Partnership Field Guide: A Step-by-step Process for Building Ministry Partnerships, visionSynergy, 60 pages. This document was prepared by visionSynergy for the participants of The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization held in Cape Town, South Africa, October 2010 and can be found at: http://goo.gl/KkS6n
Reviewed by Mak Hon Chiu
The subject of this book, as stated on the first page, is to affirm the collaboration of Christians working together that has proved effective in the building up of the kingdom of God—especially in the context of the building up of believers' communities in new language groups. Working together through partnerships among Christians is the means by which the work is done. Therefore, we find the themes of both Christian collaboration and the making of a partnership in this work. It would be a mistake to assume that the Guide is written only for the technical formation of a partnership framework and stops there. With this in mind, the reader will profit from the Guide.
Why is partnership advocated as the method? The answer is that collaboration through partnership makes sense in the face of the enormous tasks that confront the believing community. In an effort to effectively carry out meaningfully ministry, it becomes natural to combine ministries and resources such as information and manpower as opposed to individualistic action. In one sense, the worldwide development of mass communication and ease of travel makes this easier. Therefore, the building up of ministry teams, in whatever form is required in a given society, becomes a priority. For this reason, the details of the formal structure are of secondary concern while a common vision held by Christians and a high view of the Bible must remain the same.
The Guide addresses the formation of a partnership by providing guidelines for the preliminary thoughts of why there should be a partnership or exploration, how to create a partnership or formation, and suggestions for its operation. It also suggests ways to ensure the continuity and growth of the partnership. In other words, the value of the Guide is that it provides a serious focus on all the processes involved in partnership.
We are reminded that in any ministry it is important to look not only at the outer "shell" but also the inner workings. The reader has to know himself and must also know his co-worker or partner. Knowing oneself is not as easy a task as it appears! It involves one's searching for one's vision, mission, potential and style. Knowing one's partner is an even more daunting task. Before a partnership is formed, for each of the parties a mutual exploration of who they are, what they care about and what they do best is required. The Guide reminds us that no one should be serving or even promoting his or her own interests; rather, we are all serving the same God.
A commonly-owned vision and the definition of the people who are to be the target group are the driving forces for both the formation and continuation of the partnership. There must also be mutual trust within the partnership which will allow for the sharing of resources, such as information and finances, in order for the partnership to be a success. The objective is not the success of one individual but of the kingdom of God. Keeping secrets in order to excel over another is not part of an environment of trust.
It is one thing to be successful in building up an organization but quite another to build up a successful partnership. Once a partnership is in place, its operation is no longer an individual matter. Are partners able to present their goals? One has to rethink the partnership's objective or reason for existence. In appropriate cases, self-examination leading to readjustment might be necessary. This is a good thing for refinement. The existence of a commonly-held objective is one of the keys to success. However, the recognition of one's objective by someone else is proof of unselfish ambition. That is a confirmation that we are serving the same Lord for similar objectives. We not only gain a partner in our faith journey but we also gain a confirmation that we are going in the right direction.
When Christians work in partnership, wonderful things happen. Partnership, which is a small community, is born out of the character of God. When we join together and work for the common cause of building up the kingdom of God, we are like an integrated asset. We demonstrate how the body of Christ works as an orchestrated function of all the different, spirit-inspired parts. It is also a witness on a different level, since it is a community witness as opposed to an individual witness. The blessing does not stop there. The Holy Spirit is only released when God's people dwell in unity.*
Managing the Partnership: The First Step
Management of an organization is necessary even without a partnership. In the case of partnerships, the management aspect involves new dimensions. The creation of a facilitator is an effective way of making the partnership function in that communication, and hence discussion, are recognized as important matters. The implication is that decisions are no longer dictated by one head but are arrived at through a community of leaders representing the members of the partnership.
The office of facilitator is key for managing the partnership. The facilitator coordinates the day-to-day operations. It is helpful if the facilitator is identified early on and is present for meetings from the beginning. Besides the facilitator, simple guidelines on managing important matters that affect all partners are valuable. Additional staff may be helpful too. This is worth mentioning because the ability of operating a business may not be strong for many Christians. Perhaps a reminder of this will challenge the assumption of Christians who believe that things will be all right without making any deliberate effort.
Is documentation a desirable thing? Paperwork arising out of legal or local government requirements is inevitable. Yet, in addition, the parties may choose to write something more such as a memorandum of understanding (MOU). These are the important things or conditions to the formation and continuation of the partnership which need to be monitored throughout the life of the partnership. Depending on the strength of the partnership, the document may approach something like a "shareholders' agreement." If there is substantial appropriation of resources, it is good to have professional advice in order to bear witness to the world that things are done in a clean and transparent way. Verbal discussions may fade from memories, so a written record is one way to keep the agreement alive. This is a neutral procedure and is not necessarily a sign of mistrust.
Life of Partnership
A partnership should not be seen as an event but as a processas an ongoing undertaking. Probably the mature view is to leave the partnership open-ended as circumstances will dictate whether it is more practical to dissolve it after a project is finished or to continue on with it. The relationship between the partners may be more important than the existence of the product from the relationship. If that is not the case, there may exist a pressure to keep the partnership even though it has reached the end of its meaningful existence. An early and clear definition of how the partnership should end, in what manner and the appropriation of assets is useful.
*See Partners in the Gospel, The Strategic Role of Partnership in World Evangelization, edited by James H. Kraakevik & Dotsey Welliver, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, IL, 1992, pages 34-35.
Additional information about partnerships can be found in Phill Butler's book Well Connected at: http://goo.gl/4ECb9. To contact visionSynergy for more information or other resources go to www.visionsynergy.net.