What is Driving “Partnership”?
The buzzword in missions today is “partnership.” Everybody is writing and talking about it. So much so, that a new term has been coined—the International Partnership Movement (IPM). This movement is being galvanized to a significant degree by the Consultation on Support of Indigenous Ministries (COSIM), which reported in 1997 that its 51 affiliated agencies raised over $55 million to support at least 16,000 non-USA personnel serving in their own countries or elsewhere.1 No doubt those figures have since changed, but the underlying philosophy has not. So what are the characteristics of the IPM?
1. A lack of historical perspective.
The Western missionary movement over the last two centuries has succeeded in creating an addiction to almost everything Western, including theology, church polity, technology, educational institutions, finances, literature and evangelistic programs. The root of the problem is not found in the non-Western church but rather in misguided missionary practices. Into this context, the IPM has asserted itself as a newcomer in a long line of benefactors and, through its well-meaning efforts, continues to feed this addiction. In doing so, it presumes to know better than respected individuals such as Henry Venn, Rufus Anderson, John Nevius, Roland Allen, and most importantly, the Apostle Paul.
2. Inappropriate terminology.
When Western agencies and churches “partner” with their non-Western counterparts in such a way that resources flow in only one direction, then this amounts to nothing other than sponsorship. Hence, the IPM should be more accurately dubbed the “International Sponsorship Movement.”
3. A redefinition of dependency.
The IPM speaks of a healthy side of dependency and thereby confuses the issues at stake.2 Dependency typically refers to a debilitating state of mind where we assume that we cannot accomplish what God has called us to do without foreign assistance. This results in the belief that our impoverished lot in life is fixed, and therefore continual appeals to outsiders are entirely justified. Until we overcome this syndrome of dependency through the power of the Holy Spirit, no amount of foreign funding from the IPM or anyone else will solve the problem. In fact, if outside resources could remedy this situation and enable the church to stand on its own two feet, it would have happened decades ago.
4. A sub-Biblical theology of mission.
In an effort to establish the biblical basis for the IPM, Daniel Rickett asks: “If Christians are to avoid dependency, what are we to do with the command to carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)? What are we to say when we see our brother in need and have the means to help (1 John 3:16-20)? And what are we to make of Paul’s collection of funds from the churches of Asia Minor for the suffering church in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-3)?”3 But these questions overlook several facts. First, the word “burdens” in Galatians 6:2 as the context shows refers to “moral lapses, temptations and guilt”4 and therefore cannot properly be used to advocate foreign funding of local ministries. Second, if the IPM desires to assist non-Western churches in the name of dependency along the lines of 1 John 3:16-20, it has every right to do so. But when it does, one must realize that this is not missionary work. Mission, by definition, occurs when belief interacts with unbelief.5 Hence, what the IPM is really promoting is membership care within the body of Christ as the Western church interacts with the non-Western church. Lastly, it is a common misconception to assume that Paul’s collection was undertaken for humanitarian reasons (see article above).
5. Furtherance of paternalism.
It is impossible to separate giving from control. Donald McGavran said: “Control is not the purpose for which aid is given. . . . Yet control inheres in aid. It cannot successfully be divorced from it.”6 What this means is that since more money is flowing overseas than perhaps at any other time in the history of the church, we are living in an age of paternalism the likes of which the world has never experienced. Consequently, as the West discusses partnership, non-Western church leaders speak of neocolonialism.7
6. Sincere and pragmatic motives.
Those involved with the IPM are quite sincere, but sincerity should never be equated with wisdom. Many in the IPM can point to success stories in their ministries, but to determine the validity of a certain agenda on the basis of whether it works is to fall into the trap of pragmatism.8 The fact that something works does not make it right. Rather, when it comes to missionary activity, what is true, as defined in biblical terms, is right whether it is “successful” or not.
The motivating force behind much of the partnership movement today is worthy of commendation. A hearty effort to overcome some of the shortcomings noted above would be a sizeable step towards genuine health in the global Christian community.