Unity Through Partnerships
By Zac Harrel
The world needs to see a unified church. In the midst of the division, anger, and fear dominating our culture we must pursue unity as fiercely as we can.
This is one of the main reasons I love serving as Director of Missions for the Heart of Texas Baptist Network. Our association is made up of 60 churches across four counties and in my role I get to help foster opportunities for churches to unify around the spread of the Gospel and the good of our area.
The main practical key to unity is relationships. So, when I took this position a little over two years ago, I began praying about opportunities for our churches to work together in a way that would produce this unity.
In order to begin to work towards this goal we had to think through ways to connect churches from all over the geographical distance of our association, and how to create opportunities where every size church could feel as if they have an essential part to play. What project could we take on that could bring churches from different counties and different sizes together on equal footing, in order to produce deep relationships that might foster lasting unity?
Our Mission Team took this question and began to brainstorm about possibilities. As I had conversations with other DOMs, I remembered that I had heard about opportunities to partner with sister associations in other areas of the country.
I had no idea where to even begin so I reached out to the Southern Baptist Convention of Associational Leaders (a network of Associational Leaders throughout the SBC). I got in contact with their head of Association to Association partnerships and told him our vision, our history, and asked if he knew of any associations we might be able to partner with. He gave me a list of three associations.
The first one I reached out to was the Southern Wisconsin Baptist Association in Madison, Wisconsin. We immediately hit it off with their Associational Missions Strategist Mark Millman. We met with Mark over Zoom multiple times in the beginning of 2021 and planned a vision trip to Madison for June of 2021.
If I am honest with you, I had no idea what this partnership would look like or how we would go about leading our churches to be a part of what God is doing in Wisconsin. The vision trip was a whirlwind experience. The Southern Wisconsin Baptist Association has 36 churches, many of which are newer church plants. Over the course of 4 days, we met with 10 different church planters. It was becoming clear to our team that this partnership would include coming alongside a church planter and supporting them through a committed partnership, consisting of a commitment of prayer, people, and provisions. Partnering with church plants in Wisconsin was a way for us to involve our churches in the exciting work of seeing God bring new life. We have not seen a new church planted in our association in many, many years. The pushback always seems to be we have enough churches. But through this strategic partnership, we not only get to be a part of what God is doing in Wisconsin, we also get to have their passion, gifts, and help in pushing our Association to see the great need for new churches and revitalized churches. This partnership is reciprocal.
As we began discussions of how this partnership would practically work, our whole Mission Team felt a strong pull to support three of the church planters we had met in Wisconsin. But, how would we go about doing this?
When I was praying through the next steps, I began to dream about involving, at the very least, 9 of our churches in this partnership. We would then have at least 3 partners from each of the church plants that we would support in Wisconsin. If you could ask our Mission Team and Mark Millman what they thought when I presented the idea, I bet they would tell you that they thought I had lost my marbles. Our Association had not seen much cooperation across counties or sizes in many years, and Mark said he had not heard of anything like this ever even being attempted. But what if this moment was God’s moment to show the power of churches coming together?
Starting in July of 2021, we began to personally reach out to churches all across our Association. I made phone call after phone call and visit after visit. We sent letters, emails, and social media announcements. I had no idea if the vision to see 9 churches join this partnership would come to fruition. I had doubts. I fought fear. I prayed and I prayed, and by the time we reached our Annual Meeting in October of 2021, God had led exactly 9 churches to join this partnership and support the Arabic Church of Milwaukee, Emmanuel Church in Madison, and Shalom Christian Assembly in Madison. The three planters and Mark joined us in person at this meeting, and we voted unanimously to enter into this partnership.
God has blessed us in so many ways. We have churches from 3 of our 4 counties, both from our largest and our smallest counties. They all have equal stakes in this partnership. They have all committed to pray for their Gospel partners, to send $75 a month in financial support, and to send people to come alongside these churches and help them when they can.
This past summer, we sent 58 people from 8 churches to Wisconsin to help with outreach and to spread the word about their churches. We have been able to help open doors for these church plants to partner with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
We have begun to see churches working together in new ways. We have held Zoom calls where they can gather together, hear updates, and pray for their partners in Wisconsin. We will see them in person again at our Annual Meeting in October, for God is not done yet. We are now at 10 partner churches and I am praying for us to get to 15 by the time we take another group to Wisconsin next summer.
There is no magic formula for unity. It begins with relationships, and this partnership has given us an opportunity to build relationships across our association. My ultimate prayer is that through the unity built in this partnership, God would show His glory in powerful ways here in the Heart of Texas, in Madison, in Milwaukee, and to the ends of the earth.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common