Developing Effective Partnerships with Christian Organizations

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A phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the Christian circle is “let’s partner together.” Sometimes tasks and projects are too much for one person, church or organization. Since no one wants or has the time to reinvent the wheel, why not maximize on each other’s strengths and knowledge? But we all know, that is easier said than done. Once you sit down together to work through what needs to get done, the how can get tricky. In business, partners are motivated by a mutual desire to make money. But in ministry, the motivation may appear to the same but with differences in theology and leadership qualities, many times a partnership is not viable. So, the question becomes how does one create partnerships within Christian ministries resulting in collective work for the Gospel?

Here are some thoughts and lessons I have learned that have helped me:

1.     Do you like and trust the person you will be partnering with? 

This is one of the most important questions, I think.  I firmly believe that as believers we are called to “love” everyone but honestly, we do not get along with or like everyone. If personalities clash from the get-go or if you don’t trust the other party, there cannot be a successful partnership. I know what personalities don’t jive with mine and what traits bother me. Therefore, when I meet potential partners, those are red flags that I look for and then avoid.  

Trust is huge! You must be able to trust the persons you are partnering with.  Once trust is lost, regardless of the reason, a long-term partnership seems dim. It has happened to me with even reputable Christian organizations. Ultimately, lasting partnerships happen when you know the other party will come through with what they say and promise to carry out. With no trust or broken trust, both parties lose out in the end. 

2.     Evaluate working styles

How does the partner work and get things done? Are they more collaborative or more independent? This was a question I was asking myself during a breakfast meeting with a church pastor. I realized that we were never on the same page or were having a hard time communicating with each other.  He likes meeting in groups and making decisions collectively as a group. While I see the benefits of being in a group, I tend to rely on my coworkers to work independently and make necessary decisions accordingly. I like to play off peoples’ strengths and I believe that too many meetings are unproductive and can hinder productivity. It is better to know from the beginning than realize later that your working styles are different. By knowing whether you can accommodate each other’s working style, you minimize the chance of jeopardizing the relationship or the project’s end goal.

3.     Listen, Listen, Listen

As much as it is to get your goals across for a project, it is sometimes more important to hear the other party’s goals and motivation.  A genuine partnership forms when both parties share a common vision. Forcing a partnership with different visions or objectives is a recipe for disaster. More time may be spent trying to get your point across than working together. Synergy is important. By listening, you can better understand the other’s goals and manage expectations. It’s important to take the time out to find a mutual vision that works for both parties. Trust can be built that way and there will be less room for misunderstandings and miscommunication.

4.     Create win-win partnerships

If you get beyond my first 3 points, then creating a win-win partnership should be simple. Understanding and agreeing to mutually help each other achieve a win results in a successful partnership. That can only happen when both sides believe in each other’s mission. A one-sided partnership will not survive in the long term no matter how much money may be exchanged. At some point, frustration or a sense of unfairness can settle in and eventually destroy the partnership, in which case both sides lose. Of course there has to be some give and take and room for grace, but that can only happen if the visions are believed mutually to be from God.

5.     Tackle the hard conversations in the beginning

Talking about money and expectations can be weird and awkward but necessary in partnerships. It is better to be upfront and clear from the get-go to avoid issues later. Many issues can be avoided by clearly stating what is expected for what price. As an Asian, I hate talking about money. I still feel uncomfortable talking about it but have learned from past experiences that it is worse if I don’t. If there is a disagreement about money or expectations from the beginning, then a partnership may not be the best thing and future conflicts can be avoided all together.

6.     Invite the Holy Spirit to be a part of the partnership

Lastly, trust the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is and should be involved in all parts of ministry work.  I try to always listen to the Holy Spirit, especially when I am dealing with other partners. I need guidance and want to see things from His Perspective and not just mine. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will place a burden about a vision or ask for me to hold off on a project. When that happens, I share that with my partners and respected mentors for accountability. It is not always about what is best for the ministry I am working for. It is always about the ministry God has called all of us to participate in. I will continue to make mistakes, but I will strive to pray and listen more, believing that God will guide my ways. My trust in God grows more everyday as I see His Work being done in my ministries as well as those around me.

Serving at Church

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Do you serve at church on top of working and possibly serving with other ministries? A lot of people ask me if I serve at church. Honestly, I wrestle sometimes trying to decide whether I should or not. If this was ten or twelve years ago my whole life was spent in the local church serving in our high school and college ministries.  Now things are a little different since I am traveling a lot more than ever before, long hours at work, as well as a four year old and a new daughter on the way.

