- Partnering with Nationals

Partnership: the New Direction in World Evangelism
Mainline Denominational Models

Abridged from documents by Lorry Lutz and Luis Bush

Mainline denominations have grappled with the question of partnership even longer than the independent mission agencies. In 1947, the International Missionary Council which met at Whitby, Ontario, proclaimed the rallying cry "partnership in obedience." And to their credit, mainline denominations took their responsibility of fellowship and fraternal involvement with the "younger" churches seriously.

Presbyterian Church
Many mainline churches have suffered declining membership in recent years and their mission agencies continue to lose numbers. For example, twenty five years ago one branch of the Presbyterian Church, the PCUSA, had over 1000 missionaries. Today, in spite of the amalgamation of three American branches of the Presbyterian Church, its total missionary force numbers only a few hundred.

While part of this decline was due to theological shifts, a major force was the philosophical change which took place after World War II. In desiring to give the national church greater autonomy and self direction, most denominational missionaries were no longer actively involved in evangelism and church planting, but were able to serve only if invited by national churches, who generally requested their help to strengthen their own programs.

Where the overseas church was vital and alive, this resulted in an even stronger church and an effective partnership. Presbyterian missionaries in Korea worked under mature and visionary Korean leadership who valued their contributions as the church grew rapidly.  Indeed, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Presbyterian missionaries and the Korean church partnered to build up one of the fastest growing and rapidly developing mission-minded churches in the world.

However, where national Presbyterian churches lack such mature and visionary leadership, they seem to "use" the missionaries for their own ends. In some Muslim countries, the church demonstrates little ability to reach out to Muslims and most of the missionaries are invited to work in service organizations or care for missionary personnel.

Today the primary focus of missions in the Presbyterian church is partnership—a give and take between presbyteries and churches of different countries. Bruce Gannaway, associate director for Partnership in Mission, Global Mission United, says, "One day it will be enough to say simply, 'We share in the common resources that Christ has given us for missions.'"

A New Methodist Mission
The Methodist Church has faced the same decline in membership and missionaries. But in 1984 Methodists, concerned about the lack of evangelism and outreach through the church's mission board, established a separate mission agency, the United Methodist Society.

H. T. Maclin, director of the United Methodist Society (UMS), served as a missionary with the Methodist Board. When he left Nairobi in 1971, Emmanuel, his African colleague and dearest friend came to see him off. Maclin commented on what a great day this was because "we've now become completely nationalized, working in harmony and partnership with each other."  Emmanuel responded with words that Maclin will never forget, "As long as the world stands, we'll need each other."

With these words still ringing in his ears fifteen years later, Maclin helped start the United Methodist Society, recognizing that the church is enriched by sharing each other's experiences and lives. Within a few months after the Society's founding, the Ghanaian Methodist Church appealed for help. The church had doubled in the previous eight years and desperately needed Theological Education by Extension trainers. Within a few years the United Methodist Society had seventeen missionaries working in partnership with the church in Ghana.

Another example is an American couple sent out by the UMS to work with a Paraguayan pastor under the administrative oversight of the Brazilian Methodist Church. Recognizing that salary differences could cause problems, the Society and the Brazilian church worked out an equitable arrangement. UMS sets the salary for its missionaries and helps them raise the funds, but the Brazilian church determines the allowance to be received on the field for both the Brazilian and American missionaries. The difference is held in an account in the USA for the couple's use when they return.

Southern Baptists Grow
Over a ten year period Southern Baptist missionaries grew from 2667 to 3432, a 2.84 percent yearly increase (Crawley, Winston, Global Mission, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tenn., 1985, p. 382). Part of the reason may be that all Southern Baptist churches have a commitment to world missions.  Another strong influence may be that the mission board continues to see its primary role as evangelism and church planting.

