I went to a strong, hearty conference recently, full of talk about gospel work and initiatives, and the theme was ‘standing shoulder to shoulder.’
And I thought then, as I still think, that that’s all very well, but it’s still very independent.
The model is that strong (i.e. larger) churches can help weaker (i.e. smaller) ones, and together we can make a difference – which is true, but not true enough.
- What if the ‘strong’ churches aren’t quite as strong as they look – what if, in line with 1 Corinthians, they actually need the ‘weaker’ churches, rather than the other way round?
- What if ‘shoulder to shoulder’ is implicitly too, well, ‘hearty’ as an image? (Yes, I know it’s a biblical phase, but frankly, if your only source passage is Zephaniah 3, then you really are off the beaten track by some way)
- What if the pipeline of grace isn’t just one way?
- What if the pipeline of grace runs the other way entirely?
- What if we replaced ‘independence’ with ‘interdependence’ – would that make a difference?
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8 comments on “When ‘shoulder to shoulder’ isn’t enough”
Hi Chris – I assumed ‘shoulder to shoulder’ was an allusion to Philippians 1:27 (I can’t find the phrase in Zephaniah 3!). I also took the theme to be precisely about interdependence rather than independence. And I didn’t think the conference was about ‘strong’ churches exclusively helping the ‘weak’ (my own ‘weak’ church was offered as one of the many case studies). Strange how our responses could be so different! Richard
Zeph 3:9 (NIV – nothing like it ESV!). Phil 1 does talk about striving together as one, but not the same. If we are we’re talking about the same conference (!), I do remember hearing about the weaker churches needing the larger, or even needing other weaker ones, but (as I recall, open to correction) nothing about larger needing the smaller. I remember your case study and finding it very encouraging – but I still can’t remember how the larger churches actively benefit from smaller ones, and are hampered without them. Did I miss a note?
Fair enough. I wasn’t as conscious of the theme of strong churches helping the weak as you were. I heard it more as interdependence. As a leader of a weak church I didn’t feel like the runt of the litter! But true that we need to be actively reminded of how the strong need the weak.
And I was there from a position of extreme (personal) weakness, accurately aware of my own ability to be Corinthian.
Actually I would say the opposite about the conference. It’s the first conference where little guys like me had input to the planning and had airtime at the front. We were part of the training sessions in seminars. Also the sort of partnership we set up with St Helen’s in the lead up to that conference was based on the fact that it’s a 2 way – for example I’ve just had a guy shadowing me for a week from St Helen’s for me to help train him for the future.
So I just had a grumpy day? Maybe – but I still had a whiff of something I’m still worrying about and watching closely. the temptation to be Corinthian is always too close for comfort.
I’m sure it’s a risk. I suppose from my point of view it’s one of the first conferences where that was addressed – I really don’t think I’ve been to one before which hasn’t been dominated by big church speakers for example.