Partners. There have been countless partners in our culture. Who would Batman be without Robin? What about the Lone Ranger who wasn’t very lone? He had his partner Tonto as they rode across the television screens. Miami Vice had Crockett and Tubbs. Who could imagine a Scooby without a Shaggy? And just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a faithful trip, led by the Skipper and Gilligan. One of my personal favorites is Walker and Trivette. More recent partners like Woody and Buzz Lightyear have graced our movie screens. These partners show us that partners don’t always get along. They don’t agree about everything, but at the end of the day, they’re on the same team, working for the same goal, firmly committed to the wellbeing of the other. It is a term that guarantees equality.
There is a reason that Paul used this term to describe his relationship with the “saints at Philippi.” It would be easy to think of the relationship between church leaders and congregants as something other than a partnership. Many churches operate more of a business model complete with the CEO and Board of Directors. It is anything but a partnership. Many churches operate where the pastor and staff are the “professional Christians,” getting paid to do the work of Jesus so that the congregation does not have to do so much. This too is a far cry from a partnership.
Paul explains to the Philippians that the relationships between Christians is to be a relationship of equals. There may be leaders to facilitate function, but when all is said and done, the most outspoken leader is no more important than the most behind the scenes servant. All are partners for the cause of Christ.
I didn’t fully understand the idea of a partnership until I got married (and even then I didn’t figure it out right away). The relationship between husband and wife is intended to be a partnership. Certainly, there are distinct gender roles, and the husband is to be the head of the home, but the relationship only works when there is a clear partnership between spouses. They are to have the same goals and should work seamlessly together to accomplish those goals. Neither spouse is more important than the other. Marriages that fail are marriages where the partnership dissolves or is never developed. They fail when one spouse puts his or her needs about the needs of the other. They fail when one spouse feels that he or she is more important than the other.
Churches fail when they miss the fact that they exist as partners in the gospel. Pastors and deacons fail when they misinterpret their role as leaders beyond the bounds of a partnership. There is no one here more or less important than anyone else. Your preferences and needs are only as important as your neighbor’s preferences and needs. That’s the nature of a partnership.
Paul is able to give thanks to God for his partners in Philippi. They were his partners from the first day he met Lydia on the side of the river until his last days in prison. They never gave up on him and he never gave up on them. That’s what partners do.
Are you are partner with your others in your church? With your ministers? The truth is that we are all in this together, and Jesus expects us to operate that way. So partner, are you doing your part? Can someone say of you, “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now?” I hope so!