- Churches and pastors praying with one another for direction and spiritual power
- Gospel Progress. We will challenge and support churches to become more effective in accomplishing God’s mission of making disciples of all nations.
- More churches planted with greater support
- More health in churches for greater impact (including an agreed-upon definition of “healthy church” that helps to assess church health
- More leaders developed with greater effectiveness
- More disciples made with greater commitment to multiply
- More people reached for greater church growth
- More believers living and sharing the gospel with greater compassion and effectiveness
- More sharing of stories with one another for greater encouragement and prayer
- More love for greater insight and holiness
- We will enable a smooth, effective transition that brings us forward to a future of effective ministry together.