First let me give you a bird’s-eye view of partnership. Our mission is “to give our lives to help people find and follow Jesus Christ” – so we have devised a plan to help us do that very thing. We call this plan “The 5 G’s.” They are 5 practices that lead to a life of full devotion to Jesus Christ. The 5 G’s are the heart of partnership at Preston Trail. Practicing them makes you a full partner with us. The 5 G’s are:
Grace – You have accepted God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ, have become a Christian, and have been baptized as a believer.
Growth – You are growing in your relationship with God through personal prayer and Bible reading, and through attendance and participation at weekend services and Chapter Two.
Groups – You are involved in a small group where you are accountable to other believers for your spiritual progress.
Gifts – You are using your God-given gifts to serve the Lord at PRESTON TRAIL.
Good stewardship – You are giving a generous portion of your income to God’s work through Preston Trail, using the tithe (10%) as the biblical guide for giving.
Having said all this, here are four questions that Jim and I think some of you may be asking, along with our responses:
Q: Why are you using the word “partnership” instead of membership?
A: Re-read Jim’s letter in Trail Notes last week. It answers this question clearly. (If you do not have it, you may read it online by clicking here, or request one by email from email@example.com.)
Q: What if someone is not ready for partnership, but wants PRESTON TRAIL to be their church home?
A: PRESTON TRAIL is a welcoming and accepting church. Our goal from the beginning has been to be a church where skeptics, unchurched people, and those returning to church can hear and experience God’s grace. We are 100% committed to embracing everyone who attends and serves here – whether or not they are ready for partnership now … or next year … or way down the road. We recognize that people at PRESTON TRAIL are at various stages in their spiritual life – this is how it should be. Our hope, of course, is that everyone who calls PRESTON TRAIL “home” will eventually see the value of becoming a partner with us. But never in a million years would we devalue those who aren’t ready for that decision yet. To those who say, “Not yet, not now,” we say “We still consider you a vital part of the Preston Trail family – stay with us, serve alongside us, grow with us!”
Q: I was baptized as a child, not as a believer. Isn’t that good enough?
A: First off, at PRESTON TRAIL we value all church traditions. If your church background led you to faith in Jesus Christ, we praise God for that church, regardless of its understanding of baptism. Second, baptism does not secure one’s salvation. It points to and symbolizes salvation, but it is not equal to salvation – any more than the American flag IS America or your wedding ring IS your marriage. So baptism is a symbol of salvation, not salvation itself.
Those are two things we fully agree on. Yet all churches do not agree on the meaning and practice of baptism. At PRESTON TRAIL, we see baptism as a sign that a believer has crossed the line of faith and said YES to Jesus as Leader and Forgiver, Lord and Savior. We believe that baptism is such a wonderful experience of testifying to your love for Christ that it deserves to be on the “right” side of your salvation experience – after you have said YES to Christ, not before you were capable of saying YES. We also believe that the Bible teaches baptism for believers. In fact, virtually every time the word “baptize” or “baptism” is found in the story of the early church (the Book of Acts) the verbs used with it are actions that only a believer can take – verbs such as “repent, believe, trust, call on the name of the Lord,” etc. For these reasons, everyone who wants to be a partner at PRESTON TRAIL will need to be baptized as a believer if they have not yet done so. Again, if anyone who loves Preston Trail and calls it “home” is not ready for this step, we still say, “You are a vital part of the Preston Trail family – stay with us, serve alongside us, grow with us!”
Q: What about this “tithe” thing? Ten percent of my income is a lot of money to give up!
A: You are right! Imagine what any of us could buy if we dedicated 10% of our salary to something we really wanted to buy. To give that money up would be a sacrifice. Precisely. That is the point of tithing – we sacrifice something we really want in order to give that money to God. In addition we tithe to remind ourselves that this first 10% of our income belongs to the Lord … as does the remaining 90%. We also tithe because we want to experience the joy of giving to God’s work in the world. And we tithe because we believe it is an act of obedience to God. Our challenge to all who come to Preston Trail is this: if you have never tithed (given 10% of your income to God’s work) try it for 6 months. Ask God to prove his faithfulness to you during those 6 months. If you do, I think you will become a convinced tither for the rest of your life! Some people have grown to the tithe by starting with 5% now, and moving to a full 10% within twelve months. That’s progress too! And again, if you’re not prepared to tithe … if you are not sure God will provide for you if you live on 90% of your income … then we still say to you, “We love you. We consider you an important part of the Preston Trail family – stay with us, serve alongside us, grow with us!”
This Sunday we have our first Partnership Class. It’s at 5 PM at AMC Theatre 7. If The Five G’s describe the kind of Christian you want to become, then join us.
May God use this partnership process to make PRESTON TRAIL a church that pleases him in all things!