Recently, I spent a week in Europe with a missionary family from our church. For over 10 years, we have partnered with and supported this family as they labor in a very difficult mission field. While there, I attended a newly formed church that, by God’s grace, they had planted. As I listened to this young church worship God in a language different than my own, I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy. Here, before my eyes, was the fruit of the tireless labor of a family sent from our church.
God uses partnerships between missionaries and churches to expand His kingdom. The Apostle Paul spoke fondly of his partnership with churches (Romans 15:22-33, Philippians 1:3-5). Today, many mission boards require their missionaries to form partnerships. When it comes to mission work, we are indeed better together.
Before entering into a mission partnership, it is important to decide if both parties have the same goals, as well as compatible strategies for achieving those goals. While it may seem as if a church and missionary (or mission agency) have the same vision, this is not always the case. For mission partnerships to flourish, the difficult work of defining common goals and strategies must be done in the beginning stages of a partnership — while also being revisited regularly.
Defining the expectations of each party in a mission partnership is essential to the success of the partnership. Asking specific questions about the partnership’s time frame, monetary expectations and overall resource commitment that both sides intend to put into the partnership is crucial to success. This honesty and transparency helps set up the mission partnership for success.
The ministry of the Apostle Paul demonstrates the necessity of prayer in mission partnerships. Not only does Paul ask local churches to pray for him as he looks to advance the kingdom of God, but he also tells them frequently that he is praying for them and their ministry . It can be incredibly encouraging to know that there are brothers and sisters (sometimes on the other side of the world) praying for you and your ministry.
The task of making disciples of all nations is a daunting one. Thankfully, God did not leave us alone, nor did He leave this task to a select few.
Partnerships are two-way streets. However, in mission partnerships, the support often goes only one way. Most missionaries want to support the ministry of their partner churches but don’t know how they can help. The truth is, American churches have a lot to learn from their mission partners. Missionaries have much to offer in terms of training church members and staff — sharing their experiences can be very valuable for American audiences. In a healthy mission partnership, both the church and the missionary see themselves as part of each other’s ministry.
Communication is key to the success of any partnership. Because of differing time zones, differing schedules and the busyness of life, the very nature of mission partnerships can make consistent communication difficult. However, for a mission partnership to thrive, communication must be made a priority by both parties. Missionaries need to know they are not alone. Churches need to be regularly reminded of prayer requests, needs and ways they can support the missionary.
Care and support
As followers of Christ, we are called to encourage one another, rejoice and mourn with one another, spur one another on in love and good deeds and bear each other’s burdens. Geography and distance do not negate these commands. Carrying out these commands with our mission partners demonstrates that we are in this together.
One of the ways Christians make their allegiance to Jesus known is by showing their love for one another. Therefore, it stands to reason that those engaged in partnerships to take the good news to the nations should strive to excel at loving one another. Missionaries, pastors and church members all have the potential to disappoint and disagree with each other. However, love requires extending grace, forgiveness and charity toward each other. Doing so provides opportunities for the gospel to be lived out in front of a watching world and allows partnerships to flourish.
The task of making disciples of all nations is a daunting one. Thankfully, God did not leave us alone, nor did He leave this task to a select few. The missionary task belongs to all followers of Christ. Some will be sent as missionaries while others will stay in local churches to make disciples in their communities and partner with those who go. May we continue to see God move mightily as His people partner together in healthy ways.