The question came from my small son in response to the story of Moses’ commission to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. “Why does he always get other people to do stuff?”
It’s a fair point – why, if God is all-powerful and all-wise, does God insist on working in partnership with humans, who are most certainly neither? Why is the Bible full of stories about God calling people rather than stories of God just getting it done all by Godself?
The answer, as with many answers about God, is both simple and completely inadequate. God works with humans because that’s who God is. God doesn’t just prefer partnerships – God is a partnership, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in dynamic, perfect, complex unity. God’s desire to draw all of creation into that partnership is an expression of God’s very nature. So God can do whatever God likes without any help from us whatsoever. But what God most wants is for us to get involved, to join in God’s desire for the world, God’s mission in the world, so that we might be in God and God in us.
In the middle of May, I spent three days at the second Vital and Healthy Parishes Consultation. I was sent by my diocese to join in conversations with Anglicans and Lutherans from across the country about what makes Christian communities vital and healthy. For three days, I talked and listened and thought about strategic planning, stewardship of resources, meaningful worship, courageous experimentation, bold leadership, and creative formation of both lay and ordained ministers. Over and over again, one theme emerged (for me and possibly only for me) – God desires us to work not only with God but with one another.
Of course, partnerships are not new in the church. We spend lots of time working to nurture ecumenical partnerships and interfaith partnerships and partnerships with secular community organizations, seeking opportunities to make common cause in spite of differences. We form official partnerships with other dioceses in the Anglican Church of Canada or in other Communion churches, sending representatives to one another’s synods, praying for one another, sharing resources as appropriate. We even, on occasion, manage to join with our neighbouring Anglican/Lutheran congregations and hold a fundraiser or an outreach project or a worship service together.
But I’m talking about the kind of partnerships that last beyond special events and extend deeper than holding one another in our hearts and minds. I’m talking about the kind of partnerships that are built on the knowledge that our distinct ministries are all part of one mission. These partnerships would seek to build up the ministries of one another through a generous sharing of resources – material, human, and spiritual. They would enable us to have hard conversations and make tough decisions about which ministries are most critical at this time in our common missional life – and not simply leave such decisions to the tides of fortune, as if wealth was an indicator of God’s approval.
Such partnerships are hard. They require us to lower our walls and give up our territories and our pet projects. They require us to recognize that the context in which we work is bigger than our own little communities and that our ministries, wonderful though they may be, are not the whole of the mission. They require us to think about a vital and healthy church rather than just our own vital and healthy parishes.
But I’m convinced that such partnerships are worth it – after all, if God wants to work with us, we must have something pretty good to offer.