“Dare to discover Forbidden Island! Join a team of fearless adventurers on a do-or-die mission to capture sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise. Your team will have to work together and make some pulse-pounding manoeuvres [around the board], as the island will sink beneath every step! Race to collect the treasures and make a triumphant escape before you are swallowed into the watery abyss!”
I read the box lid with skepticism. “Join a team?” “ Work together?” This was a far cry from the dog-eat-dog board games of Monopoly and Risk I’d grown up with. Nevertheless, Forbidden Island has become a firm family favorite. Believe it or not, three somewhat competitive children (and one very competitive Dad) sit around the kitchen table and work together discussing strategies for capturing treasure and escaping an imaginary flooding island before our little counters sink.
What’s the key to victory? Bizarrely, in this particular board game, it’s all about players maintaining good relationships with other players. If The Engineer doesn’t cooperate with The Explorer, we lose. If The Messenger refuses to give The Navigator their treasure cards, it means defeat for all. If The Pilot declines to rescue The Diver, game over.
Sadly, when it comes to real life, it can be tempting for many Christians (conceivably those of us who love our own local church most of all) to live like we’re playing Monopoly or Risk. When it comes to other local churches, we think about competition. I want the most money, the most territory, the most treasures, the most people—for our church , of course. If relationships with other Christian players outside our own local church suffer, so be it. We want our church to win.
Some churches, sadly, cultivate this kind of philosophy. But many don’t. It’s our natural bent, after all.
When it comes to the Christian life, when it comes to how members of different gospel-preaching churches ought to relate to one another, we need to change our strategy. We need to remember we’re playing Forbidden Island—not Risk or Monopoly.
Here are a few reasons why:
1. Good relationships with other Christians occur because we’re on the same team.
We should work hard to maintain good relationships with Christians from other churches because ultimately, we’re on the same team. The common goal in this real-life game is not our personal glory but God’s. Our opponents are the world, the flesh, and the devil (Ephesians 2:2–3). We fight for victory over these fierce powers, not for victory over brothers and sisters from different churches. Christians, therefore, strive to be a united team. And not only in their own local church, but as the church universal. For the church is one, as God is one. Christ saw the importance of this one team mindset and prayed that you and I might have it: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” (John 17:20–21).
Practically, if we are Christians in a large city-center church and a gospel-preaching church plant sets up around the corner, we shouldn’t scowl and draw our treasure cards close to our chest. Likewise, if we belong to the fledgling church plant, we should see resource-abundant Christians up the road as allies in a victory march, not as other players who could potentially scupper our chances of “winning.” God’s people rejoice when new players join. As Stephen Witmer helpfully writes, “In Psalm 48 we see God blessing his spectacular city, Mount Zion, the wonder of the whole world—and the villages and towns of Judah aren’t jealous. Instead, they’re jubilant, rejoicing along with the city. In the end, neither the city nor the country is ultimate: instead, it’s God who gets the glory.” 
2. Good relationships with other Christians help us capture more treasure.
In Forbidden Island, each player ascertains a certain skill at the start of the game. Some players can move around the board more rapidly; they often get the glory of capturing the most treasure. Other players keep the island from flooding. The Messenger has the very humble power of sharing his or her resource cards with others! To get as many treasures as possible, every player must use their own talents for the whole—even if that means some players collect none.
The same is true when it comes to real-life gospel success. The opportunity to unearth very real treasure—namely, unbelievers coming to Christ and Christians growing to be more like Christ—is often set in motion by recognizing our own aptitude, limitations, and location on the board.
One Christmas, when pastoring in London, I recalled that another local church had a plethora of gifted musicians. Last minute, I asked if they could help us put on an evangelistic carol service. They happily agreed (indeed, even their pastor played!) and the gospel was proclaimed. A few weeks later, a short-term mission team I knew was staying in London. I realized they couldn’t serve our church as we were too far away, but I knew of an opportunity to serve another needy church. Good relationships with other Christians allowed more treasure to be gleaned.
