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How Partnerships Develop

“Partnership” can mean many different things to different people. Some use the term to refer to the general process of partnering, whether formal or informal. For others a partnership denotes an official working relationship between two or more entities that involves legal agreements and obligations. Between these extremes lies a continuum of relationship and collaborative efforts.

Missio Nexus explores this continuum in a helpful infographic, Degrees of Partnership. Beginning with Acquaintance and culminating in Deep Partnership, this tool traces the development of deepening collaboration through various stages, looking at the nature of the relationship, financial arrangements, deployment of people, and other factors at each step.

For the purpose of definition, partnership is described as “co-operative scaling-relationships focused on creating, maintaining, or strengthening active ministry initiatives.” Developed specifically for partnerships involving North American churches or organizations, the continuum could apply equally as well to other relationships involving various entities inside and outside China.

As the creators of the infographic argue, no one stage in the continuum is necessarily superior to others: “You can feel comfortable with where you are. Each degree can be a great place! Each partnership type should be future focused yet moving forward at an appropriate speed to maintain strong, enduring relationships that are sustainable and reproducible.”

Where partners are in the relationship depends on multiple factors that are bound to change over time. What may seem impossible in one season may become very workable at another time. One leader’s vision for collaboration may lead an organization down the path of partnership, but his or her successor may not be supportive of the relationship. It is this dynamic nature of partnerships that brings both wonderful possibilities as well as the risk of grave disappointment. The opportunity for both increases with the deepening of the relationship.

Some other takeaways:

  • Intentionality in relationships is essential.
  • Go slow in order to go together; seek to serve a purpose greater than yourselves.
  • The more we seek to extend the ministry of others, the more deeply we will see the Kingdom expanded.

Like a skillfully woven tapestry, an effective partnership has two sides.

One side of a tapestry displays an exquisite work of art. Turn the fabric over, however, and one finds a tangled mass of knots and meandering threads that bears no resemblance to the beautiful design on the obverse.

Looking at a partner relationship, one side speaks eloquently of the power of Spirit-led collaboration. On the other side, behind the beauty of harmonious relationships and well-executed ministry initiatives, lies an unsightly mass of miscues and misunderstandings, of hurt feelings and missed opportunities—the messiness that inevitably results when fallen individuals attempt to work together.

Yet without these scars and disappointments there would be no fruit. All are a necessary part of the tapestry of relationships, the material that the Master Weaver, in his wisdom, chooses to knit together for his eternal purposes. In his timing he will turn the fabric over, revealing a glorious design, the glory “I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:22-23 ESV)

Image credit: Close up view of large tapestry by valoisem via Flickr.
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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, 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 …View Full Bio

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