Cooperation is a beautiful thing.
From time to time, churches, ministry organizations, and individual Christians find it useful to voluntarily partner with other churches, organizations, and Christians for some shared purpose or to meet a specific need.
An example of a ministry partnership might be when a group of churches work together to conduct a community-wide evangelistic crusade. Another example could be a Sunday School class that collects supplies each month to donate to a local homeless shelter. Another example could be when a church partners with a missionary or church planter through prayer, financial support, and providing boots on the ground.
A biblical example of a ministry partnership can be found in Paul’s partnership with the church at Philippi, a church he planted earlier in his ministry. When he writes his letter to the church approximately ten years later, he speaks in Phil. 1:5 of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” – a partnership that we learn later involved the sharing of personnel (Phil. 2:19-30) and financial resources (Phil. 4:10-20). It was also a partnership that had existed since the church was initially founded (Phil. 1:5; 4:15).
When thinking about ministry partnerships today, the possibilities are endless. These partnerships come in all shapes and sizes, but they share some common characteristics. Here are seven characteristics of effective ministry partnerships:
- Shared vision. Ministry partnerships always involve a common vision. Everyone involved in the partnership wants to see that vision realized, and they believe that they are more likely to accomplish it if they work together. For example, a church might have a vision to plant 5 new churches in a specific region within 15 years. That church would benefit from partnering with other churches or mission organizations that share a vision of planting healthy churches within their region.
- Shared values. Ministry partnerships often include some shared values. These are things that are important to each member of the partnership. A good example of this is when a church partners with a local pregnancy care center. Both organizations value the sanctity of human life, and they want to work together to protect it.
- Shared beliefs. While it’s unnecessary for ministry partners to agree on every jot and tittle of doctrine, there should be an agreement in the basic fundamentals of the faith when two faith-based organizations are working together. For example, a church that is looking for church planting ministry partners will have to agree on an understanding of what constitutes a church. However, it should also be noted that this only applies to those partnerships between two faith-based organizations. When a church partners with a local public school to meet some type of need for a portion of the student population (for example), the need for shared beliefs is less critical. However, there should still be a mutual understanding of what the church believes and what they might potentially share in their interaction with students and faculty.
- Shared burdens. Many partnerships develop out of a shared burden to meet a particular need. Two churches that are passionate about ministering to their local deaf population might partner together to do so more effectively. A church that has a heart for orphans would find it advantageous to partner with a Christian foster care agency. A local association of churches with a burden to get the gospel to the nations can partner together to do so.
- Shared resources. Effective ministry partnerships often involve the sharing of resources. Those resources could be financial in nature, such as the Philippian church’s financial support of Paul’s ministry mentioned earlier (Phil. 1:3-6, 4:10-20). Those resources could involve the sharing of people, such as a larger church sending out a group of members to serve a role in a smaller church for a season. Those resources could also include needed supplies, materials, or equipment. Much like the early church shared their resources whenever there was a need among them (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37), many ministry partnerships today often include the sharing of resources.
- Shared expectations. Members of a ministry partnership should develop a shared understanding of what is expected of each ministry partner. What are we expected to bring to the partnership? What are our unique responsibilities or contributions? What expectations should we have for our ministry partners? What do they bring to the table? It’s best to have these conversations and agree upon these expectations at the outset of the partnership.
- Shared benefits/blessings. Effective ministry partnerships have a way of blessing all members of the partnership. Depending on your role in the partnership, your blessing may look different than the blessing of others, but the best partnerships end up being a blessing to all participants. For example, your church may collect a number of new and gently used pairs of shoes for a local mercy ministry center to distribute to needy children. The ministry center is blessed with an abundant inventory, and your church is blessed with the satisfaction of knowing that you met a legitimate need. And many children in your community now have a comfortable pair of shoes to wear. Blessings all around!
Effective ministry partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. However, most partnerships will share these seven common characteristics.
Exploring Potential Partnerships
We read in Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together without agreeing to meet?” As you explore potential ministry partnerships, you must make sure that you can indeed “walk together.” To assist in this process, use the characteristics above as a guide to assess the feasibility of the partnership. Consider the following questions:
- Do we have a shared vision with this potential partner?
- Do we share similar values with this potential partner?
- Do we share common core beliefs with this potential partner (if applicable)?
- Do we share similar burdens with this potential partner?
- What resources would be shared with and from this potential partner?
- What is expected of each member of this potential partnership?
- What are the potential benefits/blessings of this partnership?
The beauty of cooperation is the belief that we can accomplish more when we work together than we can do on our own. We act on this belief by voluntarily agreeing to enter into partnerships with others in order to accomplish a variety of shared goals. May God bless you as you partner with others to accomplish great things for the Lord!