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Partnership is the Future of Ministry

Partnership is the future of ministry.

We recently shared an ARTICLE sharing how to connect a donor to the value of a changed life as the second of three topics discussed in a recent episode of The Ministry Growth Show. The third topic in this blog series focuses on partnership in ministry. This was a topic of discussion in a recent podcast EPISODE where we talked with David Sudarma from Cru and Christy Johnson from AIA. You can read the first article in the series HERE, and the second article in the series HERE, but let’s get into the third topic in this series. In our conversation with Cru and AIA, Christy Johnson shared a topic of discussion and said, “Partnership is the future of ministry.” That idea is profound, and I think it deserves additional exploration and conversation. 

Historically, partnership in the ministry space has been something most ministries have strayed away from due to what I would argue is a fear of sharing donor funds. There are obviously other variables, but I would argue this is the core fear. Now, most ministries might not admit to this mindset, and I have no research to support this opinion, but I definitely think there has been a “scarcity” mindset in fundraising. “We can’t partner with another organization because we might lose our donors to that organization.” Now, there are obviously exceptions to this and I’m confident you would be able to find plenty of organizations partnering together throughout history. But, that is not the normative approach to ministry and I’d venture to say it would be difficult to find organizations partnering well with one another, especially in the para-church space.

Why is this an issue though? Why should ministries care about partnership with other organizations? I believe there are a couple of reasons, and we’ll highlight each one of them in this article. 

Problems are only getting worse. 

First, why is this even an issue worth discussing? The first reason ministries should care about partnership is because the problems that exist in the world are only getting worse. Depending on where you get your research, poverty projections are stagnating, global modern slavery is projected to rise, the clean water issue is getting worse (those numbers are really scary for all of us, not just those living in poverty), and the global homelessness issue is projected to increase over the next two decades. There is some hope in the eradication of hunger, as some projections show a decrease of about 10% over the next handful of years, but this is at the increase of increased water demands, so it’s not really a holistic statistic. 

The reality is things are getting worse globally at a staggering rate. On top of all of that, there is still the issue of the human heart. If we eradicated all of the issues listed above tomorrow, we still have the core issue of humanity’s separation from the one true God and King. We can and should work to bring people out of these awful evils and forms of slavery, but if our causes only serve to save them into another form of slavery, we’ve missed the mark. The brokenness of the world is an opportunity to share Christ and bring glory to His name. Ministries should care about partnership because the approaches we’ve taken so far are not working well. There has to be a better way to fight injustice, combat evil, and ultimately make disciples. I believe, and Christy is arguing, that partnership could be a significant strategy in “moving the ball down the field in a lot of these areas.” We have to find a holistic approach and partnership could provide some answers to the problem. 

Now, as believers, we know that these things are only going to get worse until Christ’s return (2 Timothy 3:13, Matthew 24: 6-14, Mark 13: 7-9). That, however, does not mean we do nothing and sit around waiting for Christ to come again (2 Peter 3:10-12, John 9:4, Galatians 6:10). “…You should be people of holy conduct and godliness…” “We must do the works of him who sent me while it is day… As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.” We are called and invited into the redemption of humanity. That’s a crazy and amazing invitation. Let us spend some time thinking about how we can be most effective in executing on that invitation and call. 

We don’t serve a God of scarcity. 

So, what can we do with the staggering reality of overwhelming evil and brokenness in the world? Christy Johnson would argue that partnership is the future of ministry, and I would absolutely agree that this is one strategy that ministries need to start taking seriously. The second reason ministries should care about partnership is because we don’t serve a god of scarcity. 

I have no idea how many clean water organizations there are in the world, I’m sure the number would surprise all of us. The same goes for organizations fighting human trafficking and slavery. What if a handful of the largest water organizations teamed up and started to work together? How much more effective could they be at making a dent in the global clean water crisis? How much more excited would donors be to partner if they saw multiple organizations banding together rather than competing and stepping on each other’s toes? How many more people could those water organizations reach with the gospel? This scarcity mindset in the nonprofit world is suffocating and we have to start trusting that God’s got enough to provide for our organizations. If organizations partnered together within their own niche rather than competing with one another for the “same dollar,” I believe we’d start seeing the ball move up the field a lot faster than what we’re experiencing in all causes globally. 

