The Evolution of a Partnership

"Partnership" can mean many different things to different people. The word brings to mind a whole range of images. In the business world, partnerships are all about productivity and profits. If I am not getting out of this partnership more than I put in, it isn't worth it. Obviously, this is an inadequate model of partnership for Christian schools who are seeking to work together.  The apostle Paul's relationship with the Christians in Philippi presents us with an alternative model of what partnership is and how it develops.

The Example of the Philippian Church

lydia at riverPaul visited Philippi on his second missionary journey (Acts 16). The Gospel was heard for the first time in Europe and a church was formed, initially in the home of a business woman. It is not clear how long Paul and his companions stayed, but it was long enough for opposition to catch up with them.  Their stay in prison was cut short by an earthquake, which also resulted in the jailer and his family joining the growing movement of Jesus-followers in that city. And then they left.

End of story? No, because in the meantime a partnership had begun to evolve. Organically, perhaps slowly, in spite of cultural differences and geographic distance, they continued to work together. Paul visited them at least one more time during his third missionary journey (Acts 20), but it is in his letter to them, written some years later from a Roman prison, that we gain an insight into this partnership... insight that can help us see strong partnerships evolve between our Christian schools that may be separated by geographical and cultural distance. 

Paul calls it a "partnership in the Gospel" (Philippians 1:5). Partnership requires a shared vision with common goals. In this case the vision is that the Gospel will continue to be preached everywhere to those who have not yet heard, and those who have heard will be strengthened and encouraged in their faith.  Paul, his companions, and the Philippians are "sold out" to this vision. Nothing else matters as much to them as this. As long as the Gospel is being preached, Paul can say "but what does it matter?" (Philippians 1:18) to opposition, imprisonment and even possible execution. Paul urges the Philippians to share this perspective, since they share the same vision. Christian schools who share this vision have a starting point for similar partnerships with each other.

The partnership is saturated in prayer, especially prayers of thanks and joy (Philippians 1:3-5). This point is so obvious it needs to be stated, lest it be assumed and therefore overlooked.  Christian schools who wish to develop a partnership need to make joyful prayers for their partners a priority. For Paul, this kind of prayer was natural because he had the Philippians "in (his) heart". A deep affection had grown inside them for one another (Philippians 1:7-8). Are we willing to open our hearts to a potential partner school, to allow God to grow in us a sense of affection for each other so that we feel each others joys and burdens?

The Value and Personal Cost of Partnershipprisao servos

Paul and his partners take risks for each other. Paul's companion Timothy was equally invested in this partnership, following Jesus' example of putting aside his own interests to serve others (Philippians 2:19-24). Likewise, the Philippians took a risk in sending one of their own, Epaphroditus, to provide Paul aid in prison (Philippians 2:25-30, 4:10-19).  Epaphroditus is not a tourist, paying Paul a fleeting visit while on an adventure, but rather a "co-worker and fellow soldier" (Philippians 2:25). Partnership is risky business. Like a soldier going into battle or a laborer carrying a heavy load, sacrifice and hard work may be involved. Are we willing to embrace it?

The Blessings of Partnership

blessingThe result of the partnership between Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus and the Philippians was blessing far and wide. Paul was refreshed and strengthened by the prayers and gifts of the Philippians while in prison. The Philippians were encouraged and guided by Paul (via Timothy and Epaphroditus) in the task of faithful witness to those around them. It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that more people heard the Gospel through the Philippian church than would have been the case if they had not developed such a partnership with Paul. Joy was abundant and God was glorified.  Who could ask for more? Is this not the ultimate result that we desire from our partnerships with other Christian schools?

A Gospel vision, heart-felt connection, joyful prayer, faithful sacrifice - this is what partnerships are made of.  May God give us the grace and the wisdom to develop partnerships like this among our Christian schools.