Essential Mission Partnering Principles

by Alex Araujo

Only when we understand the spiritual foundation of our fellowship with God and one another will we find the motivation and encouragement to work through the challenges of partnering.

Photo courtesy SIM


In my many years of mission partnering work, I have seen collaborative efforts that failed in spite of having understood and adopted right methodology and common sense principles. Partnering has a way of challenging us in our weakest points and calling us to change our hearts. Although right models and methods enhance the effectiveness of our working together, they will not hold us together under the pressures of the give-and-take of consensus building necessary for good partnering. 

Only when we understand the spiritual foundation of our fellowship with God and one another will we find the motivation and encouragement to work through the challenges of partnering. 

Partnership or Partnering?
Many of us active in the promotion, training, and facilitation of Christian partnerships have begun to use the term “partnering” instead of “partnership”. The reason is simple: partnering refers to a desirable dynamic behavior among Christians under the right circumstances and tailored to specific cases, while partnership suggests a static generic formula to be applied. 

Why Do We Talk about Partnering in Christian Mission? 
Our oneness in Christ calls for collaboration in ministry as our default behavior. Yet the modern history of evangelical missions has been marked by independence and competition. In part, this reflects the movement’s division into denominations, as well as the diversity of theological interpretations within the evangelical community. It also reflects the influence of secular competitive business models that encourage mission agencies to imagine themselves as unique and uniquely equipped to best fulfill their own mission vision. This leads to a pursuit of distinct identities and to organizational promotion that is inevitably competitive, even when not intended.

Although there have always been people who pursue collaboration in missions, the predominant individualistic and competitive organizational and denominational model has proven difficult to break and replace. Phill Butler, executive director of visionSynergy, and other like-minded people have worked tirelessly to change this reality, and have seen significant progress toward collaboration (see Butler 2005, Addicott 2005). This change received a boost when the secular business world itself began to see the benefit in partnering, and evangelicals sought to adopt and adapt their methods. Business motive and circumstances for partnering are significantly different from Christian mission, however, and the principles that inform their interest do not fully serve our purposes.

Are There Biblical Principles Specifically for Partnering?
In the Bible, we primarily see principles of relationship and conduct within the church that inform any collaborative effort. However, there are really no spelled-out partnering structures. Yet we can discern some principles. Structurally, various passages compare the church with a human body (having Christ as its head) and affirm the importance of members who are well connected in order for the one body to function well. These texts presuppose that the body is one, and needs to express this oneness in practical ways. Other texts describe personal qualities that reflect our oneness in Christ in the way we treat one another (e.g., Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4; Phil. 2:1).

While these and similar texts do not specifically discuss partnering in missions, they do set the standard for how we are to collaborate with each other in our mission service.

The Oneness Principle
In the Exodus, we see that there is only one people of God, sharing in the same journey, in pursuit of one destination. The diversity represented by the twelve tribes was contained in and subordinate to the indivisible oneness of Israel. Thus, tribe diversity enriched the one people without breaking it up. The bond that held it all together was so strong that when there was disagreement about going into the Promised Land, the Lord chose to delay their entry for another forty years rather than allow two tribes to break away from the other ten.

When we contrast the Exodus model with our denominational and organizational divisions, we see how far we have deviated from God’s intention for his people. The Apostle Paul forcefully applies the oneness principle to the Church when he appeals to the Ephesians: 

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph.4:1-6)

While in the Exodus the diversity within oneness is represented by the twelve distinct tribes, in the Ephesians passage the diversity is represented by the different gifts given to each for the benefit of the whole body:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph.4:11-13)

In this text, it is clear that the diverse gifts have no meaning except as part of the whole—their existence and application must serve to strengthen the unity of the Body of Christ, not to separate body parts from the rest. In fact, there is nothing more grotesque than a hand, a foot, or an eye disconnected from its proper place in the body. What a horrible picture we offer to the world by our divisions and competitiveness!

So then, we partner with one another in service because we are one and our ministry must reflect that oneness. The very effectiveness of our mission work depends on this principle, as the Lord himself points out in his prayer in John 17:


My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)


The implication from this passage is that if we fail to work in functional oneness, people are less likely to believe our message, and the work of missions is seriously damaged.

