At our national convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in July 2017, a gentleman told me he had been praying daily for partnerships. He paused and added, “…but I don’t know what they are.” He’s not the only one. Since then, several other people have said similar things.
In IM’s context, a partnership is cooperation between IM and other organizations working internationally. When compared to many international organizations, we are small. We have personnel and financial limitations. We don’t have workers in every country around the world, nor do we provide all the types of missionary ministries available. But we are able to expand our capabilities and scope of work when we work with others in a cooperative way—a partnership.
You only have a partnership when all those cooperating “bring something to the table” to accomplish a common goal. They don’t all necessarily bring the same thing or in the same quantity. At a potluck dinner, one person may bring meat while another contributes a vegetable dish or drinks. Some don’t bring food but help cook, set up tables, or clean up after the meal. In our partnerships, some of our common contributions are personnel, finances, expertise, labor, and materials.
We use the following principles for partnerships.
All participate. As I mentioned above, everyone contributes something. A partnership is not a handout. Partners work together. The type or level of participation might not be the same, but everyone contributes what they have to offer. For example, the seminary in Cuba needed the women’s dorm renovated and the second floor finished. IM put together a project, FWB Foundation provided funds, and Cuba and The Hanna Project (THP) provided labor.
Interdependence. In Western culture (especially North America and Europe), people are taught independence. Each individual is expected to become autonomous and as self-sufficient as possible. Though bearing some merit, when pushed too far, autonomy doesn’t resemble biblical teaching. The New Testament persistently admonishes Christians to a life of mutuality (see the “one another” passages) and community. This biblical principle promotes interdependence rather than independence. Partnerships allow us to practice this principle.
Empower national believers. As we work with believers from other countries and people groups, we want to empower them and enhance the national church’s effectiveness in evangelism, discipleship, church planting, training, and missions. We aren’t looking to control others but work as partners in ministry.
Avoid dependency. As we work in partnerships and empower believers in other countries, our goal is to increase their capabilities without creating dependency. Doing things for others they should be doing for themselves does not help. To the contrary, it hinders their ability to develop and grow.
Work through national associations. Many of our partnership projects are with Free Will Baptist works in other countries. Over several decades, through IM, FWBs have sent missionaries to pioneer evangelistic work, plant churches, disciple new believers, and train leaders. In places like Brazil, Panama, Cuba, Ivory Coast, India, and South Korea, we have mature churches with mature leaders. They have formed national associations, making our continued presence unnecessary in most of these countries. We want to respect those associations and strengthen the work as a whole. When we partner with a national association in another country, we sit down with the national leadership to determine together what is most beneficial for the work as a whole.
We believe approaching partnerships in this manner not only empowers local leadership but also advances God’s Kingdom.