By David Prairie
Introduction: Two Strategies for Missions
All Christians and churches care about obeying Jesus’ great commission to make disciples of all nations. But there is more than one way to engage in cross-cultural ministry.
- The “Traditional” Model
Many of us think of missions in terms of an individual or family crossing a culture, learning a language, and investing deeply in a place where there are few, if any believers. These missionaries typically seek to begin new ministries by launching churches, schools, hospitals, or other organizations over which they become the leader. Through these avenues, the missionary is often viewed as the “expert” and the ministry rises and falls on him.
There are times where this kind of approach may be necessary, such as if a people group is entirely unreached with the gospel. And there is certainly value when missionaries establish long-term roots in one place and adapt to their host culture. But there is another approach as well.
- The “Partnership” Model
Partnership ministries begin not with a project, but with a relationship. The first step is not, “Let’s set out to establish a ministry center in this region.” Instead, it’s, “Let find out who already lives in the region and is serving the Lord there, and maybe we can come alongside him to assist in what he is already doing.”
What is Partnership?
Partnership is a strategy for missions that prioritizes relationships with in-country national believers who are citizens of the land where the ministry is being done. The goal is not to take over or run the partner’s ministry, but rather to assist the partner in his efforts in whatever ways are best for him.
For example, if the partner is a church planter or pastor, he may need books and resources for preaching and discipleship that he doesn’t have access to in his home country. If he is training others for ministry in a Bible school, he may need fellow workers who can provide theological education. If he is working on behalf of orphans and widows, then he may need help with facilities and staffing. If he is seeking to provide physical needs for his community, then he may need funds for groceries or firewood during the winter months.
The possibilities are nearly endless, and they vary based on location, time of year, and type of primary ministry. This means that there is something for everyone. No matter your skill set or preferred location, there are always opportunities to serve partners around the world.
Some may ask, “What if you don’t see eye-to-eye with the partner?” Certainly, this could happen. But before an official partnership is formed, a relationship of trust is built with the partner to ensure that values and philosophy align. Partners become friends, not just co-laborers.
In partnership ministry, the primary connection to the ministry base is native to the land. There is no “learning curve” for the partner. He already knows the language and cultural distinctives of the region because it is home for him.
Reliance on the partner requires humility because it implies that we don’t have all the answers or solutions. It also helps to ensure that the ministry will continue long into the future as investments are made into more national partners. The ministry won’t fade when the missionary retires or dies. It will be carried on with the national partners who are on the ground.
Additionally, partners have access into places where westerners do not. Their citizenship often allows them to move about and work more freely in regions where visitors could not go. In this way, the unreached are often more likely to be reached by partners than by western missionaries.
Partnership in the Bible
Admittedly, there are examples of solo workers called by God to speak as a lone voice for a time. This was the case for certain Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah in Judah (see Isa 6:8-13) and Daniel in Babylon (see Dan 6). Even in the New Testament, Philip on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:26-40) and John during his exile to Patmos (Rev 1:9-11) were called to proclaim Christ while alone.
But the overwhelmingly predominant pattern throughout Scripture involves relational partnerships both locally and globally for the purpose of making God known. Moses was instructed by his father-in-law to surround himself with a plurality of godly and capable leaders to oversee Israel (Exod 18). David recruited the help of an Egyptian man to overthrow God’s enemies and win back his people from capture (1 Sam 30:11-15). Mordecai allied with the Persian king so that God’s covenant people would be preserved from annihilation (Esther 9). Jesus chose twelve followers (Mark 3:13-19) and invested in them for the work they would continue after he returned to heaven. Peter and John joined together with other disciples for the growth of the multi-ethnic church, including establishing a team of deacons (Acts 6:1-7). Paul modeled best how cross-cultural partnerships work, particularly at Philippi. And the pattern of church leadership promoted by the NT authors involved a plurality of elders (rather than a solo pastor) for each local church as it was planted in new places (see Titus 1:5).
Conclusion: The Goal of Partnership
The end goal of these partnerships is the same as the goal is in more “traditional” models: disciples made among every people group on the planet. The vision of every tribe, language, people, and nation around the throne of God giving glory to the Lamb will become a reality (see Rev 5:9; 7:9). Partnering with other believers toward this end deepens our connections with the global church and broadens our opportunities to obey Christ’s great commission.
Authors Note: This article was written on behalf of the leadership team of Live Global, which exists primarily to connect the North American church with partners around the globe for the purpose of joining them as they reach the nations with the gospel. For more information on how Live Global facilitates the kinds of partnership ministries described here, please visit liveglobal.org.