Establishing partnerships is one of the most important things a church missions leader will do in their role. For most churches, partnerships are the primary means through which the body “goes” to their neighbors, city, and world to meet needs and share the gospel. Establishing strong and healthy partnerships is vital for churches that are striving to maintain a dynamic approach to making disciples.
Yet, partnerships can also be incredibly challenging. In a way, when a church extends an offer of partnership, it is similar to extending a ring in a proposal. There is a desired outcome in mind, a hopeful vision of the future, but uncertainty about what this commitment actually entails. Merging two lives in marriage can be incredibly complicated yet equally rewarding, and merging two (or more) organizations in a partnership comes with both benefits and challenges as well. Establishing partnerships between churches and parachurch organizations is both an art and a science. There are spiritual and relational elements to establishing ministry partnerships as well as important pragmatic aspects of these relationships too. There are a few key things I have discovered as I’ve navigated church and parachurch partnerships that I think other missions leaders may find helpful as well:
First, I have found that the health of these partnerships is often directly correlated to the health of the relationship between leaders in the church body and the primary leaders of the partnering ministry. I am blessed to serve alongside an incredibly healthy church staff team, but as the person tasked with leading our church body to be externally focused, there are often times when I connect more easily with non-profit ministry leaders than I do with other pastors on my church staff.
The health of our partnerships is connected to how well we are investing in the lives of the people who lead the organizations we work alongside.
As we have partnered with various parachurch ministries, I have found that these leaders and directors have become some of my closest friends and colleagues in ministry. I confidently believe that the health of our partnerships is connected to how well I am investing in the lives of the people who lead the organizations we work alongside. Granted, these relationships ought to be reciprocal, but I believe it is essential for missions leaders working alongside partner organizations to consider the leaders of these organizations as members on their team. As such, we ought to pray for, serve, and care for these friends in ministry. Collaboration, understanding, and creativity are the fruits of caring well for those we co-labor with for the Kingdom.
A Culture of Accountability
Second to establishing healthy partnerships is creating a culture of accountability. Financial resources should never be the nucleus of ministry partnership, but in most cases, they are a relevant factor. Missions leaders and others alongside them (maybe a finance committee or elder board) often function as fiduciaries and stewards of significant amounts of capital that come in through tithes and offerings and that are then distributed by the church, on behalf of the body, to parachurch ministries and non-profits. In my opinion, it is a mistake on the part of the church not to consider the return on investment in partnering ministries or to fail to metric the status of the partnership. In my context, we formulated a partnership metric that serves as a guide for two annual evaluations that occur in June and November of each year with each ministry partner.
During in-person meetings with the primary leaders of each of our partner ministries, we work through this assessment and evaluate the state of the partnership. Together, we celebrate wins and accomplishments, and we work through shortcomings and misunderstandings. We discuss challenges and observations, and we pray together.
We measure and desire growth and health in the things we care about.
If a partnership metrics poorly in June, then an action plan is established for both the church and the partner for working toward improving the relationship prior to the end-of-year assessment in November. If improvements have not been made, then there is the potential that the partnership does not continue. Making these decisions can be painful, but we believe these relationships should be centered on shared goals for making a Kingdom impact. At first glance this process can come across as “corporate” or overly formal; however, the reality is that we measure and desire growth and health in the things we care about. If our partnerships are important to us, then we must measure and assess how they are doing.
The “Drop Everything” Principle
A final essential component of maintaining healthy partnerships is what I call the “drop everything” principle. Our partner organizations have invited us to participate in the work of caring for people and sharing the gospel in our city and around the world, and it is our privilege to serve them. The needs and opportunities that our partners have should never be considered interruptions. For that reason, we have made it our mission to do all we can to meet the needs that emerge from within our partner organizations. We have made it clear to our partners that our building, our resources, the giftedness of our body, and anything else that we have is also theirs to use for accomplishing their goals.
The needs and opportunities that our partners have should never be considered interruptions.
When I meet with partners, one of the questions I always ask them is, “What problems are you facing?” Then we collaborate with them to see if our church body has a way to help them work toward a solution to that problem. In the event a partner has a need and presents us with the opportunity to help find a solution, my leaders have graciously given me the freedom to “drop everything” to help meet that need. I believe it is a best practice for the primary leaders of every church to allow their staff to consider partner organizations as true comrades in ministry. Being a good partner means we are deeply committed to the success of the organizations with which we have chosen to partner in an effort to live and share the gospel in our city and around the world.
Partnership is not a static condition but an evolving relationship that requires maintenance.
Like any relationship, partnerships between churches and parachurch partners require the ability to operate with both nuance and attunement. Partnership is not a static condition but an evolving relationship that requires maintenance. Missions leaders ought to be aware that committing to partnership will ultimately lead to additional work and tough conversations down the road. However, the opportunities that arise from partnering with like-minded ministries exponentially outweigh any challenges that might accompany those partnerships. Partnership is a beautiful expression of the potential that the Body of Christ has to reach the world as both church and parachurch offer themselves as God’s living sacrifices.
Jonah Fox serves as Missions Pastor at Vista Community Church in Temple, TX. Jonah is a graduate of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (BA in Christian Studies) and George W. Truett Theological Seminary (MDiv in World Christianity & Witness). Jonah is married to Brooke, who is a neo-natal/NICU nurse, and they are active foster parents. Jonah can be reached via email at email@example.com.