National churches and organizations round the globe form partnerships with foreign churches and mission agencies. Such cooperation can prove energizing, leading to more effective evangelism and development. It can also prove a snare, when unwise partnership agreements entice workers into garnering foreign resources. Resultant misunderstanding leads to disappointment and distrust.
Let your church or organization follow these guidelines for partnerships, to avoid common errors that make partnerships go sour. The errors arise from flaws in both national churches and partnering organizations.
1. Make sure both parties embrace the same strategy.
If you collaborate with a church in another country that has no strategy, then help it to develop one that builds on Christ’s Great Commission and on loving obedience to Christ. Allow their strategy to be different from yours in minor details, especially where different cultures and economic conditions prevail.
Churches, do not enter into partnership when a co-operating mission’s personnel have a strategy that differs in its basic thrust from yours, lest you and they become frustrated. If your strategy includes multiplying new congregations through mentoring novice shepherds, then make sure that a potential partner shares that conviction by helping churches to reproduce. Keep your vision clear, your strategy intact, and your methods current, lest you lose your partners and stunt your church’s global impact.
2. Beware of competing strategies.
Many national churches have multiple mission partners from other countries and missions.
A church that collaborates with different mission agencies can find itself in a situation similar to polygamy. As multiple wives vie for their husband’s favor, so partners can compete for the churches’ allegiance. In forming partnerships, your church or agency loses something of its autonomy, and so does the national church. Partnerships become painful when each partner thinks that it has a superior program that they believe the national church should adopt. Partnerships, while beneficial, will make your task more complicated.
3. Promise only what you can deliver; keep expectations on both sides realistic.
Avoid expecting partners to deliver many services at lower cost to your church; this applies to both ‘sending’ churches and ‘receiving’ churches. Try not to expect more than what the partnership will deliver. Make sure that your partner understands any “strings” attached to funds you give. As one national worker expressed—too late—‘a demon was riding on every dollar we received.’ Make sure that both partners know that research shows that national believers give much less to their church when they know that foreigners donate funds to it. Effective partnerships arrange for proportional giving. ‘Parent’ partners should give only when the national church members give. Partners from parent churches work only when national church members work, too.
4. Form partnerships only after careful research, and continue close coordination.
Assess potential partners, their capabilities, resources and reliability. The Bible says, “Let deacons first be tested.” Test your potential partners. The Bible also says, “Do not lay hands quickly on any man.” Don’t be in a hurry to conclude agreements or partnerships with national churches or local churches. Learn as much as you can about them and take your time before committing, just as you would when considering marriage. Balancing and accommodating their different efforts, theologies, personalities and resources will require all the management skill that God gives to you. Once a partnership agreement is signed, your management task is only beginning, and it will increase.
5. Develop a spirit of cooperation in ‘win-win’ partnerships rather than competition.
While negotiating partnerships, continually follow the biblical guideline of equality: both partners contribute to the needs of the other. Does your church need training? Materials? Advocacy? Your partner has needs as well — maybe legal advice, travel arrangements, simple hospitality, language helpers, accounting reports? “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.”
6. If you are a missionary, then let national churches depend primarily on their own local resources, and help national workers take your place.
The assumption by Western churches that cheap foreign help is the key to fulfill the Great Commission discounts other important factors. A church should envision multiplying congregations by continually raising up national shepherds and by sending its own missionaries to neglected peoples. Look for partners who have a commitment to transferring your knowledge and skill to their personnel. The national church should envision sending its own missionaries to neglected peoples — workers who will not return home on the next air flight.
7. Expect changes in your roles and relationships with national churches.
Both partners will periodically have to make changes. Enjoy the adventure! All organizations change, especially those in countries whose culture and economy change rapidly. New leaders bring changes in vision, strategies, methods and funding. You might want to form agreements on a one-year or a two-year basis. Review both your partners and your agreements regularly and propose amendments when needed. Give your partners time to think them over, before asking them to confirm changes. If your partners cannot change to suit your strategy, then you may have to bless them in Jesus’ name and work elsewhere. Your partners do not own you; you belong to the Lord and sometimes must show ‘tough love.’
8. Hone the skills of your supervisors.
Do not simply assume that supervisory capabilities necessary to manage partnerships exist in your church or mission agency. Spirit-giftedness does not come with complete maturity, skill or wisdom. Your church or mission agency may not yet have personnel with the skill and experience to coordinate partnerships. Recognizing this lack early; teaching these guidelines can lead to growth and competence rather than to frustration and criticism. You might want to ask the national church to help train and orient its personnel or to help it get training by other, more experienced, trainers. Delegate some managerial responsibilities to new workers. Some may become more competent managers than you are yourself, but you will find that they also will remain loyal to you if you trust and encourage them.