by Gary Corwin
Appreciation for the Western saga is one of several inconsequential things I remember most fondly about my father, along with a love for fishing and a passion for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Appreciation for the Western saga is one of several inconsequential things I remember most fondly about my father, along with a love for fishing and a passion for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although he was not an avid reader, when my dad did read it was usually from the tales of Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. As a byproduct of his love for these stories, I grew up with lots of Westerns, mostly by way of drive-in movies.
In many Westerns we enjoyed together, there was one thing that always struck me as just a little odd. I twas the use of the greeting, "Howdy, partner" *usually pronounced more like "Hooowdy, pardner"). The curious thing about this greeting was the wide variety of relationships it covered: Sometimes it was used for those with whom a genuine partnership existed, whether in robbing stage coaches or driving cattle. But just as often it seemed to be used with mere acquaintances, or even perfect strangers. As unusual as that seems, it may not be all that different from what is happening with the term and concept of "partnership" in the missionary enterprise today.
"Partnership" is certainly an important rallying cry at practically every level of mission activity – partnership with sending churches, with training institutions, with donors, with other missions, both Western and non-Western, and on the list could go. But what do we actually mean and intend in the wide variety of contexts in which we use the term? Besides the legal meaning, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1984) defines partnership as "a relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities." Do we unpack the term with the fullness of definition the dictionary provides, or are we simply attracted to its good vibrations in the public relations sphere? Or, have we come, even if unconsiously, to equate partnership with other entities finally getting on board with our agenda?
I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the term "partnership." Nor do I wish that we would. Heaven forbid! But it might not be such a bad thing if we all paused, took a deep breath, and asked ourselves what we really mean when we talk about partnership. Jesus certainly was and is pro-partnership when it comes to his kingdom — framing the discussion in terms of our abiding in Him and our unity and love for one another. He even tied our identity in his Great commission task to: "All men will know that you are my disciples [partners with me] if you love [partner with] one another (John 13:35, NIV).
But how do we know if we are really partnering in the right way? The Lord has not left us without guidance: Do we love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39)? Are we looking only to our own interests, or also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4)? Are we willing to be the servant of all (Matt. 20:26)? Or is partnership just a word, a mantra of missiological correctness?
Let me be so bold as to suggest several tests for the legitimacy of our partnership aspirations in missions, whatever their particular direction:
1. Do we have a kingdom perspective, or do we seek first to further our own organizational or institutional standing?
2. Did the agenda grow naturally out of our relationship together, or was the relationship pursued in order to accomplish an already envisioned agenda?
3. How important is control and publicity in our thinking about this partnership? If that is a big issue for us, we are probably in it for the wrong reasons.
4. Are we looking for a strategic edge in our "competition" with others operating in the same sphere, or is our primary objective to strengthen the effectiveness of our partner?
5. Is revival, or survival, the uppermost concern in our thinking about this partnership?
6. Whose glory are we seeking?
What partnership really boils down to then is organized altruism, something we do for the sake of others, and especially, something we do for the Savior. It is also a process, a way of going about our business, as much as a particular structure or agreement. Nurturing even the will to partner is a process that requires developing personal relationships of all kinds, a pushing out at the frontiers of our comfort zones. Partnership, the noun, requires the practice of partnering and require the adventure of developing relationships. There is no short cut, and there is no other way.
"Howdy, partner, tell me about yourself."
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