“Gospel movements move at the speed of trust.” That’s what my colleague shared as we sat around a table with a group of Tanzanian pastors in their city of Dar es Salaam. What drew us here wasn’t the warm weather or the ocean views but the possibility of partnership. As we enjoyed a meal together, my love for this city of 6 million was growing. New bonds of trust were beginning to form.
Global partnerships have always been at the core of the church’s mission strategy. But we’ve entered a new era of collaborative opportunities. World Christianity scholar F. Lionel Young III says we’re living in the century of partnership. Changes in technology, transportation, and globalization have flung open the door to cooperation among Christians around the globe. This is an exciting time in world missions, but it’s a moment that requires us to rethink our partnership paradigms.
The shift in global Christianity has been well documented. What hasn’t been as well discussed are the how-tos of global partnerships. At first, collaboration sounds great. But where do we start? How do we take our desire for partnerships from a good idea to real practices and strategies? I believe trust isn’t just the fuel that propels gospel movements—it’s the spark that starts the engine. Here are three questions to help you begin to develop global partnerships for the gospel.
Whom Do You Trust?
In the past, missionaries would return and tell stories of locals being trained and equipped. We still need to be sending traditional missionaries to do that work. But our mission paradigm should include partnering directly with indigenous leaders.
However, I often receive this question: “If I don’t have existing global relationships, where do I start?” This is my answer: You’re closer to your next global partner than you think. You’re only one introduction away. The barriers that once kept us only hearing or reading about the amazing work of indigenous leaders are dissipating. Through technology, travel, and globalization, we’re now in an era that allows us to build direct relationships with local leaders.
Our mission paradigm should include partnering directly with indigenous leaders.
Global partnerships never start with a telemarketer-like cold call. Collaboration grows out of relationships. When you go looking for a church or leader to work with, start by asking the people you already know and trust for introductions. Whom do your existing missionaries recommend? Can a pastor you know connect you with someone he trusts? When looking to start a new partnership, work from the relationships you already have that can get you started in the right direction.
How Do You Earn Trust?
Money has a way of making a mess of missions. For far too long, money has skewed Western perspectives on partnership. North American churches have too often approached partnerships by asking whether indigenous leaders can be trusted with American funding. This mindset must go. While we should seek to be good stewards of our resources, the radical generosity of our Savior should mark our posture in partnership.
Once we’ve been introduced to a potential partner, our first foot forward must be one of generosity, not suspicion. A mindset of suspicion approaches a relationship only asking whether the other party is trustworthy. But a mindset of generosity approaches a relationship seeking to be a trustworthy person.
How do we do this? We start by showing genuine interest in them, not just in what we expect them to do. We also shouldn’t expect the potential partner to put more work into the relationship than we do.
Trust takes time to build, but we can start in small ways. If they’re doing a youth camp, we can offer to help provide scholarships to their students. If they have a training program for leaders in their church, we can ask if there’s a book they’d like and provide copies for them. If possible, you can invite the pastor to come visit your church and even preach. These are small ways to develop the relationship, and they can go a long way toward building long-term partnerships.
What Are You Trusting God For?
As I sat around the table with the Tanzanian pastors, one of the questions we began to ask is what they were asking God to do in their city. The best way to build a partnership is by building a shared vision. The apostle Paul developed such a vision among churches stretched across the Mediterranean by making the gospel primary, showing deep affection for others, and communicating ministry needs.
A mindset of generosity approaches a relationship seeking to be a trustworthy person.
A shared vision helps you align resources and take tangible action. It enables those in the partnership to pray with specificity and passion for the mission. A shared vision also helps to reinforce the value of collaboration among the partners. This is especially important in times of crisis, and it helps the partnership weather the challenges that inevitably arise in the course of a long-term, cross-cultural relationship.
The work of the gospel in a city or region is too much for any one church. As the famous Japanese author Ryunosuke Satoro is quoted as saying, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” So it is with believers around the world.
It’s through gospel partnerships across cultural and geographic borders that I believe we’ll one day see Habakkuk’s vision come to pass. May God use our collective efforts for the sake of Christ so the whole earth will be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).