humility-helpingThis is not a generation that likes institutional, impersonal connections. We like to be personally engaged, community-oriented, and connected.

Missions is no exception. Mission leaders today talk about the desire among churches for more direct, personal partnership with international opportunities and key personnel.

On the whole, I think such desires are very good. However, like anything in a fallen world, these partnerships can be done well or done poorly, resulting in fruit or frustration.

 So I want to offer six principles for partnering with overseas workers for the purpose of global mission. But before we get there let me clarify what these principles are and what they are not. These are not things directly commanded by Scripture. Yet neither are they mere observations or best practices identified by looking at what makes partnerships work. These are more general biblical principles that need to be applied to any partnership to make it work. Those general priorities include the importance of humility (1 Pet. 5:5Phil. 2:1-11), the creating and shaping of God's people by his Word (Ezekiel 37:1-14Matt. 4:42 Tim. 4:1-3), the beauty of cooperation among churches in mission (3 John), and the "rightness" of committed love for specific missionaries (Phil. 4:10-20). It's my hope that reflecting these broad priorities will help churches to more carefully consider how they can engage humbly with others.


Every missions partnership begins with the motivations that you bring to the table. Are you seeking to serve workers overseas or to be served by them?

God's people should always be marked by humility. It would be strange to want to labour in another culture to bring glory to Christ but to approach it with selfishness or pride. We should strive for humility in our partnerships because we desperately need grace; in this as in all things, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

It's easy for even a good sense of thankfulness and confidence to translate into a prideful assumption that you know what's best in another culture. Sometimes I've observed conversations where an overseas church leader who knows almost nothing of the language or customs of a culture try to "take charge" to "help" a local mission partner or worker "do the work better" and to "grow the church."

It's better for your church to find people on the field whose judgment and theology you can trust and then submit to them. When making partnerships, especially those focused on church planting, you should not assume theological agreement but honestly discuss issues like evangelism, ecclesiology, soteriology, and more…before entering into a partnership. The fact that you both call yourself "evangelical" or belong to the same church background may not be enough.

What does a humble, servant-minded partnership look like in practice? Well, it's a desire to do "the ministry of whatever." Being willing to do whatever the field workers or missions leaders deem helpful is the right place to begin. It means saying, "What can we do to serve and partner with you? Nothing is too big and nothing is too small."

This willingness to start small and be faithful in an incrementally deepening partnership is hugely important for building trust.


Second is the issue of pastoral leadership. Leadership begins not with the pastor's/ leaders’ own passion for missions—which is great but insufficient—it begins with them regularly preaching systematically through Scripture, opening up the implications for mission Sunday after Sunday. God is a missionary God. He has a passion for the nations, and Scripture is full of that passion. From the books of Moses, through the histories, to the Prophets, and on throughout the gospels and epistles, God's passion to call worshipers from all languages, tribes, people, and nations is foundational. Check out Genesis 12:2-3Isaiah 19:19-25, or Revelation 7:9-10 for just a taste.

Congregations whose leaders regularly preach this rich biblical message will begin to have their worldview shaped by it. They will learn that the gospel is about more than merely growing "their" church. It's about more than their own culture or country. The gospel is for all people everywhere. And understanding both the urgency of the task—"How will they hear unless someone is sent?"—as well as the greatness and worthiness of God will fuel a pervasive passion that touches a whole congregation. Preaching like this, in fact, is the most foundational thing a leadership can do to lead their congregation in missions.

But a leadership must not only preach, they must pray regularly from the pulpit for the work mission locally and  overseas. This instructs the hearts of people, as they hear that God's kingdom is about more than just "our group." It exposes their minds to God's vast, global plan. Such prayer reminds them each Sunday that Jesus is Lord of the people of PNG and Myanmar and Congo and of their home town.

John Stott, noted British pastor, once visited a small church in a British town. Upon hearing the provincial content of their pastoral prayer he summed them up, saying "I came away saddened, sensing that this church worshipped a little village god of their own devising. There was no recognition of the needs of the world, and no attempt to embrace the world in prayer." Prayers from the pulpit that embrace the global cause of Christ are one of the best antidotes to such God-belittling provincialism. They can wonderfully expand the hearts of a congregation.

Finally, a leadership that faithfully shapes their congregation's passions by the Word can then show them how to direct their passions by going out themselves, taking key leaders with them. When a leadership demonstrates the importance of cross-cultural mission by giving their own time to it, the impact on the congregation can be huge.


Which brings us to our next point: the value of personal relationships in growing the missions engagement of a local church. So often we're tempted to think that we need to have our fingers in many places around the world in order to be faithful to the Great Commission. But keeping up with many contacts in many places often results in shallow and ineffectual relationships.

