As a small and largely unknown church, it is important for us to build links with partners who can help us with human and financial resources. As a not particularly well-connected pastor, with no especially well-known relatives and no other big-name pastors championing our cause, there aren’t vast numbers of people lining up to offer us support. The bottom line, we are ministering in a needy area and seeing real fruit among needy people and this means we are in long-term need of real help.
We are crying out for people with a gospel heart to commit to the work and for others to genuinely consider us as a viable place to send some of their missions budgets and transferable people. We are seeing regular conversions from the Iranian community and are making inroads into the local Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. We are also seeking to reach the local white working class communities roundabout us with long-term plans to plant on several nearby council estates. We are the only FIEC church in the area and one of only two gospel partnership churches in a borough of 220,000 people.
There can be no doubt that Oldham is a needy town. We are on the frontline of gospel work in this place and, by God’s grace, we are seeing real fruit for the kingdom. Nonetheless, we are reaching some of the neediest people in British society and need the support of other gospel-hearted churches in our endeavours. Such requests require real trust from those willing to give.
I can put myself in the position of others. When faced with an unknown quantity, I wouldn’t immediately reach for my cheque book either. I am not going to send my people away to a church I cannot tell where it sits. I want to make sure my money and people are supporting solid gospel works. Like most people, I am naturally sceptical of those asking for stuff from me; I am much more likely to give to people I inherently trust.
One of the simple ways we can build trust is to affiliate well. If I were looking for a church in a new area, I would typically search the internet and check out what is available. On finding a variety of churches, I would head straight to what they believe and to which organisations they affiliate. These are the shorthands of which churches I would countenance attending. At the end of the day, there are affiliations that engender my trust and those that don’t.
I don’t believe everyone has to affiliate to the FIEC or North West Partnership like we have. There are lots of good churches that haven’t affiliated with either and many who have chosen to join other good organisations. Nonetheless, we can know that when churches belong to these organisations we can trust them. With these organisations, we can know that all the churches within them belong to the same theological track as us.
There are other organisations and denominations that, whilst I have no doubt there are solid churches within, do not engender that same immediate trust. Of the good churches in those groupings, I would have pause for thought joining or supporting those that belong to them. Whilst I do not believe in two-stage separation, one does have to ask why one would formally remain in fellowship with those they would consider in error. This is particularly concerning in cases where changes to the foundational documents mean that no argument can be made for fighting for the essence of the organisation, which was lost when the central articles of faith were altered. This still does not mean every church within those groupings have rejected the gospel and departed from solid doctrine, it is just to say that one cannot be certain any church within the group is good and one would want to ask questions as to why a solid gospel-centred church wished to remain in formal fellowship with those who have openly departed from the gospel.
Somebody once said to me that most offers of help and support are a matter of trust. At the end of the day, the reason people don’t put their money and people behind us is that they don’t trust us. I think this is essentially true. The question is, how does one build trust when they are – in effect – an unknown quantity? For us, the answer lies in affiliating well.
Belonging to the FIEC means that anybody seeking to partner with us can make certain assumptions about what we believe, teach and support as a church. Likewise, belonging to the North West Partnership means those considering partnership with us can know we belong to a theologically Reformed Evangelical tradition. Any difference between us and other churches within those affiliations will be on matters of generally tertiary importance. For gospel-hearted potential partners, these affiliations should build the very trust that we need in order to overcome the honest, and legitimate, concerns that partnership churches might have with supporting our work.
If you want to build trust, the short answer is to affiliate well. Whilst being in mixed denominations does not mean your church is not kosher per se, one cannot immediately consider such affiliations as helpful. Questions will inevitably follow such as, where on the organisational spectrum does this church sit; and, is it close enough to us to consider for partnership?
By contrast, if we affiliate well, our very belonging will determine that we are trustworthy. Whilst it is certainly true that good churches exist outside the FIEC and Gospel Partnerships, those inside state to others that we are on the same page. Good affiliation mean discussions may focus more on how we might partner rather than lengthy questions about whether we might partner.
In short, affiliate well. It may just be the difference between someone ruling you out from the offset and those willing to meet and have a discussion.