The past decade has seen a significant shift among churches and organizations involved in China. Recognizing the enormity of the task and the need for interdependence among the various parts of the Body, many have moved (albeit cautiously) from working alone to dialogue with others, sharing information and resources, collaborating on specific projects and finally, long-term partnership.
From a practical standpoint, partnership makes a lot of sense. Carefully conceived, with clear goals and good ongoing communication, a partnership can allow churches and organizations to accomplish far more together than they could alone.
Partnerships are also hard work. Much time must be invested in building relationships, clarifying objectives and deciding who is best suited for various parts of the overall mission. Partnerships do not usually produce quick results. Issues of finance or control, hidden agendas, miscommunication and differing opinions on the outcomes sought by the partnership can all hinder or even derail the process.
Based on purely practical considerations, the decision of whether or not to partner may come back negative. When relationships get messy it is much easier to simply let others do their thing while we do ours. Sometimes this is necessary. However, there is a deeper spiritual dynamic that must also be considered, and herein lies the key to success of any partnership.
Jesus’ prayer for all believers, recorded in John 17:21, was that they “may be one” that the world may believe that you have sent me.” He went on to declare, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
There is a profound spiritual connection between the quality of our relationships as believers and the ability of an unbelieving world to understand who Christ is. Christ’s commission to invite all peoples into relationship with Himself can only be accomplished as we demonstrate among ourselves the oneness we have in Him. Our unity is both a fact of our being in Christ and a future goal as we “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Ajith Fernando says in his book Jesus-Driven Ministry, “The distinctive of Christian love is a willingness to go against our natural inclinations and take that extra step to bring Christ’s love into an otherwise irredeemable situation. As leaders persevere in doing that, they will be able to see true Christian community at work.”
Particularly in a relationship based culture such as China’s, how we relate to one another will speak much louder than anything we say. Partnerships provide the context in which our unity may be lived out. Our partnerships will be successful to the extent that they are a reflection of the love we have received from the Father through Christ.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio