Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry – Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

By David Harakal

Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry

Installment 5: Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I.

And let it be a witness between you and me.

– Genesis 31:44

Good fences make good neighbors.

– Robert Frost

Please help me select a title for the book these articles will become:

Please share your thoughts in the MOU template at

Reminder: your fellowship, sending organization, or team may not align with my advice. Trust your leaders as you respectfully share what you learn.

You need some kind of governance document. Being “led by the Spirit” is well and good—until you break an unwritten team rule or miss an undocumented expectation. An MOU provides your solution.

What is a Memorandum of Understanding?

From, A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is “a document that describes the general principles of an agreement between parties, but does not amount to a substantive contract.” It should contain enough detail for you to understand expectations and enough flexibility to adapt to your specific gifts and goals. These are typically written by an organization or team leader. Unlike a contract, an MOU is not legally binding, but does set forth expectations for leaders and team members.

Any exceptions to an MOU must be documented in writing. Any verbal agreement is not an agreement. Team leaders change, and do not always remember what was said.

The information that follows is based on my personal experience and MOUs shared with me by several different organizations with different team dynamics.


Elements of an MOU

The following elements should be concise and clear.

  • Team Vision—“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18a KJV) Your team’s vision should be the guiding concept to the MOU. Ensure it is clear, concise, and one you share.
  • Team Roles and Leadership Structure—is the team hierarchical or is leadership shared? Is there room for each person to express their gifts and learn others? Is there a clear leader and decision maker?
  • Commitments—Team leaders and participants share in some commitments and differ in others. All should be documented.
  • Time Expectations—New team members often experience a loss of autonomy early in their cross-cultural lives, with highly structured days. This is normal. However, how structured and how long may be a topic for discussion.
  • Team Rhythms—How much time is dedicated each week/month to team activities should be clear. There should also be an absence policy.
  • Travel Policy—Are there restrictions on when or where you can travel, or any requirements to travel. Many ministries have a minimum stay before traveling to one’s passport country.
  • Decisions—The MOU should spell out specifically what requires approval and by whom. Some things will likely require someone be notified, but do not require approval. I recommend a decision-making matrix. Tables are often clearer than text. (See example in the MOU Template.)
  • Conflict Resolution—Teams are full of flawed humans. Conflicts will arise. How does the team work through them? The process should be specific.
  • Communication Protocols—What tools does the team use to communicate? What are the expected response times? Do leaders and members both adhere to those?
  • Agreement—The team leader and the team member should both sign the MOU. Best case is to note any exceptions in the document. Second best is for the document to acknowledge that any exceptions will be documented and how (e.g., by e-mail, in a workflow tool, on a Google doc, etc.). If there are elements in the MOU with which you disagree, or if it is silent on a point important to you, do not sign it before discussing with your team leader.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Reliant or any other entity with which he is affiliated.

Please share your thoughts in the MOU template at

This article is part of a series. For prior articles, Resources, and the author’s biography, visit

Books by this author:

This article is submitted by Reliant. Reliant is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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