To take that idea a step further, and this is where partnership gets really exciting, what would it look like for organizations to focus on what they are best at, and invite other organizations to partner in the communities in which they serve and do what they are best at? Now, let me preface this by saying I realize there are a lot of unknown variables with this idea, but let’s explore anyways. What we tend to see is a ministry will start out with a singular focus, child sponsorship for example. Once they get things up and running they realize they have a water or agriculture need, so they add that piece to their “services.” As the ministry progresses they realize that their community has a justice issue, and so they start a new branch of the ministry focused on fighting for the justice of the people they serve. Instead of following this model, where an organization does EVERYTHING and seeks to solve every issue that comes up in the community they serve, what would it look like if organizations focused on what they set out to do and partnered with other organizations who are focused and good at what they offer? The child sponsorship ministry could focus on the children, an agriculture ministry could come in and help the community start implementing sustainable practices in agriculture in the region, the justice organization could focus on fighting injustice, the water organization could come in and provide care within their area of focus, and a discipleship making organization could come in and share the gospel and provide training within the community. [For argument’s sake, let’s also assume that all of these organizations are culturally respectful and have sustainable strategies and a desire to uplift and empower the communities they serve rather than do all of this stuff for the communities they serve]. Each one of these organizations would have access to the community because of the relationships already established by the first organization and I believe the results could be significant. Why have we not seen this model at scale yet? I believe a lot of it comes down to the scarcity mindset, but I realize there are other barriers in play. Our hope is to keep this conversation going. Let’s start thinking about how we can partner together as the body of Christ for the glory of God’s name. 

The body of Christ is called to work together as one body. 

Now, we’ve shown the need and clearly defined what partnership could look like, but I think the most important piece to all of this is the scriptural support for the idea. We have the model for partnership laid out pretty clearly in the Bible. First, we are clearly called throughout scripture to function within a community. Second, we are also designed to function as one body. Scripture supports this idea of partnership in these verses (Romans 12:3-13, 1 Corinthians 12: 14-27). I realize that these verses are talking specifically about our giftings within the church body, but the same principles can apply within the para-church setting. 

We had Chris Horst on the podcast recently, author of Rooting for Rivals, and one of the things he said to me will remain with me for the rest of my life. He said, “As para-church ministries, it should be our desire to make the Bride look beautiful. God only has one plan for the redemption of humanity, and he doesn’t have a backup plan. So, the role of the para-church should be to support the Bride and make her look beautiful.” I believe that we can apply these principles of different giftings to the para-church space, focus on what we are good at individually within our own organizations, partner with organizations that are good at what they do, and ultimately support the local church in everything we do to share the love of Jesus, proclaim His great name, and ultimately make disciples. 

Ministry Partnership Examples

I said earlier in this article that it would be hard to find ministries executing on this strategy and idea. Here are two examples where I think this model is particularly exciting. The first example is Every Campus. David and Christy highlighted this example in our podcast episode. Every Campus started with Cru and InterVarsity coming together and saying, “What would it look like if we worked together to reach every campus in the United States with gospel communities?” When they first partnered Cru and InterVarsity were sometimes working on, prayer walking, and developing gospel communities on the same campuses. There was an overlap in what was essentially the same work and goal. Rather than continuing to compete and overlap, they decided to work together to reach all of the campuses in the nation and out of the almost 5000 campuses, they’ve worked together to prayer walk all but 1293 up to this point. There are now 35 ministries partnering together to see this idea come to fruition. 

Another example is illumiNations. I wasn’t able to find the full story online, but I believe the initiative started when WyCliffe and Pioneer (there is a chance this is wrong and it was another two organizations, but the story is powerful anyways. Apologies if I have this wrong). The story goes, WyCliffe and Pioneer had just pitched the same major donor back to back without knowing the other had done so. To make things even more interesting, they had both pitched bible translation for the same region and language group. The major donor let them both know they were working in the same region and asking money for essentially the same projects, and in a much more loving way than this basically said, “Get your acts together.” From that interaction, WyCliffe and Pioneer set out to develop illumiNations, an alliance of bible translation organizations working together to translate the Bible in every language in the world. The exciting part, before this alliance was developed, projections for the Bible to be translated in every language was somewhere around the year 2130 (not a typo). Today, illumiNations are projecting they’ll have the Bible translated in every language by 2033. This initiative has cut 100 years off of the projections because these organizations decided to start working together rather than competing for the same dollars, the same regions, and the same languages. This is a great example of the power that partnership could have if organizations would take it seriously. 

How can you partner with a ministry that does the same thing you do? How can you partner with a ministry that does something different? Are there ways your ministry can stay focused on your core purpose and invite another ministry into your community to do what they do best? These are questions I believe ministries need to start thinking about and answering. 

Why is ministry partnership important?

1. We are called to function as one body. Romans 12:3-13
2. Christian ministries should all have one primary goal and objective, the gospel.
3. Donors appreciate thoughtful partnership over rivalry and competition.
4. The problems of evil and brokenness in the world are only getting worse. We need to explore new strategies and solutions for ministry.

What are some examples of ministries partnering together?

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Zach Leighton

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