Principles and Practices for Partnership

Principles and practices for partnership based on the lessons learned in the last decade of strategic partnership with local house-church networks

By Ken Katayama

They looked at each other in the small living room at the same house where just a month ago John, a foreign missionary, had led one of the most significant Bible trainings about communion. On that day they had their first Lord’s supper as leaders of fifteen small house-churches. Now John and his family were gone. The local government had ordered a mandatory exit of all foreigners. Though they missed John and his family, the house-church could not stop. It should not stop! As they faced the challenge that most of the foreigner help was expelled, they prayed.

A couple of months passed. The “foreigners exodus” was complete. Now these local house-church leaders were responsible to shepherd small communities of believers spread throughout the country. Musa, one of the elders, remembered a friend in Moldova who has experience leading a small movement of church planting in Moldova.

This entire process reminds us of Acts16:9 when Paul, in a dream, sees a Macedonian man asking for help. In the same way, Musa contacts his longtime friend Dima and asks him for help. As a former Soviet republic, Moldova remains part of the Common International States (CIS) and he can come and help them under the government’s radar.

Several months later, in the spring of 2008 Dima, Musa’s Moldovan friend, arrived in Central Asia. Together they formally established a local house-church network consisting of a group of believers meeting in fifteen different houses. They also formalized a partnership focused on the development of new leadership and multiplication of these house-churches.

It has been a decade since the partnership started. The Lord has used this relationship to start over one hundred thirty house-churches throughout this Muslim Central Asian country.

Even though I have changed names for security reasons, the story is true. In 2008, the Executive Director of the Crossover Global base in Moldova facilitated a decade long partnership. Several years later I had the opportunity to attend the Central Asian Consultation in Turkey. During that event our Central Asian ministry partner introduced me to a leadership team from a newly established house-church network in another Central Asian country. We had a great opportunity to partner with this house-church network, but first we needed to define our partnership principles and practices.

This article seeks to share principles and practices for partnership developed by Crossover Global based on the lessons learned in the last decade of strategic partnership with local house-church networks in places such as Azerbaijan, Jordan, India, Nepal, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. These principles and practices are limited in nature since our partnerships are highly focused on church multiplication. It is my hope that these principles and practices will give you some applicable ideas and inspire you to seek fruitful kingdom partnerships.

Partnership is hard. Good and effective partnership is even harder. Most of us in the global family of Christ agree that we are not here to fulfill the great commission alone. In fact, a couple of years ago, our association used a tag line that said:

The great commission is too big for anyone to accomplish alone and too important not to try to do together.

What an inspiring concept of partnership. We need each other, and the task at hand is urgent. But in reality, things tend to be a little bit more complex and challenging down on the ground. Right after my meeting with the leaders of this Central Asian house-church network, many questions arose; How much control should we have over partnership? How much money can be given before the relationship gets corrupted? Who gets the credit when the vision is accomplished? Can we trust them? As we got to know these leaders better, they where asking similar questions.

Here are some of our findings of what we were trying to say to each other:

NATIONAL CHURCH NETWORK

CROSSOVER GLOBAL

We desire to be coached, not controlled.

We desire to affirm authority, not take authority.

We desire to give relational authority, not organizational authority.

We desire to extend the Kingdom of God with you, not through you.

We desire to be guided, not driven.

We desire to serve you, not to be taken advantage of.

We desire to empower, not enslave.

These affirmations gave us clarity to develop three main principles that have served as foundational guidance to develop fruitful and long-term partnerships. We have learned that partnerships should be relationship-based, vision-focused and values-driven.

First, we realized that partnership should be, first and foremost, a relationship-based agreement instead of a transaction-based agreement.

In every single partnership that we currently have, the conversation started based on what we can accomplish together. This is natural, normal and, in some ways, the right place to start a conversation—but not the place to start a partnership. We have learned that after the exciting exchange of all the possible outcomes we could accomplish together we need to step back, put our dreams and aspirations on hold and get to know each other.

Relationship building takes time. Resisting the temptation of establishing a partnership solely based on dreams and ideas could be the beginning of the end. Relationship-based partnerships are more fruitful in the long run. As my dear friend and former Missio Nexus President Steve Moore states:

You can’t microwave a relationship. Imagine the foolishness of meeting someone for the first time and expecting to stay up talking all night and emerge the next day with a twenty-year friendship. That’s not how relationships work.

The road ahead in any partnership is bumpy. Relationship is based on trust. Relationship will hold us together. Relationship-based partnerships help us to know our partners’ character, priorities, and competencies. These three components play an important role in deciding if this relationship and partnership should move forward.

