How can agencies and churches work together? How do we partner with agencies and churches from the non-western world? Chris Neal led our reflections at our ‘A Passion for Mission’ event dealing with the whole issue of what partnership could look like. Chris’ talk it is now available on audio CD from the online shop on the Global Connections website. We approached a variety of individuals from the Global Connections network to give additional perspectives from organisations with very different ministries.
Malcolm Macdonald is vicar of St Barnabas, Kensington and reflects on “Three Things every Church Should Know About Partnership”
For many mission-minded local churches there are very real issues focussed on the question of genuine partnership with agencies and churches overseas. Issues of financial inequality, language barriers and lack of personal relationship can call into question how meaningful or authentic these so-called 'partnerships' really are. Here at St Barnabas, Kensington we try to remember three basic things that help us in our desire to have an increasing reality of partnership.
1. Relationship is everything!
Meaningful relationship with Christians overseas is about participating in their life. It is far from colonial paternalism where the 'west blessed the rest'; rather a deepening of relationship which encourages interdependence. Recently, I met with one of our Mission Partners, an African Pastor who has planted over 50 churches in Burkina Faso and Mali. He needed £600 to employ an Assistant and we were happy to help financially, but as he spoke to our church, he imparted a real vision for prayer and a powerful spirituality. We needed his ministry and he needed ours! We participated interdependently with each other financially, prayerfully and in relationship. More than that, we needed Christ in him and he needed Christ in us!
2. Your shape is unique!
Many churches either do too little or take on too much because of the felt need. Find your shape, your distinctive destiny as a church in mission. How is God forming your church and how does that formation shape your mission? God has recently begun to minister to families and children here. As we discerned this we also felt a call to reach children at risk as part of our mission vision - this was part of our shape, which excited us!
3. Think big and simple!
In 2006 the vision was to help '1000 children at risk'. This vision was big and simple. Each of our Mission Partners was involved where they were with the children around them. That year we impacted over 2700 children in some physical or spiritual way across seven nations. We had one vision that united all our Partners, alongside other ministries. This involved prayer, giving, short-term sending, supporting specific projects and raising awareness in our church.
Genuine partnership is about the heart. It goes far deeper than language or resource issues. It inspires a vision and stirs up love. Put depth of relationship with the overseas partner as your primary goal and deeper partnership will follow.
Ray Porter, is Director of World Mission Studies at Oak Hill Theological College
True partnership is difficult to achieve and needs continual work. Frequently partnerships begin with one party sensing that they can give something to the other. Often this is material, but sometimes it is spiritual. Paul, in Romans 1:12, wants his relationship with the church in Rome to be on the basis of mutual benefit and one that is centred on the Gospel. In his letter he grapples with the internal partnership between Jews and Gentiles in one congregation. His ministry and theirs was part of a bigger picture of God’s work of salvation in which both had a part to play.
One church may have more material resources, but the other is also created by God with all the riches of his grace. A materially poor church may have many lessons to teach a rich church about contentment and dependence on God. A church with an enthusiasm for evangelism may learn from one that is mature in teaching and encourage the other in reaching out to new people. If there is to be true partnership, each must ask themselves what can they contribute and receive. There must be the bigger picture of what God is doing in each country. Partnerships that fail to do this distort the local Christian scene and fail to use the resources that God has already given within the country. There may be struggles of communication between foreign and local congregations, but the linguistic resources for establishing gospel partnerships will be available in the broader Christian community. As Paul did in Rome, external partnerships have a great role in rebuilding relationships within a country for the unity of the Church and the advance of the Gospel. With this the partnership of the whole people of God are more firmly established to his glory.
Andy Dipper is the CEO of Release International, an agency supporting persecuted believers
How can partnership be equal when resources are not?
Partnership must be so much more than giving financial resources. The word ‘equal’ assumes each comes to the table with the same balance of resources and needs. Actually a better term would be ‘mutual’; each member contributes into the work and it is the beneficiary who gains from this collection of contributions. The focus needs to be on the individual or community who is impacted by the work, whether a recipient of relief aid, a small business entrepreneur or someone who hears the Gospel message. It is important to focus beyond the ownership of the resources and see everything that each party has as God’s resources to be combined to see the Kingdom grown. Tangible resources may be in the form of finances, physical assets and willing hands, but it is the intangible and human resources often brought to the partnership by local organisations which are often of greater long term benefit. Skills, networks, access to the most needy are difficult to put a price on, and yet are absolutely vital in weighing the balance of whether a project will succeed or fail.
How do you help churches in this country develop genuine partnerships?
I believe in God’s One Church and that his plan for our world is for us as his Church to take responsibility for practically living out our faith, in our local situations. There is a need for local church fellowships to be connected to one another, accountable and Bible-based. Spending time, focusing leadership training, being true to God’s Word and having a long term commitment are essential ingredients to developing churches and effective partnerships. It cannot be driven from the outside, however. Rather it needs to emerge from within, a deep longing desire to work alongside other brothers and sisters to grow in effectiveness for building God’s Kingdom.
Can we have genuine partnerships when one partner is not speaking in their mother tongue?
Absolutely, yes! Communication is vital and if the partners do not speak the same language then investment is needed to ensure that this gap is bridged. This involves not only the words, being accurately translated, but also the context and meaning so that nuances and intentions are clearly mutually understood. There is huge value in gaining a cross-cultural understanding during the process of building an effective partnership. We would do well to invest time in language learning, and not automatically expect others to learn English. We also may need a mindset change, thinking outside our mental boxes; with globalisation there is an assumption that we all understand one another universally, and yet in reality we know that the pace of life and expectations vary enormously around the world.