Not a One-Local-Church Job: The Practical Benefits of Strong Interchurch Relationships in Missions

by | Jul 12, 2023 | Missions

Editor’s Note: In this article, Salvador Gomez explores the biblical reasons why churches should partner together in order to accomplish Christ’s Great Commission. As pastor of a church in the Reformed Baptist Network, he expresses well why our network exists and how we are seeking to work together going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature. So we hope that his article will encourage churches to develop healthy interchurch relationships to engage in our missionary mandate.

Permission to reprint this article (in Pro Pastor 2.1) has been granted from the author, the editor of Pro Pastor, and the administration of Grace Bible Theological Seminary. The Pro Pastor journal is available online at this webpage.


The Lord wishes and desires the unity of his people. Jesus’s intercessory prayer in John 17 is answered not only in the unity of a single local church, but also in the unity that different churches experience in relationship to one another. We could provide many reasons for fostering and cultivating solid relationships between churches, but making Christ known is undoubtedly the most important reason for Christian congregations to be unified. The Lord prayed that believers may “be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17:23).[1] It is through the proclamation of the gospel that we will make Christ known to the world. Accordingly, churches should work together toward that end.

The Great Commission is a charge that the Lord gave to all his disciples (Matt 28:18–20). All of us have the assigned task of being faithful disciples who, in turn, make disciples. But we must also look at the corporate aspect of that mission. All churches must be active participants in Christ’s missional mandate of disciple-making among the nations. The purpose of this article is to encourage good and healthy relationships between churches with a view to helping each other fulfill Christ’s Great Commission task. If we are to “make disciples of all nations,” the only way to fulfill Jesus’s mandate is for a multitude of churches to get involved. No single church has the giftedness, the manpower, or the resources to complete the task alone.[2]

We only need to take a look at the New Testament letters as a whole or at John’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation (Rev 2–3) to realize that the strengths present in one church are not always present in another. On the flip side, the weaknesses of one church might not exist in another congregation. In the same way that the Holy Spirit distributes his gifts sovereignly in each church, so he also equips the churches as he pleases. What God did with the church in Rome looks very different than what he did through the church in Colosse. In the church at Antioch, for example, we are told that there were “prophets and teachers” in the plural, and then Luke proceeds to name five of them (Acts 13:1). The leadership strength of the Antiochian church was not the same in other first-century AD congregations. Other churches that might not have had such an abundance of gifted leaders, however, might have excelled in another area, like giving. There is not a single church who has a total monopoly of resources to plant all the churches, send all the missionaries, and help support all the missionaries financially.

It is Christ who gives gifts and gifted ones to build up the local church (Eph 4:11–12), and he is the one who sends missionaries into the field. It is Christ himself who supplies some of his churches with important financial resources. It is the Lord who has endowed some of his churches with a spirit of supplication and prayer that will impact time and eternity in an extraordinary way. Therefore, if we do not learn to work together and join forces to fulfill the calling of God, we will not fulfill the Great Commission as we are supposed to do.[3]


God will not carry out all of his plans with only one church. He will use a multitude of people and a multitude of churches at different times to carry out his single glorious plan of redemption. However, to work in a coordinated way, churches must learn to cultivate healthy interchurch relationships. The gifts that Christ gives to each local church are not intended for that church’s own exclusive consumption. We must be willing to share what God has given to us with other churches, and in the same way, we also must learn to receive help from others when it is needed.

The apostle Paul did not do his gospel work alone. He surrounded himself with a sizeable team of men and women who assisted him in his ministry.[4] We read in Romans 16:3 of Priscilla and Aquila, whom Paul calls “my fellow workers.” Paul takes the opportunity to inform the Romans not only of the gratitude he felt because of them, but also of the gratitude of “all the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom 16:4). He gave instructions to the Corinthians, urging them to make Paul’s protégé, Timothy, feel welcome (1 Cor 16:10–11), while also encouraging Apollos to visit them (1 Cor 16:12). At another point in Paul’s ministry, he sent his co-laborer, Tychicus, to Ephesus (Eph 6:21–22).

The apostle also shows a continuing concern for connecting churches together and intertwining their ministries. Paul highlights the key role that the Philippians played “at the beginning of [his] preaching of the gospel” by making significant financial contributions to his ministry (Phil 4:15). Paul organizes a collection of money to take to the poor in the church of Jerusalem on behalf of churches in Greece, Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe, and Asia (Acts 20:1–6; Rom 15:25–26; 2 Cor 8:16–9:5).[5] The greetings that we find in Paul’s epistles are full of instructions and positive examples of how churches should relate to one another in fellowship.

