In a previous blog post, I defined cross-cultural missional partnership as a kingdom-oriented relationship of culturally diverse groups of believers who share common values and goals, who possess complementary spiritual gifts, skills, and resources, and who mutually engage in the mission of God.
In this post, I want to suggest how missionaries, churches, and agencies can begin these kinds of partnerships. Here are a few suggestions I would encourage you to consider.
Clarify the Commonalities
A successful partnership is dependent upon all parties mutually submitting to the cross of Christ and the authority of Scripture. When everyone involved shares common convictions, they have an immovable anchor upon which to build strong relationships and engage in a shared task. When agreement on core theological or missiological points is missing, compromise and frustration are inevitable.
Jesus prayed for his disciples and future followers to have unity based on the unity he has with the Father (John 17:13). A watered-down theology or compromised set of convictions that prioritizes relationships at any cost will not create this kind of bond between believers. Missional partnerships are only possible among those who believe the gospel and seek to work to promote the glory of Christ. Jesus continues his prayer for believers by saying the unity of believers should lead to the world believing that he is the Son of God (John 17:18–21).
1. Identify what theological commonalities are necessary for the work you desire to do together.
2. Put the foundational convictions you agree upon in writing.
Define the Goal
A partnership without a task is merely a fellowship.
If convictions anchor the relationship to unchanging gospel truths, then agreeing upon future goals provides direction for partners to pursue together. A partnership without a task is merely a fellowship––meaning the mutual, passive enjoyment of a relationship or appreciation for the same object.
Paul’s relationship with partners centered on the gospel, which meant they were striving together for a common goal (Phil 1:5, 27). Paul often used the words “co-laborer” or “co-worker” to describe partners who joined with him in the proclamation and ministry of the gospel (Phil 1:7; 4:3).
It is vital to include local partners in the process of both identifying problems and developing solutions. The imposition of strategies by outsiders with limited knowledge and understanding can derail the relationship and the efforts to accomplish their shared task. Engagement by local partners at every stage is necessary for achieving and sustaining the goal.
Engagement by local partners at every stage is necessary for achieving and sustaining the goal.
3. Ask questions of local believers and listen as they identify needs from their perspective.
4. Define together what success will look like and what it will take to realize the goal.
Identify the Resources
God has gifted each partner and organization in the partnership with unique people, resources, and skills to achieve the agreed-upon objectives. Each partner has something to contribute, and each partner needs the assistance of others. If one partner could do it all, then partnership would not be necessary.
Healthy partners assume they have something to give and humbly admit they need the help of others. Partners should remember the powerful biblical image of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12). Diversity within a body means different parts must work together for the common good and can accomplish an objective only as the parts cooperate. Each part of the body is functionally dependent on the other members, and each part complements the contributions of others.
Healthy partners assume they have something to give and humbly admit they need the help of others.
Implementing this step has the potential to reveal the different assumptions and attitudes of each partner. Historically, control by cultural outsiders and loss of dignity by cultural insiders characterized many unhealthy partnerships; therefore, resources should never merely move from one party to another without mutual participation, giving, and sacrifice.
5. Partners should identify what is needed to accomplish the task together.
6. Each partner should identify the strengths and resources they bring to the partnership.
7. Each partner should acknowledge the other partners’ strengths and admit where they need help.
Engage in the Task Together
Healthy partners not only agree on convictions, goals, and resources, but they also do something together. If you begin a partnership, you need to start working together on a shared task. Building a relationship is essential, but you are not together for the sake of the relationship alone. Believers share the same Lord and the same commission, and we have been called to run this race together. Relationships develop as partners do hard things together and help one another along the way.
Deep bonds develop by walking through challenges together and successfully coming out on the other side. Partners have a common faith, a common Savior, and a common task–to join in the mission of God to spread the glory of his name and receive the worship that he alone is worthy to receive. Healthy partnerships proclaim the gospel, build up the church, and serve their communities. Gospel partnerships are built on action and not merely on remembering or reflecting upon shared beliefs.
8. Work out a strategy that utilizes the strengths of each partner and begin putting it in place.
9. Practice early assessment, communication, and adjustment to help your strategy become a success.
Find and Utilize a Cross-Cultural Coach
Anyone engaged in cross-cultural partnerships will make mistakes. Utilizing a cross-cultural coach can help minimize conflict and misunderstanding by giving insight into your partner’s culture. This person might be a national with cross-cultural experience or a missionary who lives in the country and has learned the language and customs. Coaches can help explain differences, save you from causing unintended offense, and help you negotiate unspoken expectations.
10. Identify a coach who can consult and communicate with both partners in the relationship.
Finally, I would like to provide two helpful resources for those seeking to partner in cross-cultural settings:
Joshua Bowman holds a PhD in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is Assistant Professor of Missions and Theology at Cedarville University. He served with his wife, Amy, and their four children in Zambia and South Asia with the International Mission Board for seventeen years as a church planter, church strengthening strategist, and team leader.