Together on Mission with God: A Definition for Partnership

Updated: Apr 22

“I thank my God…because of your partnership in the gospel.” Phil 1:3–5

In the previous blog post, we looked at some of the biblical foundations for cross-cultural missional partnerships. In this post, I will give a definition of partnership that clarifies goals, actions, and commonalities in cross-cultural relationships in missions.

A partner, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a person with a joint share in something or who takes part with another in doing something. This rather bland definition emphasizes the relationship between two partners who hold a thing, goal, or activity in common.

Believers have a much more profound and exciting basis for partnership than mere mutual hobbies or business ventures. Instead, we have a common faith in the gospel, a common identity as members of Christ’s body, a common purpose in the Great Commission, and a common hope in our Savior’s return.

So, what is a definition of cross-cultural missional partnership? Cross-cultural missional partnership is 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.

1. Partners orient their relationship toward kingdom goals.

Partnership is a relationship primarily because of our common identity as the children of God who mutually submit to Christ, the head of the church. A partnership is not a relationship that exists in and of itself. Instead, it is oriented toward obedience to King Jesus and the preaching of his kingdom. Individual self-interests go by the wayside as partners mutually lift their eyes to higher purposes.

“Believers have a common faith in the gospel, a common identity as members of Christ’s body, a common purpose in the Great Commission, and a common hope in our Savior’s return.”

Diversity is a key term that notes the many differences that are present in any relationship. These differences may be cultural, economic, educational, social, linguistic, etc. Even though diversity brings known challenges, partners unite together because of a common Lord and a common commitment to the mission of God. Partners embrace diversity and see how the strengths of others complement and enhance their own gifts, leading to synergy in the mission task.

Theological convictions drawn from Scripture set parameters and limitations on who we can partner with in missions. The goals of unity and partnership do not imply the abandonment or compromise of the gospel or core doctrines of the faith. A starting point for partnership is agreement about the faith and the mission. Without this basic agreement we cannot participate with others in a true, faithful, or united partnership. Partners need both conviction and discernment so they can participate together in ways that lead to worship among the nations.

2. Partners appreciate the diverse, complementary gifts that each partner possesses.

By God’s grace, he apportions spiritual gifts as well as resources and skills to each partner. Every partner has something they can give and something they need to receive from the partnership. We should value the contributions that others make to the relationship and to the common task. Partners see that they need one another and strive side by side for the gospel (Phil 1:5, 27).

Unfortunately, relationships in missions have often taken the form of paternalism, control, or sponsorship of national believers. Both relationships and the task break down when one party controls another or provides all the resources. Missiologists have responded to these unhealthy practices by calling for local ownership of the missionary task and local church functions.

3. Partners share common theological convictions and goals for ministry.

Partnership should never simply form a relationship for the sake of relationship. Kingdom-oriented partners share the same commitment to the fundamentals of the faith that include the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:1–7). Partners believe that they must preach the gospel to the whole world and that those who don’t believe will face the wrath of God (John 3:36).

“The goal and future reality of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation worshipping the Lamb motivates believers to partner together now.”

Partners need more than these common values to continue a relationship together; they also need a common purpose. The Great Commission is the common task that every believer has received to be an ambassador of Christ (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Cor 5:18–20). Faithfulness to the command of the Lord Jesus demands that believers partner with others who received the same call. The goal and future reality of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation worshipping the Lamb motivates believers to partner together now (Rev 5:9).

4. Partners engage together in the task of missions.

Partners do not simply enjoy the passive company of the other partner because of some common history or mutual interest. We act, participate, and engage in a common enterprise. Because of the challenge and urgency of the task, we should be willing to suffer and endure hardship in order to fulfill our calling. We do hard things together because of the God we serve and because of the eternal significance of our actions.

A poor picture of partnership is passive fellowship around a meal in the church dining room. A better illustration is a team of athletes in a contest who are sweating and laboring together for victory. The work of partners in missions is strenuous and fraught with dangers. By striving together in the power of the Holy Spirit we can encourage one another in both kingdom faithfulness and fruitfulness.

Partners believe the gospel and form partnerships based on a common commitment to the Word of God. Partners unite and relate to other believers based on mutual submission to King Jesus. Partners serve the lost and one another by using diverse gifts to complement one another and meet spiritual and physical needs. Partners engage in the mission of God by participating in ministries that sow the gospel, make disciples, plant churches, and develop indigenous leadership.

In the third and final blog post of this series, I will address some basic principles and practices of healthy cross-cultural missional partnerships.

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.