What we find in the New Testament is a network of brothers helping one another. The goal in our churches should be the same. It is not about our individual kingdoms, but about the one kingdom of God. Missions is not the responsibility of a single church, but of all the churches of Christ. And just as the believer who isolates himself often starts to drift into self-centeredness and sin, churches that isolate themselves lose their purpose and mission. To be clear, a given local church will not enjoy the same level of closeness with all churches. The degree of intimacy with churches will vary greatly from one to another. But we can and should cultivate good relationships with other congregations, whether at home or abroad, driven by our mutual love of the kingdom of God and for the advancement of the gospel on earth.


The fulfillment of the Great Commission in the missionary task involves a series of aspects that I would like to highlight below. We will view them from the standpoint of healthy interchurch relationships. Churches can and should partner together effectively in at least four undertakings: (1) prayer; (2) identification (and training) of missionary candidates; (3) financial support; and (4) strategizing.

“… [P]ray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)

1. Every local church should pray that God would awaken and maintain a missionary heart in the entire congregation. God’s mission is everyone’s business. A church may not have missionaries or may not have sent out any missionaries yet. That is not necessarily a trait for which the church should be ashamed. What is inexcusable, though, is for a church not to have a heart that loves the advancement of the kingdom of God among the nations. And one of the tangible ways we give expression to the missionary heart of God is through prayer. Every church should pray for the Lord of the harvest to raise up harvesters.

A healthy church is one that announces the excellencies of the God who called us (1 Pet 2:9). It knows God and worships God, and because it is comprised of a people overwhelmed by the greatness of the Lord, it longs for him to be made known among the nations. A healthy church values the gospel of Jesus as its special treasure; it understands the great exchange, the glorious reality that through Christ’s finished work we have been transferred out of darkness, death, and slavery, and brought into his admirable light, life, and freedom. For this very reason, a healthy church seeks to proclaim the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge the reality of remaining sin in our lives, and we know the terrible consequences that selfishness produces. Sin can make our hearts cold regarding the spiritual needs of others. It feeds our self-centeredness, making us people who only mind our own business, losing sight of God’s mission and missing the reason why we are here on earth. Paul’s desire was to depart and be with Christ, which would have been so much better, but he also longed, intensely, to be of benefit to the churches of Christ for as long as he was on earth (Phil 1:21–24). Let us make sure, then, among all the prayer requests that we raise before the throne of grace, that we never stop pleading for the Spirit of God to fuel the mission of God here on earth. May our love for Christ be manifested in our desire to see him praised and adored by people of every tribe, language, and nation. A church that prays in this manner will be able to identify itself with the mission efforts that other healthy churches are carrying out, and cooperation will flow more naturally.

2. Every church should pray that God would raise up missionaries. Jesus prayed all night before choosing the twelve apostles (Luke 6:13–16). From the very beginning of the church, we find that the selection of the successor of Judas was carried out through prayer (Acts 1:21–26). Christ is the Lord of the harvest, and he commands us to ask him to send out laborers (Matt 9:37–38). It is often apparent that we must pray to God to raise up the leaders of our local churches, to pray for our own pastors and elders, in addition to missionaries who will be sent out from our own fellowship. But do we really believe that part of our responsibility in prayer is to ask God to raise up men in other churches in order to be sent to distant lands?

The kingdom of God is not restricted to the size or geographical reach of our lone congregation. All of God’s children belong to the universal church, to the worldwide fold of the Good Shepherd, regardless of denomination and location. If we pray global prayers, we will be able to recognize God’s response to those supplications when men arise from other sister churches.

We can learn much from the attitude of the apostle Paul. He did not care whose name, humanly speaking, was attached to specific accomplishments in ministry—but only that the God who causes all increase would be exalted. Paul asks, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul?” And he answers his questions by declaring: “Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:5–7). Charles Hodge rightly notes, “The people, therefore, are bound to regard the ministry as a divine institution and to value its services; but preachers are not to be regarded as party leaders or as lords over God’s heritage.”[6]

We do not labor for the sake of our own personal prestige, or for the fame of our local churches. We work for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Let us pray for God to cause greater growth in missionary efforts around the world, both in our public prayer services and in our private prayer lives.

