Sunday, February 9, 2014

Understanding Partnership in Missions

Partnership is one of those buzzwords universally lauded in Christian mission circles today.  In our training we were told often that in order for our work to be effective, we as missionaries would have to partner with the local church structures.  It's an idea that is easy to understand in the classroom.

The dirty little secret, though, is that in out in the field, partnership is much harder to pull off than people think.

Here in Montepuez, our team is registered with the government under the name 'Good News for Africa.'  We are a fellowship of missionaries serving all over the country who all hail from the Restoration/Stone-Campbell Movement (Churches of Christ and Christian Church).  And on the ground we partner with local churches.

As we plan and dream and work together with Mozambican churches, the truth is that it can be difficult to navigate the different objectives and expectations.

Recently, I came across a set of analogies from the world of relief and development that are also helpful for thinking critically about partnership between local churches and missions organizations.

Deborah Ajulu's book Holism in Development talks briefly about NGOs and practically how funding agencies end up working in partnership with local agencies.  "Through negotiations and detailed discussions, agreements to work in partnership are reached.  These partnerships take different forms, three of which were described by Tearfund (in Good News to the Poor, 13):

  • Horse and Rider: A form of partnership in which the 'rider,' who holds the reins, is in charge and decides the course of things; the 'horse' simply complies.  The Northern agency is likened to the rider, for it has the resources; hence, it is in charge, and determines the course of the development process with which the local agency, the horse, has to comply.
  • Cow and Milker: A partnership in which the 'milker' (local agency) tries to get as much 'milk' (assitance) from the 'cow' (Northern agency) as possible.
  • Two Oxen:  An ideal partnership (unlike the previous two), in which 'two oxen' (agencies)are yoked together to perform the same task."(p. 171-172)

At different points in our time here in Africa, our team's relationship to the local church structure could be described by each of these metaphors.  Sometimes it feels like people are trying to milk us for all they can, sometimes it feels like our team has used our financial influence in ways that allowed us to drive the agenda but then at other times, by God's grace, we end up in that sweet spot of really sharing the load and working side by side towards common objectives.

I think it is natural for a mission organization and local church structure to struggle to consistently partner well and end up drifting between these three metaphors.

But, the ideal of the two oxen who share the yoke is a good one, one we should work hard to live out.  Ajulu goes on to say that "because they both share the same objective, any comparative advantages possessed by one is applied for the good of the other, for effective accomplishment of the common objective.  This form will perhaps be more attractive to agencies in light of common evidence suggesting that the other two forms of partnership usually fail to achieve desired outcomes effectively." (p. 172)

May God bless the global church to consistently work in healthy and effective partnership.

Grace and Peace,

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