Supporting Article

The Power of Partnership in Christian Professional Service


Hong Kong’s coordinated assault to halt the grim specter of the SARS outbreak is an illustration of the power of partnership. No one department in Hong Kong can handle it alone. Indeed, no one city, area or country can either. The Hong Kong Health Department has established strategic links with every relevant government agency as well as with China, Singapore and other countries in the region. Moreover, it has joined forces with the U.S. Center for Disease Control based in Atlanta and the World Health Organization based in Geneva to draw on their expertise.

In another article in this issue of ChinaSource, we consider the “Power of Prayer Partnership.” Prayer is the indispensable foundation of any effective partnership in Christian service. Even in the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, it is very moving to see how Christians have responded in prayer for patients, medical workers, and government leaders. Around the world MSI colleagues have also been standing with doctors, nurses and hospital staff who are on the front lines of this war against a new virus. There are five essential ingredients to all effective partnerships: unity of purpose; mutual trust; division of responsibility; collective decision-making; and good communications.

UNITY OF PURPOSE.

Unity of purpose is the indispensable starting point of any effective partnership. For Christians, unity of purpose is summed up in God’s glory and the Kingdom factor. The risen Lord’s last command is our first concern. It was unity of purpose that bound Nehemiah and his people together and enabled them to complete the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days. Now, as then, it is “the vision thing.”

MUTUAL TRUST

Building trust between individuals and organizations is critical if partnership is to move forward smoothly. It cannot be taken for granted.  Just because we are Christians does not mean that mutual trust will be immediate or inevitable. Nehemiah also knew that the nurturing of mutual trust required patience and tact, and needed to be on-going. It took a Barnabas in Jerusalem to break down the deep mistrust for Paul, build mutual trust, and lay a foundation for partnership.

DIVISION OF RESPONSIBILITY

A wise division of responsibility and delegation of authority avoids unnecessary duplication, costly competition, and ensures effective use of limited human and material resources in order to achieve synergy. Paul put it graphically: the body is one, but the members are many, and their differing functions indispensable. Therefore, the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” Nor can the foot say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body” (Matt. 18:19) In the face of formidable forces, Nehemiah’s wise division of labor and delegation of responsibility assured him and his people of success in their undertaking.

COLLECTIVE DECISION-MAKING

Collective decision-making is a fourth important ingredient of effective partnerships. There is no better way to nurture unity and trust and build partnerships than through mutual consultation and collective decision-making and action. Consider an illustration in the life of the early church. In Acts 6, Luke described how the church in Jerusalem was really growing—so much so that the leadership could not cope. People’s needs were overlooked and division marred the unity of the church. Peter and the other leaders immediately called the new Christian community together. Options were outlined, a way forward proposed and a collective decision made. The problem was resolved, and the number of new believers continued to increase rapidly.

GOOD COMMUNICATIONS

Maintaining good communications is also very critical to partnership. It is important that all bodies that have committed themselves to partner in an undertaking and have been involved in mutual decision making are kept in the picture as the partnership develops. Otherwise, misunderstandings are sure to arise. Remember the case of the offending altar in Joshua 22. The Israelites had taken possession of the Promised Land. The two tribes had fulfilled their commitment and were now on their way home back east of the Jordan River. Just before crossing the river, they built an altar as a symbol of their solidarity with the nine tribes. It was a great idea, but done without communication. For their part, the nine tribes also failed to ask what was going on and assumed their partners had fallen into apostasy. War was narrowly averted only after communications had been restored.

 A final word. In the anecdotal evidence for each of the five principles of partnership given above, wise and good leadership is present. The lesson is clear. Those of us in Christian professional service today need to forge strong partnerships if we are to see God’s glory and the advance of His Kingdom. The measure of their effectiveness and success will be seen in our commitment to these basic principles—unity of purpose, mutual trust, division of responsibility, collective decision-making and maintaining good communications.

This article is reprinted from the MSI Bulletin. Used with permission. 

Image credit: Hong Kong Fire Services Ambulance by Christian Junker via Flickr.

James H. Taylor

James H. Taylor III is president of MSI Professional Services. He was born in China, educated at Chefoo Schools, Greenville College, Asbury Seminary and Yale University. He served as founding president of China Evangelical Seminary and general director of OMF International. View Full Bio