3. Every local church should pray for those who have gone out to the mission field, and we must plead with God for all aspects of their lives (spiritual, emotional, physical, familial, and economic). Forging close interchurch relationships will allow us to learn about different missional efforts that other churches are carrying out. We can pray in general for nameless and faceless “missionaries” who are in a certain country right now, even if we don’t know any of them. But it is far more exciting, and much more meaningful, to pray for specific missionaries by their first and last names as those who were sent out by a church with whom we have a close relationship. Pastors must encourage their congregations to cultivate the habit of praying for God’s mission. The feet of those who announce the gospel are beautiful (Rom 10:15) even if they were not sent out by our own church.

I will never forget the occasion when a missionary from the Far East fervently begged our congregation during a missionary conference to pray for them, because only heavenly missiles could dispel the palpable spiritual darkness that surrounded them in the country where they were serving. When I talk to other pastors and they tell me about the challenges and blessings they are experiencing, I often ask them to send us a summary note to help us intercede for them. The exchange of prayer requests sets the armies of the Lord in motion and brings us to our knees, which is the best posture for the advancement of the kingdom of God.

Identification (and Training) of Missionary Candidates
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)

The church does not make missionaries; it only recognizes them. It is the Spirit who calls and enables them. It is the Spirit who separates and points missionaries out, even still today, but not in the same way as we read in the case of Barnabas and Saul in Acts 13:2. The Holy Spirit designated those two men as missionaries by name.[7] It would be much easier if the Spirit would just name his missionaries today as he did in the early church—there would be no margin of error!

Nevertheless, we are not without a list of missionary qualifications. The pastoral qualifications that we find in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9) must also apply to missionaries.[8] Missionary candidates must display godliness and holiness if they hope to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to plant churches in foreign lands. We expect that many of the male missionaries who go into the field will serve as pastors in the new churches that are planted, and we are not at liberty to lower the standards for missionary applicants.[9]

If the qualifications are this high, how do we recognize such workers? How do we identify them? The responsibility that pastors have—of the local churches in which missionary candidates reside—is crucial. They know firsthand the work that God is doing in the hearts and lives of these candidates. However, a pastor may lack the knowledge and experience necessary to identify a believer’s missionary call with precision. And that is where pastors from other churches could come to the primary pastor’s aid, men who have learned what questions to ask missionary candidates, who have seen first-hand that not all that glitters is gold. There are also missionary agencies that help churches with the evaluation of missionary candidates, who can even supply questionnaires and forms that can save churches from many stumbling blocks. Why conduct this process by ourselves, in isolation, when the stakes are so high?

On a related note, I have heard seasoned missionaries in the field pleading, “Please do not send workers to us without the proper calling and training.” Training, thus, is another area in which healthy church relationships are crucial. The elders of a congregation can provide some level of preparation for those who will later participate in missions. Through close discipleship they can guide missionary candidates in studying the Bible, reading good books, and receiving basic theological and ecclesiological knowledge. But pastors do not always have the ability and resources that are required to provide thorough, full-orbed training and theological expertise. This is where the extended body of Christ can come to the rescue! A sister church may have an institute or seminary where candidates can pursue their studies. If God has provided a local church with gifted teachers and spiritual guides, it would be counterproductive to deny missionary candidates the ability to receive such an education. Perhaps that church also has the financial capacity to absorb the costs of those studies, or, perhaps, a different church might be willing and able to cover that cost.

Financial Support
“So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.” (2 Corinthians 9:5, NIV)

The training of a missionary can be very expensive. Sending and supporting a missionary can take a significant portion of the congregation’s budget. A church may be struggling just to support the lone pastor and pay the essential bills. How could a church who is struggling to make ends meet participate financially in missions?

The truth is that all churches can and should cooperate in missions with their own resources to whatever proportion they are able. Each church should contribute according to the resources and opportunities that God has given them (2 Cor 8:12–15).[10] The general financial principles that we have in the Scriptures should be part of our missionary philosophy. Here are a few of those principles:

  • “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (Prov 11:25)
  • “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
  • “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7)

Regardless of the amount a person can contribute, it is healthy to teach every disciple of Jesus Christ to participate in missions with their offerings; the same idea can be said of churches as well. Even as a newly planted church, the habit of contributing financially to God’s mission will have a significant short-term and long-term impact on the spiritual health of the church.

I still remember the comment made to me by a deacon from a church in which I was invited to preach. We talked about the difficulties and dire straits in which believers from another nation lived, but at the same time, they experienced great zeal for the truth and tremendous spiritual growth. Reflecting on the great indifference and coldness to the gospel that he encountered in his own country, this deacon expressed: “Perhaps the Lord is giving us the financial resources that those brothers need.” And his church provided the financial means so that others could do the labor. I have seen this sort of dynamic partnership take place, time after time, to this day. God supplies the needs of his people in a distant place through the generous offerings of many of his children across the world. Many of the financial supporters have never been to the target country, but they have been involved in the advancement of the gospel in that nation from afar.

Do you see the importance of healthy interchurch relationships? God may put in the heart of a widow the desire to support a missionary. She may not know where or how to do it. She talks to her pastor, who then contacts the pastor of a local church that already has a candidate for the mission field but lacks the necessary financial resources. The widow’s donation provides the financial backing necessary to launch the missionary candidate into the field of harvest.

The levels of cooperation between churches can vary greatly. Three or four churches may come together to carry out some specific missionary effort. But more numerous and organized efforts can also emerge. An example of such a partnership is Reformed Baptist Network (RBNet), which is a network of Reformed Baptist churches that have come together to glorify God through fellowship and cooperation in fulfilling the Great Commission.[11] Our congregation in the Dominican Republic is a member of this network, and we gladly support it financially, because through our offerings much is done that would otherwise be impossible to do. We thank God for the spirit of humility and brotherly love that prevails in this network.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Our missionary work must reflect that we serve a God of order. The Lord commands us to calculate the costs before launching ourselves to develop an enterprise (Luke 14:25–33). Just as the worship services that take place in churches should be carried out with decency and in order (1 Cor 14:40), so too missionary endeavors should be conducted with advanced planning and strategizing.

The first gospel proclamation of the church started in Jerusalem, and from there it spread to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit established and strengthened his churches before moving on to other regions. One can identify those stages in the book of Acts. There is a divine strategy behind all of the missionary activity. Acts chapters 8 through 11 features a succession of events, one leading to the next, as follows:

  1. At the end of Acts 7 we have the first mention of Saul (v. 58), who later becomes “Paul,” and then in chapter 8 he is introduced to us as the great persecutor of Christians (8:1–3). Persecution against the church of Jerusalem leads to church members being scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (8:1). These scattered believers share the good news of the crucified and risen Christ (v. 4).
  2. In 8:4–8 Philip appears, preaching the gospel in Samaria.
  3. In 8:14–25 we see the Jerusalem church sending the apostles Peter and John to become witnesses of God’s work in Samaria and to strengthen the believers there.
  4. In 8:26–39 we read of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch on his way from Jerusalem back to modern-day Africa. The gospel is crossing borders!
  5. In chapter 9 we find the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who will be designated by God as the apostle to the Gentiles.
  6. Chapter 10 tells us of the amazing conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile and a Roman military leader. The author of Acts, Luke, places Cornelius’s conversion in the book of Acts in a very strategic place. The Jews who came to visit with Peter were amazed that the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles (10:45).
  7. In chapter 11 we read of Peter’s testimony before the brothers in Jerusalem, in which he tells them how even to the Gentiles “God has granted repentance that leads to life” (v. 18).
  8. In 11:19–30 we come across the formation of the church in Antioch. The Lord used an unexpected and strange method to launch this church, namely, the persecution unleashed against believers in Jerusalem. The disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch (v. 26).
  9. Guess who appears in Antioch? Saul! The former persecutor of the church is now one of its primary preachers (Acts 11:25–26). Saul (Paul) stays with Barnabas for a whole year, teaching and building up the brothers of that new church.[12]
  10. The apostle Peter makes his last appearance in the book of Acts in chapter 12, thus giving way to the leadership that Saul (Paul) will occupy in the rest of the book. And so, in chapter 13, we see the church of Antioch sending its first missionaries: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:2). Just as Peter serves as the apostle to the Jews, Paul becomes the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:8–9; cf. Acts 9:15; 13:46–47; 18:6; 22:21; 26:17–18).

