Missions As Partnership
The shift of the majority of Christians from Europe and North America to the Majority World (Asia, Africa, Latin America) has more than numerical significance. As Western missionary forces are shrinking in numbers (and possibly also in influence), I predict that the role of Western missions will undergo a dramatic shift away from leadership to a more modest (and healthier) goal of assisting local churches in foreign countries.
For many years now God has allowed Becky and me to work closely with local churches in the nation of Ethiopia. We have witnessed His mighty hand at work in the church there. Evangelical Christianity in Ethiopia is growing steadily (it is now up to 18 percent of the population), and in some areas the growth has been explosive (Alaba, for example).
Becky and I view our relationship with the Ethiopian churches as a partnership. Indeed, partnership is a very important word to us. Daniel Rickett, in his book Building Strategic Relationships: A Practical Guide to Partnering with Non-Western Missions (p. 1), defines partnership as "a complementary relationship driven by a common purpose and sustained by a willingness to learn and grow together in obedience to God." Such is our desire everywhere we go in Ethiopia. Our goal is to establish partnerships between autonomous bodies in the U.S. and Ethiopia. This is one reason we prefer to work at the local church level rather than at the denominational level. A parallel commitment of ours is to develop a sense of interdependence among the churches we work with both in the States and in the Horn of Africa. We might call our work a joint venture between full partners.
As in all human relationships, partnerships have their challenges and problems. Both partners must be aware of cultural differences that exist. Communication can also be a challenge. Amazingly, today we can speak with the church elders in Burji directly by cell phone. Just a few years Burji had no electricity let alone mobile phone communications! Lines of accountability is yet another factor that must be taken into account. To achieve the goal of the partnership, each partner must do his job. Above all, love and trust must be established and maintained.
God has commanded the church to share the Good News with the world. It is time to unify the Body of Christ and work together as true partners to fulfill this plan. Such a partnership has great potential for mutual transformation both on the host country and the missionary.
Above all, it is the quality and depth of personal relationships that make or break a partnership. It is for this reason that Becky and I are spending 2 weeks in Ethiopia next month to revisit the churches and meet with our partners. Please pray for and with us as we seek God's guidance in planning our mission trip in July of this year, when we will take 23 partners from local churches in America to Ethiopia with us.
February 25, 2010
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.