By Ed Thompson

I recommend Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation Into a Powerhouse For Mission by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller. Actually, I’m piling on here. The book was first recommended by the co-moderators of the General Assembly, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and Cindy Kohlmann. We’ve been reading it as a presbytery staff, and it has sparked some good discussion. The book focuses on how we could partner, how we should partner, and how we need to partner with other groups to be more effective and more faithful.

I don’t remember them talking about partnerships when I was in seminary. Maybe they did, and I just missed it. To be honest, I don’t remember them talking much about church administration either. Things like budgets, moderating meetings, and working with the deacons, Presbyterian Women or Trustees. Maybe they didn’t know. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they didn’t think it was important.

I think it’s important now. This may be the key to the future of the church. How can we work in partnership with other groups and organizations? How can we partner with other churches, other Presbyterians as well as churches of other denominations?

The idea of working in partnership is there in scripture and in our polity if we look for it. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to think of the Trinity as a kind of partnership. God reaches out to us in Jesus Christ to establish a partnership. As a presbytery, we work in partnership with our churches. I hadn’t thought of these examples as partnerships before. I do now.

In chapter 3, the authors draw on the work of Sherron George, a former PC(USA) mission worker who “identifies five essential missional attitudes that contribute to healthy partnerships.”

  • Respect – “Expecting there to be differences but staying committed to understanding rather than judgement.”
  • Compassion – “To feel the suffering of others…not to fix it, but to feel it.”
  • Humility – “Opening ourselves to the unique wisdom that comes from our partner’s position in life.”
  • Observing and participating – “Typically, those who initiate local mission efforts perceive themselves as having the answers and capacity to implement predetermined solutions…listening without doing is essential to the cultivation of trust and respect.”
  • Receiving and giving – “Far too much mission work is a one-way transfer of resources and talents from the haves to the have-nots…It objectifies both the giver and the receiver into one-dimensional caricatures that impoverish us all.”

Think about these five attitudes in terms of the groups that may be using your church or groups that your church supports financially. If you’re a church member, think about how these attitudes are reflected in how you relate to your pastor. If you’re a pastor, think about how these attitudes are reflected in how you relate to your congregation.

We haven’t finished the book yet. In fact, we’re only about halfway through. It’s an easy read that’s already given me a lot to think about and a new lens to look at ministry. Maybe Chapter 3 will be the highlight of the book. If that’s the case, it will still have been well worth the time and effort. I think it’s worth reading. A greater value, though, will come from discussing it as a session, both to review your existing partnerships and to consider what new partnerships your church might look for.