The Word Has It
“Strengthen me according to Your word,” Psalm 119:28
MARBC State Representative
March's Word: “Relationships”
Recently, while accompanying my wife Sharon and daughter Allison on a shopping expedition in preparation for Allison's upcoming June wedding, I stopped in a book store and did some browsing. On this particular visit I spent most of my time in the historical section and focused upon volumes dealing with wartime events. I left the bookstore once again captivated by the several stories of raw courage and human drama.
Some of the most gripping accounts that come out of wartime experiences are the stories that take place in prison camps. Those who are thrown into the survival mode demanded by these tough conditions find themselves making critical decisions in order to proceed toward eventual liberation. In my bookstore browsing I was once again reminded of the story of one group of soldiers who were in bondage in a Nazi prison camp during World War II. Their story became the basis for a film in 1963 with the title, “The Great Escape.”
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“The Great Escape” is based on the true story, written by Paul Brickhill, of a group of Allied prisoners of war who managed to escape from an allegedly impenetrable Nazi prison camp during World War II. At the beginning of the film, the Nazis gather all their most devious and troublesome POWs and place them at a new prison camp, which was designed to be impervious to escapes.
The prisoners in this particular camp were not content to let the enemy set the agenda or to determine their destinies. They had a decision to make. They recognized that individually a few might find success and secure freedom, but the vast majority would be left behind and face certain destruction. With this acknowledgement, they determined to develop a relationship with one another that would take advantage of the skills that each possessed in order to pull off a great escape that would benefit them all.
Immediately, the prisoners develop a scheme where they will leave the camp by building three separate escape tunnels. A British soldier masterminds the whole plan and commands his patchwork squad which includes a Polish trench-digging expert, an American thief, an American master forger, and an American rebel.
With steely determination, each POW accepted his responsibility and aggressively fulfilled his part of the team plan. Some helped design and engineer the strategy. Others helped to dig tunnels, using the wooden supports that others provided from their carefully altered bunks. Many helped to discreetly dispose of the dirt that was carried from the tunnels as they were dug. Several served on shifts to operate the bellows that pumped air into the tunnels so that the workers had enough oxygen to survive. And some helped rig lighting so that the tunnels were adequately lit and the way of escape more easily illuminated.
In conjunction with this manual labor, other members of the escape team had to prepare for the aftermath of the escape. They had to secure civilian clothing, homemade compasses and maps of the region, German papers of authenticity, and enough food to survive the first days of their liberation. Some of the POWs even trained in techniques of diversion so that their German captors would be distracted while their plan continued to be implemented.
John Sturges, director of the film account, observed: “Never has the human capacity been stretched to such incredible lengths or shown such determination and such courage. It demanded the concentrated devotion and vigilance of more than 600 men – every single one of them, every minute, every hour, every day and every night for more than one year.”
In reviewing not only the ultimate success of the project but also the implementation of it, there seem to be two keys that unlocked the success of their incredible mission. The first key was agreement: there was an agreement by all to be personally invested in the plan. The second key was aggression: there was an aggressive implementation of that which was agreed upon.
While reflecting on this unique and inspiring group of committed prisoners I was struck with a compelling thought. This group was comprised of men from diverse backgrounds and with questionable motives and character. If they could accomplish such a great feat, based primarily upon human determination – why couldn't the church of Jesus Christ, an army comprised of blood bought Christian soldiers, instructed by the Word of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, accomplish far more?
As I related in February's column, I have often been asked if church associations are relevant in today's ecclesiastical world. My answer is, “Absolutely!” Indeed I believe that the Bible, particularly the New Testament, not only endorses such relationships but emphasizes them. The Book of Acts shares the historical record of churches of various locations, backgrounds, and capabilities involved in a strategic network of evangelism and church planting. Many of the New Testament letters were addressed to groups of churches. A survey of the New Testament church reveals the two keys that I mentioned earlier in this column. There was an agreement to be personally invested in the plan Christ commanded. And that agreement led to an aggressive implementation of that plan in a way that impacted the world.
Jesus Christ, our Commander-in-Chief shares the plan we are to focus upon in Matthew 28:19 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Later, in His last statement prior to ascending into heaven, Jesus gives the directive: “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). As I noted in my January column, “Judea” for the churches in fellowship with the MARBC is the State of Michigan. It is critical for our churches to effectively reach and cultivate our “Judea.” This is accomplished in two important ways. First, the churches that are currently a part of the MARBC must be effectively strengthened and encouraged. Second, a strategic plan for church planting throughout Michigan must be designed and implemented.
“The CPR Initiative”
2 Corinthians 8:1-7
A new paradigm of ministry for the MARBC
The New Testament model for the church clearly encourages and endorses the partnering of churches for missional and regional objectives.
One particular case study that illustrates the importance of church partnerships is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. In this passage, the Apostle Paul addresses the critical financial need of the churches in Judea. He shares the heartwarming story of the churches of Macedonia, who in many ways were even poorer than the churches for which the offering was being collected. Their work was noted as being –
- gracious (8:1),
- liberal (8:2),
- over abounding (8:3),
- given with urgency (8:4),
- involved a gift and fellowship (8:5),
- and was personal (8:6).
Paul later notes (2 Corinthians 9:1-4) that the Macedonians, among others, were personally involved in the collection and distribution of the gift being received. Paul uses the Macedonians' example, among others, to challenge the larger and more affluent Corinthian church regarding the extent of their participation. In this story we find churches of all sizes and locations joining together in a partnering relationship.
It is in the same spirit exemplified by the Macedonian churches and the encouragement of the Corinthian church by the Apostle Paul to be emboldened by their example that we call upon this generation of MARBC churches and pastors. We encourage the pastors and members of each partnering church to reflect the glory and grace of Jesus through practical expressions of unity, partnership, and enrichment.
Church Partnering Relationships (CPR) contain 3 basic qualities:
- Caring: a proactive vision towards mutual edification
- Praying: regular sharing of requests and initiatives that promote mutual prayer
- Resourcing: embracing the mission of practical encouragement by outsourcing materials and personnel
Church Partnering Relationships (CPR) offer a variety of opportunities:
- Consider a sister church relationship with a ministry in another part of the state that would emphasize a co-operative partnership.
- Sharing of ideas, prayer requests, and resources.
- Form a consortium of sister churches in your area for joint strategy for church planting and/or missions ventures.
- Send a missions team to help with a building or repair project.
- Send youth or singles groups to conduct DVBS, canvassing ministries, etc.
- Share Sunday School and Bible study materials.
- Share media resource materials.
- Offer pulpit sharing opportunities for summer vacations.
- Receive special offerings for the needs of the sister ministry.
- Conduct a pastoral internship program to help train a sister church's next pastor.
- Add the sister church to the missions budget of the church.
- Receive a 5th Sunday offering on behalf of the sister ministry.
- Support mutual missionaries.
- Conduct joint mission trips to a foreign field.
- Offer to transport materials and resources when traveling to another area of the state.
God challenges Christians and churches to be involved in meaningful, purposeful relationships. Romans 12:10, 13 teaches, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another — distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” May these qualities mark us as an association of churches. Will you join me in prayer asking God that the MARBC network will cultivate a special, practical relationship with one another that will bring glory to the name of Christ?
“God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
You have His Word on it! (KEF)
(This is the third of three articles regarding the MARBC's new initiative called “CPR” – Church Partnering Relationships. Download the brochure detailing this ministry by clicking here [269kb PDF Download])