Secondly, a partnership should be vision-focused instead of activity-focused. As non-profits we tend to overemphasize activities. It makes sense. Activities are where stories take place. Lives get changed. Eternity becomes real. Because of this gravitational pull, many partnerships are solely based on activities and not on outcomes. The potential problem ahead is that outcomes are the strategic core of a partnership—together we can accomplish more (outcome) than what we could accomplish alone!

As Westerners, we cannot help but carry our cultural filter and logic to the table. We are tempted to get in a mindset of “we spent all this money and time to come to visit you, so let’s make the deal!” It is highly important to make sure that during this process clarity is created as much as possible. Again, this takes time, especially when dealing with a cross-cultural partner. It can be the most frustrating part of a partnership agreement. Insuring clarity is highly important. No short-cuts. No compromises.

Partnership should be, first and foremost, a relationship-based agreement instead of a transaction-based agreement.

As partners, we must be patient. Be a student of the local culture. Inasmuch as possible, learn how your partner thinks and what they value. For instance, our local partners are from an honor-shame culture, so we had to adapt our vocabulary accordingly.

Nothing is more frustrating than coming back from an overseas trip excited about a newly established partnership just to find out that what you understood is not the same thing the local partner was saying. Making sure clarity on terminology, expectations, and outcomes are critical for a successful and smooth partnership.

Lastly, a partnership should be values-driven instead of strategy-driven. As a leader, you most likely ask two questions in order to prioritize your time and demands—why and what? Inside every team there is a person who thinks of the “how” and this may be a good time to welcome their help.

Patrick Lencioni, an organizational consultant and renowned author, said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s true! Understanding what is the “culture” (values) in which this partnership will be conducted is vital. Especially when dealing with a cross-cultural partnership where both parties will need to learn a “new culture” of how to communicate effectively, how to make decisions, how to manage financial and material resources.

Here is where trust comes into play powerfully. A relationship-based partnership will give you and your partner permission to ask “how questions” with freedom. I seldom hear someone say that we were once well connected and had great synergy, but we woke up one day and we no longer believe we are called to accomplish the same vision! Most of the time, a broken partnership has to do with differences on the ministry philosophy and biblical beliefs.

Just like in every agency or local church, a partnership will eventually develop its own culture. That culture will grow out of your relationship and interaction with each other. It will be based on your history together, meals shared, meetings, and how you handle successes and failures. A values-driven partnership work through the details and hard questions in areas such as communication, ministry philosophy, and handling of financial resources.

As you read these principles you may have realized that Crossover Global’s approach to partnership is a long progress. We intentionally choose to operate in this way. We are seeking to have a long-term partnership. Time is the foundation block where these three principles of partnerships are built; relationship-based, vision-focused, and values-driven.

Relationship-Based

Vision-Focused

Values-Driven

Developing Trust

Developing Clarity

Developing Culture

Learning about the “Who?”

Character, Priorities, Competency

Learning about the “What?”

Terminology, Expectations, Outcomes

Learning about the “How?”

Communication, Philosophy, Finances

Time —>

In the last decade Crossover Global church planting partnerships resulted in the establishment of over four hundred new churches among unreached people groups. Due to our relationship-based focus, several of these network leaders have passed the local house-church network to the next generation and have joined our staff. Out of these leaders, two of them are leading a local office of operations for Crossover Global. They are deploying cross-cultural church planters from the churches we established over the years to reach near culture unreached people groups.

All of these principles and practices may not be new to you, nor are they complete. We are constantly learning. This has been our experience as we try to cut through all the noise around us and intentionally develop fruitful kingdom partnerships. Many years ago, I was listening to a leadership podcast by Andy Stanley of North Point Ministries, where he defined leadership as stewardship. He said; “it is temporary, and you are accountable.” I believe this is a great definition for partnership as I paraphrase pastor Andy: Partnership is about kingdom stewardship. It is temporary, and we are highly accountable.


Ken Katayama is Senior Vice President and US Director at Crossover.

 

Important Questions to Ask Before Partnering

  • Do I know him/her well enough to trust him/her?
  • What do I know about their family?
  • What are other types of partners do they have?
  • Would we partner with their partners?
  • Could I release full control to their local leadership?
  • Would I ever consider recruiting them to be part of my organization?
  • Would I have them as staff members in my church?
  • Is what I am saying the same thing they are hearing?
  • What are the promises we made each other? Do we have it on paper?
  • Are our expectations from each other clearly stated?
  • Do we have the buy-in and agreement of multiple people from both teams?
  • What are the outcomes?
  • How long is this partnership?
  • How do we evaluate? Measure?
  • When, who, and how many times will we report progress?
  • Can we cancel the agreement? If so, When? How?

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