I know this is a question that some people have wrestled with and so I wanted to share a few thoughts and “guidelines” that have helped me in the last ten years.   Other people may have different opinions but these are just some of my personal thoughts and opinions.

First and foremost, no matter what we do, it should bring glory to God. Everything we do can help to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ in some way. Acts 1:8 says that we are to take his Word from Jerusalem Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  However, does that mean we should take every opportunity that comes our way to serve? Here are a couple of questions to ask I think that may be helpful in deciding when to serve and when not to serve in your church:

What are your areas of strength, passion or gifts?

There are 20 spiritual gifts according to Scripture given specifically for the upbuilding of the body of Christ: administration, apostleship, compassion, discernment, evangelism, exhortation, faith, giving, healing, helping, interpretation of tongues, knowledge, leadership, miracles, prophecy, servanthood, shepherding, teaching, tongues, and wisdom.

What are the activities that you enjoy doing? Things that give you energy? How has God gifted you?  What does it mean to have a passion for something? It’s not always related to being gifted. Passion is what drives you to do your best because you care. It is noticeable to those around you and can influence others. Passion makes serving less of a duty or obligation. Duty and obligation can be intentional but unlike passion, the heart is not there. Without a heart in the area of service, one can get burnt out or bitter about serving. Serving with passion and utilizing the gifts that God has given you can be life giving.

After twenty plus years of doing ministry in different capacities, I now know what I am good at and what I am not. I am not a good coach or mentor.  It’s not how I’m wired, and I am not passionate about it. So, when I “have” to do that, I feel drained. On the other hand, give me a vision and I can plan future steps and get excited about putting a team together to have the vision come to fruition – project management.  That is innately in me and I believe God planted that in my design. Rarely, will I turn down an opportunity that involves project management.

Are you serving to fulfill a need within the church?

There are times, passion or no passion, we just “suck it up” and help. At home, we all pitch in some way, like throwing out the garbage, dishes or laundry. Why? Because we are family. It’s no different at church with our church family. We want to help each other and share the load. As great as that is, I noticed that if you serve out of need for too long of a time in an area that you have no passion about or in an area that you do not excel at, you run the risk of burning out or growing bitter.  Eventually, you won’t want to do it anymore. I am not good at children’s ministry, but at church, I volunteer to sub when someone backs out or if extra help is needed during the holidays. But if you ask me to do it every other week, I would not. I know, that it would not be good for me or the kids. My dislike for the job would start to show, which is bad. Be careful also not to be guilted into service. Group think within churches is huge. Whenever a new vision or project arises, people are asked by pastors or leaders. That isn’t bad, but when you do it out of guilt, then it is bad. I’ve done it and seen it firsthand.  

Do you feel a leading from God to do this?  

What is God calling you to do?  What is the burden you feel in your heart?  Do you know what your calling is or where God is leading you to focus your efforts? I believe it can change at different points of your life. For example, many of us work in the marketplace. That is your mission field to serve God. But then God can call you to focus on your family and serve them because of your children or family illness. In the book, Designing Your Life by Dave Evans, it helps us to realize who God designed us to be and how to live your life around that. In most cases, there is prayer and affirmation from peers/mentors after making the decision to switch areas of service or focus.

God calls us to be in community with each other. Why? Not only are we called to serve one another (Galatians 5:13) but to make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification (Romans 14:19). Basically, we are to spur each other on to finish this race that we have begun in Christ.  Jesus had his disciples that walked beside him. Serving involves other people – those you serve, those you serve with and those that help you serve. It’s a privilege to serve but let’s remember why we serve and who we serve as we bring the Gospel to life in our house, workplace and church.

Is serving the wisest choice for your life NOW?  

How much is on your plate? Sometimes we just need to say no even though the need is there, and the cause is good.  Serving is a privilege and opportunity for a person to be blessed. We need to evaluate what is going on in our lives before making the decision to serve. Honestly, you may not have the time to serve well.  It may not even be a good season to serve. I’ve been very active in my local church, leading college ministry, doing camps and teaching Sunday School. But with the growth of Resource Global and Createpossible, traveling constantly, and my family to take care of, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to do it all.  My struggle with cancer two years ago also taught me to not push beyond my physical limits. I had to scale back and be more discerning. God doesn’t want just part of us, He wants us to serve wholeheartedly. He also wants us to take care of ourselves and treat our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 6:19).

Saying no to serving is hard. But for the right reasons, God will honor that decision. Don’t say no out of laziness or apathy. Ultimately, it is your choice to serve or not. You only need to be accountable to God, no one else. Pray to hear God’s calling and leading when deciding to serve. What is God calling you to do?