The process of developing independent bodies of Baptist churches or conventions varies from country to country.  While the SBFMB (Southern Baptist-Foreign Mission Board) is moving into new countries at the rate of more than two a year, where fresh, new relationships and ideal policies can be attempted, in some older fields the lines have been rigidly drawn so that neither the church nor the mission finds it easy to change.

In one southern African country, the convention has gelled into an inward-looking body whose elderly leadership is protective of position and fearful of change, especially by youth. The missionaries are bound to channel any financial or personnel assistance through the convention. When a younger group of spiritually alive and visionary leaders began planting churches, the convention cut them off—and the missionaries could not help.

Keith Parks warned, retreating from leadership and decision-making can be "a painful process." But in other parts of the world new and exciting cross cultural opportunities face the SBFMB. In 1985 the board called for a conference of representatives of conventions who have sent or have the potential to send their own missionaries, to discuss partnering in cross-cultural mission.  The Brazilian Convention, for example, has sent over 100 missionaries into 18 countries. It is now consulting with the SBFMB about working together in Venezuela.

The goal of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board seems to differ from other denominations, in that it sees its involvement in the strengthening of the institutions and building up the infrastructure of the denomination as temporary. Keith Parks explains, "As they reach a beginning level of maturity, our feeling is that the training of local leaders and the publication of materials needs to continue, but that really our great burden is to be out on the cutting edge of spreading the Kingdom."

Parks, however, reiterates the partnership roles. "As quickly as they begin to emerge where they can do it, then we become partners with them as they focus more on the development of the denomination and the training and literature and institutions, and we become their partner in outreach beyond what they could do without our being there."

Assemblies of God
Another growing denomination, the 16-million member Assemblies of God Church, doubles its worldwide membership every six years. Each of the 80 national church bodies are completely autonomous and independent. They are also aggressively reaching out in missions, and this has brought about the need for greater coordination.

Phil Hogan, retired Executive Director of the Assemblies of God-USA, helped form the International Fellowship of Assemblies of God as a "platform for coordination." Hogan illustrates the need by pointing to the Assemblies of God Church in Ecuador, which has been growing rapidly in recent years. "But now the Assemblies of God of Brazil sends in three missionaries to work in Ecuador. Their next door neighbor, the Assemblies of God of Venezuela, sends one couple across the border. The Japanese, believe it or not, send two couples. . . The Ecuadorian Assemblies of God says, 'Hey, wait a minute. You know, we're glad to have you, the country needs you, but we need some coordinating.'"

Presbyterian Church of America (PCA)
Avoiding duplication of effort was one of the main reasons behind the Presbyterian Church of America's  (PCA) Mission to the World. In 1974 John Kyle helped start Mission to the World which forms cooperative agreements with other mission agencies, assigning PCA personnel to agencies that can use their skills. Mission to the World helps to find the right "fit," offers prayer support and assistance in fund raising. The partner agency takes over the administrative and ministry responsibilities on the field.

Over the years Mission to the World has developed a written working agreement between itself and the partner agencies. Since PCA is reformed in doctrine, to avoid tension on the field Mission to the World missionaries are not placed as church planters with a non-reformed mission, but they can serve as service personnel.

How do the supporting PCA churches maintain a sense of ownership when their missionaries serve with many different agencies? This does not seem to be any more of a problem than with interdenominational missions.  Kyle says they require regular reports from their missionaries and make every effort to help the churches learn to know and trust the mission agencies represented.

True to his cooperative spirit, Kyle believes that many more denominations should be partnering in this way with other agencies, even to interchanging personnel where needed. Some, such as the United Methodist Society, already form agreements with other agencies, but it's an area of partnering that has barely been tapped.

Click here for original documents from Partnership:<> the New Direction in World Evangelism by Lorry Lutz and Luis Bush, 1990,  InterVarsity Press.

Partnerships: Field-Based |<> Nationals |<> Church/Agency

Cooperation: Networking | Partnerships | Church<> Planting

AGP: Introduction | Adoption | Cooperation | Individual<> Involvement | Resources