My experience with developing Mission Partnerships shows the importance of these two axioms: Mission Partnerships grow out of relationships. Mission Partnerships thrive when both parties contribute to the partnership. Both of these axioms are found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
The first part of this series described how the relationship and mission partnership developed between the Apostle Paul and the Philippian church. There we focused on the Philippian’s contribution to this partnership. They prayed for Paul. They encouraged Paul. They gave financially on an ongoing basis. Now I want to look at the partnership from the other side. What did Paul do to nurture this partnership?
Just as we discovered three ways that the Philippians supported Paul’s ministry, we will see four ways that Paul nurtured the Mission Partnership with the Philippians. And just like the Philippians’ example, we have an acrostic to help us remember Paul’s actions: T.I.P.S. Thank. Inform. Pray. Serve.
Paul’s example provides four “best practice” TIPS for Christian workers to follow.
Thank. Paul thanked the Philippians for their generosity. He does this in a general way (1:3) but also makes special mention of their most recent efforts in chapter four. As I pointed out in the first part of this series, Philippians is Paul’s “thank you letter” to his one-and-only supporting church.
It goes without saying that Christian workers should thank those who support their work through prayer, encouragement or financial giving. The one who neglects this practice does so to his or her own detriment.
Inform. Paul shares his joy (2:17) with the Philippians and informs them about his life and ministry. The second half of chapter one contains a large “block” of update information. “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Paul further indicates that: (1) the gospel is spreading among the Praetorian Guard (1:13); (2) most of the brethren in Rome are more courageous in preaching the word (1:14), though some do so out of less-than-pure motives (1:15-17); (3) he hopes to be released (1:19), after which he plans to personally visit Philippi (1:26 cf. 2:24). In chapter two Paul tells the Philippians about his plans to send Timothy to them as soon as he sees how things go with him (2:19,25). Paul also comments on Epaphroditus’ mission of mercy in Rome (2:25-30). In chapter four, we even learn that the Gospel is spreading within Caesar’s household (4:22). And mixed in with all these updates is a prayer request for Paul’s release from prison (1:19).
Christian workers should regularly share prayer requests and update supporters about their ministry, future plans, and share personal/family news. We see that Paul did all this in Philippians. In today’s culture, it is preferable to send out shorter updates more frequently – think Twitter, Facebook, a blog or e-mail – rather than writing a very long letter once or twice a year. The longer the letter, the less likely it will be read. Short, frequent updates empower partners to pray and act in appropriate ways.
Pray. We see that Paul regularly prays for the Philippians. He begins the letter by expressing his habit of joyfully remembering them in prayer (1:3-4). He also shares a specific prayer for them.
God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:8-11 NASB)
Paul prays for them, not because it is his duty, but because he genuinely cares for them (v.8).
Following Paul’s example, Christian workers should pray for their partners in mission. A simple tool like a prayer list could be useful. Likewise keeping in contact with mission partners creates a better awareness of how to specifically pray for them.
Serve. Paul uses his spiritual gifts and influence to serve the Philippian church. Chapter one concludes with Paul wrestling over whether it would be better for him to be with Christ or to remain and serve them (1:21ff). A tough call! Although it would be far better to be with Christ, he considers it beneficial to remain to nurture their progress and joy in the faith. We see that Paul definitely puts the Philippians’ needs before his own comfort and self-interest.
A careful look at the letter to the Philippians reveals at least three ways Paul was serving the Philippians, even while in prison in Rome, 550 miles away.
Example. Several times Paul urges the Philippians to follow his example.
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Phil. 1:29-30 NASB)
Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. (Phil. 3:17 NASB)
The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9 NASB)
Whether in enduring sufferings for Christ’s sake, pressing on to maturity or modeling a lifestyle of contentment, Paul lives what he teaches, setting an example for the Philippians to follow.
Teaching. Philippians is filled with practical teaching to encourage the Philippians toward spiritual maturity. “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1b). Paul used his spiritual gift as a teacher to nurture the Philippians’ faith.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2-3 NASB)
Epaphroditus likely informed Paul about the struggles which two women in the church were having. Paul knows these ladies well – they were co-workers. So Paul figures he might have some influence to help resolve this conflict. He also calls upon a “true companion” to help these women live in harmony.
Reading through Philippians again with this conflict in mind, I find several indications that perhaps Paul was indirectly addressing this conflict earlier in the letter. Consider how these passages might apply to a conflict:
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27)
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16)
It is not possible to tell whether or not Paul intended these passages to address the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche, but it seems to me that his teaching does apply to relational conflicts in a general way. And realizing that Mission Partnerships are based on relationships and that where relationships exist, conflict will most likely occur, the mindset outlined here will certainly help nurture effective mission partnerships.
So we see that Paul found three ways to serve his ministry partners: he provides an example to follow, he teaches them and strives to resolve a problematic conflict. And yes, these three points form an acrostic: E.T.C. Example. Teaching. Conflict Resolution – an easy way to remember three ways Paul served the church at Philippi.
Four TIPS for Christian Workers: Thank. Inform. Pray. Serve.
Just as Paul urged the Philippians to follow his example, so Christian workers can follow Paul’s example to nurture Mission Partnerships. From Paul’s example we see these four TIPS:
Thank your partners for their prayers and generosity.
Inform your partners about what is happening in your life and ministry. They care about you and can only minister to your needs and pray for you specifically if they know what is going on in your life.
Pray for your partners. You expect them to pray for you; you should also pray for them.
Serve your partners.
So then, if you are a Christian worker, what would be one way that you could excel all the more in each of these vital areas of nurturing a mission partnership? As I did with the first article in this series, I will allow you to ponder what actions are relevant.
Please share any insights you may have!