Collaboration: The Default Behavior of Christians
The more we grow in our commitment to Christ, the more we will be predisposed toward one another, and this predisposition shows itself in our preference to work in collaboration. As Christians, we do not need to be convinced to work in collaboration—it is our default response to any ministry opportunity.

Partnering: A Spiritual Practice
If mission speaks of what we do as the people of God, partnering speaks of how we function as the people of God. To partner is to put into practice the oneness that we have in Christ in mission situations. Partnering is a manifestation, in a specific place and time, of our universal and eternal fellowship with one another and with our head, Jesus Christ. This fellowship we have with Christ and with one another should cause us to always be on the look-out for opportunities to manifest it in practical ways. Partnerships thus are simply the working out of a deeper, permanent spiritual reality (see Araujo 2007, introduction). 

Partnering: A Proper Time and Place
We look at every ministry opportunity as an opportunity to work in fellowship and cooperation. Yet not every ministry opportunity is right for partnering. Although oneness in Christ by his Spirit is a universal and ever present reality, and we are always inclined toward fellowship in cooperation, partnering is possible only when certain factors are present. This includes:

Proximity in space and time. It is not reasonable to expect Brazilians seeking to reach the remaining indigenous tribes of the Amazon to partner with Indians seeking to reach the Banjaras of Andra Pradesh. Distance and different objectives prevent collaboration in any practical and structured way. If, however, Indian believers are called to help reach the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, it would be right that they partner with their Brazilian brothers and sisters who have been called to the same task.

Objective and resources. Partnering is possible when different people and agencies have different resources needed for a particular mission objective. One agency may have trained Bible translators, while another has access to speakers of the target language, so that the two can bring these resources together to produce the scriptures in that language.

Relationship. Partnering works best when potential partners have taken the time to build loving and trusting relationships. This is offered to us in Christ by the Spirit; however, it needs to be lived out in specific situations. Every cooperative opportunity has potential misunderstandings. If the task is the only thing that brings partners together, misunderstandings can easily undermine the best partnering efforts.

Joy in service. Brothers and sisters in a loving family relationship rejoice in being together. Therefore, partnering in missions is marked by rejoicing in service. I once led a team of people through several weeks in an assignment that seemed impossible. By the end of the task, I was asked if I would do it again. My spontaneous response was that, with these people, I would take on any task. It was such a joy to work in loving harmony to overcome big challenges.

Practical Guidelines for Partnering
As believers in Christ and members of his body, we are predisposed to express our oneness through collaboration. We don’t need to be convinced of it. However, there are appropriate situations when this preference for collaboration can be more effectively expressed through partnering.

While there is no wrong time to work together spontaneously, there are occasions in which our collaboration benefits from more defined guidelines. One of the best sets of guidelines, “Successful Kingdom Collaboration: Seven Key Principles,” has been published by visionSynergy ( in cooperation with Vision 5:9. These and more are elaborated in the two books already cited.

Partnering in the kingdom rests on the solid foundation of our oneness in Christ and our predisposition to work together joyfully and harmoniously. With this foundation, other practical principles can help us be effective. Without it, our best efforts and methods will fail.

Addicott, Ernie. 2005. Body Matters. Edmonds, Wash.: Interdev Partnerships Associates. 

Araujo, Alex, ed. 2007. Interwoven: The Strength of Partnership. Edmonds, Wash.: Interdev Partnership Associates. 

Butler, Phillip. 2005. Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope through Kingdom Partnerships. Federal Way, Wash.: Authentic.


Born and raised in Brazil, Alex Araujo has served as a missionary with the IFES in Portugal and with COMIBAM in Brazil, then with Partners International and Interdev. He is a founding member of International Partnering Associates (IPA) and associate of the Department of Strategic Partnerships of COMIBAM. He currently serves United World Mission as advisor to the president, and contributes to the global partnering working group of the WEA Missions Commission.

EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 234-238. Copyright  © 2013 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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