The last word has not been written regarding strategies in missions. We need to pray for wisdom. We need to pray for ideas that will help us overcome the obstacles that we will encounter.

Where should we plant a new church? What country or countries will be the focus of our missionary efforts? How are we going to reach the unreached peoples in our own country? Instead of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, however, it is essential for us to remember—we are not alone as we plan our strategies. God has given us a glorious, multifaceted, global network of churches to help us plan and mobilize laborers for his glory. Churches can come together and dream together regarding their evangelistic and missionary efforts.

What about unreached people groups? It is possible for us to see ourselves so far removed from ethnic groups where there is no Christian church, that we think we can’t do anything about it. The task seems bewildering. It is often true that the less-reached an ethnic group is, the more difficult it is to reach them with the gospel, but that does not mean that the task is impossible. That is where the beauty of healthy interchurch relationships becomes evident.

Suppose for a moment that a church in South America has set out to reach an ethnic group in the Far East. The necessary logistics are complicated and difficult. We have several barriers that stand in the way: distance, language, and resources, among others. But what if this South American church can establish contact with another church that is already located in the same country of that ethnic group in the Far East? It is likely that the church in the destination country does not have the necessary resources to mobilize its members to reach the unreached ethnic group. However, it is possible that they do know the language of the ethnic group, and it is possible, too, that they will be aware of the material needs in the region. A joint effort between the South American church and the Far Eastern church not only makes the job attainable, but humanly speaking, it is also more likely to succeed.


Jesus has given his followers the monumental task of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of “all nations” (Matt 28:18–20). It is a task so massive that no single church can accomplish it by itself. However, the New Testament churches provide a helpful model for how the Great Commission can be fulfilled—through healthy interchurch partnerships. Churches can and should partner together in prayer, in the identification (and training) of missionary candidates, in financial support, and in strategizing. We must remember that taking the gospel to the ends of the earth is not just a one-local-church job. It is the work of the church universal. And that demands that we pursue and maintain intentional relationships with Christ-centered, gospel-affirming, like-minded churches both at home and abroad. In our pursuit of missions we can display, on a human scale, something of the glorious love and unity between the Father and Son (John 17:20–23)—the very love that fuels our mission to the world.


[1] Scriptural references in this article are from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, unless otherwise noted.

[2] What unites churches in missions is not that they are all part of the same organization, but that they are attached to Jesus. As Leon Morris notes, “The Master is not giving a command that will merely secure nominal adherence to a group, but one that will secure wholehearted commitment to a person. In the first century a disciple did not enroll with such-and-such a school, but with such-and-such a teacher.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 746.

[3] Obviously, I am not referring to a church supporting and helping churches that teach a false gospel or undermine the gospel in their ministries—doctrinal standards must be taken into consideration. Rather, I am referring to a local congregation who partners with other churches that, although imperfect and composed of redeemed sinners, faithfully keep the stewardship of the gospel in a lost world.

[4] E. Earle Ellis, “Paul and His Co-Workers,” New Testament Studies 17, no. 4 (1971), 437–452.

[5] On Acts 20:4–5 referring to Paul’s collection for the poor in Jerusalem, see David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Nottingham: Apollos, 2009), 555–56.

[6] Charles Hodge, 1 Corinthians, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL; Nottingham: Crossway, 1995), 65.

[7] I. Howard Marshall asserts that this episode in Acts is “the first piece of planned ‘overseas mission’ carried out by representatives of a particular church, rather than by solitary individuals, and begun by a deliberate church decision, inspired by the Spirit, rather than somewhat more casually as a result of persecution.” I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (Leicester: Inter-Varsity; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 214, as quoted in Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, 376.

[8] For a longer discussion of this point, see the article by Ryan Bush, “A Case for the Missionary as Pastor,” in the present issue of Pro Pastor.

[9] In another sense, however, we must keep in mind that not all who participate in the broad work of missions will be pastors. There is ample room for other functions to be carried out on the mission field, such as translation of the Scriptures. Pastors, according to the biblical qualifications for the office, must be men (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6); however, some of those who go out into the mission field might not be men at all. Women may faithfully serve God in certain cross-cultural capacities.

[10] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 412–16.

[11] For more information on Reformed Baptist Network, see Reformed Baptist Network, “About,”

[12] For a helpful summary of Acts 8:1–12:25, see Robert J. Cara, “Acts,” in Michael J. Kruger, A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 150–52.

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