3. Good relationships with other Christians help us shore up our island.
Christian success isn’t only about collecting gospel treasure, but also about building up the church (Ephesians 4:11–16), and therefore keeping weary believers from going under. The very best way to keep Christians afloat is to foster deep relationships within local churches. By joining a certain church, we give certain pastors and certain Christians permission to support us amid the rising floodwaters of temptation, worldliness, and false doctrine.
But sometimes, we need other Christians from other churches to graciously and patiently counsel us. We especially need this if we’re discontent or discouraged about something that’s happening inside our own church. We often need people who are not personally absorbed in what we’re facing to see it clearly. This is not to minimize the work of the local church in the pastoral situation. Indeed, I’ve often found that my best friends outside my church have supported me in such a way that has turned me back to my local church with empathy, compassion, and resilient commitment. Such shoring up can only happen if we work hard to maintain good relationships with Christians from other churches.
4. Good relationships with other Christians remind us our time is short.
There’s a final characteristic of Forbidden Island which parallels the Christian life: time is short. In real life, we only get so many moves to capture sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise. The sands of time are sinking. As a result, Christians must work together locally and quickly. If we spend all our time squabbling over resource cards and planning others’ next moves, then we’ll lose. We should look at the clock as we strategize together for the sake of the lost and the immature. Sometimes we will plant the seed, and it won’t germinate at our church. Sometimes we will faithfully water the plant, only for it to flower elsewhere. The fleetingness of our days here should make us care a little less.
With all this is in mind, how can we maintain good relationships with other Christians from other churches? Here are a few tips.
1. Spend time with other Christians from other churches.
When I pastored in London, once a month I’d go out with a Christian neighbor who was firmly committed to a large Anglican church in the center of London. On a personal level I’d really enjoy it. But spending time with him also reminded me that the Kingdom of God was bigger than my own church. And as he told me all the wonderful things that his church was able to resource, my pride and jealousy were revealed, which consequently helped me to fight them.
2. Encourage your pastor to spend time with pastors from other local churches.
Deep relationships take time. Don’t sigh if you see your pastor out for lunch with his local pastor buddies, and think “Why isn’t he in his study or at the hospital?” Amid all the laughter, he’s hopefully fostering a trust and a unity, which in turn will benefit him, you, and most of all the whole church.
3. Speak well of other churches.
When we mention other churches in passing, there’s the temptation to define them only by their faults. “Do you mean the dancing-in-the-aisles megachurch? Or the stuffy little one where they only let you in with a suit?”
Amazingly, Paul addressed the church at Corinth as “the church of God, those sanctified in Christ, who are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:2, 7) not “the proud, disorderly, sexually licentious Greeks who sue one other and get drunk at the Lord’s Supper.” In the same way, we should work hard to define other churches by their virtues and their standing in Christ. Speak well of those whom you will share eternity with.
4. Pray for other churches.
As we have opportunity, we should pray for all Christians, even those who might attend churches that we have some reservations about. At my current church, we pray for any church in our city that preaches the gospel. We pray for such churches by name in our pastoral prayers in our main weekly gathering. Every week, our small group Bible study notes have a section with names of other local churches to pray for.
5. Give to other local churches.
Again, the primary church we should give to is our own. We have the responsibility and joy to contribute generously and regularly to the ministry we glean the most from. Nevertheless, there may be opportunities to support other churches either directly, or through the encouragement of our church leaders. I remember my former church supporting the work of another in our city. I had some real questions about the robustness of their ecclesiology and their discipleship philosophy. But ultimately, they were moving into an area with no gospel witness. I wouldn’t have made some of the moves they made, but I came to see that they were searching for treasure that I would never be able to exhume. We gave to them, and we rejoiced to hear of their labors for Christ.
We must work together on this sinking island as fearless adventurers on a do-or-die mission. We must play the game in front of us. We must play as best we see fit with the opportunities and skills graciously given. And we must play cooperatively, lest we become an island unto ourselves.