In most cases, I think churches would do better to pick a few workers and go deep in their relationship with their work. This kind of focus requires a humble admission that, while God is infinite, you and your congregation are not. And it requires the loving discipline to resist overextending your congregation into shallow, feel-good engagements every time you hear about some new opportunity. But the results for the kingdom can be striking.

When evaluating whom to invest in, three principles are useful. Partner with workers who are:

  1. Excellent in their relationships. We want to partner with workers who re relating well with others in the context they are in and who are biblically thoughtful about how they do it. We want to know workers well enough to know that what they are doing is actually effective in making the gospel clear in their culture. Getting this level of information almost always requires spending time with them on the field among the people they are trying to reach.
  2. Strategic in their focus. We want to partner with workers labouring in places where there is little gospel light. It's good for Christians to tell the gospel in any place, but time and money are limited. Sometimes we must choose between two equally good workers where one is in a Muslim nation with few Christians and the other is in a nation with hundreds of thousands of indigenous believers. A new phase of mission is to support indigenous believers to reach the unreached near to them. What sort of opportunities does this open up for partnership? God’s heart is for those who have yet to hear his message of the Kingdom.
  3. Desiring sustainability and training locals to continue the task. We want to partner with people who have the skills to teach and train others so that their roles become ones that locals can move into. Along with this there are plans about how the local ministry will survive financially after the outside mission partner has left.

All of this requires time building and sustaining relationships. Getting into these sorts of partnership relationships is a long term deal.


Your church should also be willing to seriously commit to the workers with whom you partner. Workers tell all too often about churches who mean well but turn out to be fair-weather partners, or who lose interest in a partnership when situations on the field limit their involvement in short-term trips or projects. Instead, consider committing to one team of workers to serve them in any way they find helpful. Be willing to do trips if they find that helpful. And be willing not to come if the timing isn't right.

Being commitment-centered also means working with a long attention-span, for the long-haul. In good years and bad. When your partnership is encouraging or just plain hard.

Finally, this commitment should show itself in a desire to celebrate thoughtful biblical faithfulness, even if fruit is slow in coming. By doing this you can help the workers with whom you partner to resist the seductive call of immediate, visible fruit that has caused so many workers to first tweak and then distort the gospel in pursuit of quick "success." Your clear long-term commitment can help your partnering workers to persevere in proclaiming the plain gospel message even when the results may be slow in coming.


It also should come as no surprise that a healthy church partnership generally presumes that the church, not just a few leaders, actually own the partnership. When the average member of the church understands something of the focus and direction of the church's partnership then the ground is laid for a fruitful relationship. This can be encouraged by regularly updating the entire congregation on the church's international involvement

It's also important to involve the congregation in praying for missions. In our own congregation

  • we often hear a brief one to two-minute update for a mission partner we support, and then we pray for them.
  • We regularly host mission partners getting them to preach or interview them before the whole church. Then we pray for them.
  • We print the names and general details of our supported mission partners in our prayer directory given to every member of our church.


Finally, it seems to me that fruitful and humble partnerships should be long term-focused. By this I mean that your church should work to cultivate long-term overseas workers from your own congregation. At the outset of a partnership, why not articulate the explicit goal that some of your own members will uproot their lives and plant them long-term in another culture for the sake of the gospel? The implications of this kind of thinking abound.

Being long-term focused may also mean doing even short-term trips with the long-term mindset. Rather than just providing "missions experiences," you might consider doing trips that support the work of existing long-term teams to whom you are committed. See your short-term work primarily as a way to support your long-term partners in whatever ways they need it, and secondarily as a way to raise up your own members to join with the work long-term. Workers on the mission field generally need more boots on the ground, day-in day-out, not just friends passing through.


Whatever your church's situation is, I hope that you'll consider carefully how your congregation is partnering with the work of global mission.

  • Are your efforts characterized by humility?
  • Are you being led by the glory of the gospel, taught and modelled by your pastor and elders?
  • Are your relationships with mission partners deep and meaningful?
  • Are you willing to commit for the long-haul?
  • Are your members personally knowledgeable about those with whom you want to partner?
  • And are you hoping, praying, and working toward producing long-term workers from your own ranks to join the work?

Your situation may be different to the way things have been expressed here. But I hope the core biblical priorities of humility, relationship based, cooperation and commitment are evident in your missions engagements, whatever that may look like in your context.

Russell Thorp

GC3 Missions Director

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Tags: commitment | cooperation | Humility | Mission Partnership Principles | missions engagements | relationship based

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