This is an article from the April-June 1999 issue: Strategic Partnerships

Partnership and Unity

Partnership and Unity

We have talked about it, but how do we balance differences with unity?

Everyone has different definitions for networking and partnership. That is why the partnering process can be so laborious.

For years, missionaries and mission agencies have worked together to some degree or another. Today, we see churches connecting better as wellboth with other churces and with agencies.

As the growth rate of the church multiplies the number of believers, there are more partnershipsand at deeper levels. As these partnerships expand, it helps to recognize how the roles of individuals and ministries differ.

Over the last 10 years, I've gotten to know one team that has established a viable, indigenous church movement among a formerly unreached people group. They have now moved on and are doing it again. Yet each person on the team had strikingly different giftings and roles: one a keen thinker, one an administrative organizer, one a relational evangelist (a single man), one a friend to women (a single woman). Though not in perfect agreement, they submitted to leadership in all its fraility. As they plugged into God's plan for them, He used them mightily.

But how do we keep the unity Christ talked about in John 17:21 when we have a different style, personality or sense of direction?

In his Christianity Today column (Sept. 6, '99) Philip Yancey grappled with some other issues of faith that are not entirely clear in Scripture. Listing them under "The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance" he calls them the "questions in the margins," pondering why they aren't clearer. Noting our failure in commands that are clear (like unity and love as marks of believers) he offers this consolation: "I tremble to think how we might act if some of the ambiguous doctrines were less ambiguous."

Even while we rightly seek unity in the body and attempt to "flesh-out" exactly what it means, God continues to call people to diverse methods and ministries. When people share with me their sense of God's calling, I do seek to give clarity and steer them away from possible error in method or direction. But I don't put myself into the position of saying "no" to what God may be doing. Nor do I want to.

But it is hard! Why? Because tensions don't disappear just because we seek unity.

For example, mobilizers and churches know that getting people to the field for a well-planned, short-term mission trip will give them vision for what the church and agency are doing or want to do.

Yet I am familiar with one field worker among an unreached people who receives volumes of requests for short-term teams (from the U.S., Korea, Phillipines, Canada, etc.). He could spend so much of his time hosting these teams (sometimes just making sure they don't hinder the on-going work) that he would never get to the work of establishing the church. And very few of these teams ever return to work with him in any on-going partnership.

This tension is similar to what Vishal Mangalwadi illustrated in the March-April '99 Mission Frontiers by describing the influence of well-established churches on church leadership in other landsin this case India. He noted:

The Indian church needs to have theological maturity to stand up to the teams of naive young missionaries from America who today assume they are the ones to define what "spiritual warfare" is all about. Their naivete derives from a theology of spiritual warfare that is neither from the Bible nor from Church history, but from Frank Perretti's excellent fiction. Understandably, it does confuse the focus of some Indian Christians.

Though we can't answer all these issues, we can pray with an open heart for those who are in missionary teams and partnerships. We need to pray for these hands-on, shoulder-to-shoulder working relationshipsthat God would bless, unify and enable us to see clearly when, where and how we can work together.

When was the last time you prayed for missionaries you know in that way? Or, perhaps harder for us to ask, when did you last pray for the person or ministry whose work is similar to yours? Is there a way you might work in unity with them so that we might see the world believe that the Father sent the Son (John 17:21)?

Greg Parsons is the Executive Director of the U.S. Center for World Mission. He also serves on the boards of the IFMA, EFMA, the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse and a sending agency. [email protected]


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