Gospel ministry in the New Testament is always pictured as team ministry. Jesus gathered a team of disciples and he sent them out as a team. The Apostles worked in teams and they appointed more teams. The letters of Paul are rich pictures of deeply relational team ministry. Sadly, this New Testament vision of team ministry is not always reflected in our practice. Too often we take the wonderful message of ‘Christ alone’ and think we can minister it alone.
I remember being fascinated by some maps in the back of my first Bible.
These colourful maps pictured the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Dramatic red lines crossed continents, marking his travels. It was easy to picture Paul as a lone hero on epic journeys, single-handedly converting the nations. Paul’s own letters, however, give quite a different picture. Yes, Paul was used mightily by God in the early spread of the gospel of Jesus. But Paul didn’t do this ministry alone. There were always co-workers in the gospel by his side.
Paul himself certainly never overlooked his co-workers in the gospel. His letters, together with the book of Acts, introduce us to over one hundred of these co-workers. Some of them even co-authored letters with him. Epistle writing was a team activity! For example:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes… – 1 Corinthians 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother… – Colossians 1:1
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me… – Galatians 1:1
Paul’s letters reveal his heart for team ministry, as we get a real flesh and blood picture of the many people partnering in his gospel mission.
Paul loved describing these brothers and sisters with a whole range of titles using the Greek prefix sun which means ‘with’ or ‘co’. For Paul this was a special way of showing that our union with Christ brings also this extraordinary union with each other (see Romans 16:3, 9, 21; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25; Colossians 4:11; Philemon 1).
It’s in the endings of Paul’s letters that this ‘co-worker’ language comes to the fore. So it’s tragic that these final chapters are often decorated by our translators with uninspiring subheading provided such as ‘final greetings’. It’s as though the movie is over and these are just a few credits rolling on the screen. Exhausted preachers often make it through long preaching series in Romans and 1 Corinthians, for example, and similarly make for the exits when they arrive at these final chapters. That’s a shame. They give us theology of ministry. They reveal a deeply relational approach to ministry which should shape our own practice of ministry.
Here we learn more about co-workers alongside Paul such as Apollos, Archippus, Aristarchus, Barnabas, Clement, Epaphras, Fortunatas, Phoebe, Chloe, Sosthenes, Mark, Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, Priscilla and Aquila to name a few. These people are the Pauline circle. They are his brothers and sisters. He calls them, variously: servants, slaves, partners, fellow soldiers, fellow prisoners and fellow workers. They are co-workers in the gospel. A few of many examples:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. – Romans 16:3
Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. – Philippians 4:3
As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 8:23
Relationships rather than structures are to the fore.
Interestingly, we don’t know whether these co-workers in the gospel are elders or deacons or what formal role they played. Relationships rather than structures are to the fore. Also, these relationships are mission orientated. Mission is to the fore, as these co-workers in the gospel share a vision beyond their own patch. These co-workers in the gospel work within churches but also serve to network between churches and to plant new ones. Relationships within and between churches are to the fore.
It is this ‘co-worker’ theology of ministry in the New Testament that underpins our approach to ministry at Creek Road.
A few examples:
TEAM PREACHING: approaching preaching not as an isolated ‘solo’ activity but something best done in a collaborative way.
SERIES COLLABORATION: not just in our preaching ministry but in all the resources and channels alongside that ministry – brothers and sisters working together as co-workers in the gospel to teach the gospel to people of all ages.
TEAM PASTORING: working closely with John Warlow to develop our pastoral care to also be a team activity – where we best care for each other not as an isolated carers but as a team of people playing different roles alongside each other.
MULTISITE: planting and revitalising churches not as completely separate entities but as deeply connected members of one wider family.
CHURCH2CHURCH: seeking to extend the benefits of multisite ministry to other churches around Australia and beyond – as we not only share resources but also build relationships for healthier gospel ministry.
The message of ‘Christ alone’ is truly wonderful. And it is a wonderful blessing that God gives us relationships, co-workers in the gospel, so that we do not minister it alone but together in Christ.
Steve Cree – Senior Pastor