I was recently in Nairobi establishing our work on the ground and developing partnerships there. As I met with many ministry and business leaders I spent some time reflecting on what makes an effective partnership.
Partnerships are not easy to form, especially in cross-cultural ministry contexts; each city is so very different. The kind of partnerships that we established in Jakarta, Indonesia where we launched our first cohort are very different from the kind of partnerships we are developing in Nairobi, Kenya. The partnerships we have established in the US with other US ministries are also very different. Each ministry has a unique culture and DNA. Throw in differing theological frameworks and restrictions, as well as the unique personalities of each ministry leader, and it becomes even more of a challenge to settle on an agreement that is mutually beneficial to both parties.
I find that in the world of business creating partnerships is very easy. Everyone is motivated by one thing: money. If you can create revenue that benefits both parties than the partnership is a win. But in the world of ministry it is a lot more complicated. Partnerships are not necessarily about the money but rather about affiliations. Therefore, I am constantly in conversations with ministries who want to “talk” and “partner” together, but many times it stops there. How do we create partnerships between Christian ministries that help each organization achieve what they are called to do?
Here are some general thoughts that have helped me:
1. The first thing in any partnership is to listen to the ministry leader and understand what they are doing in their country.
A genuine and natural partnership exists when you can tie in what you are doing with what they are doing. Many times I find that when you try to force a partnership with two different visions and objectives it becomes messy, but if there is some connection than you have synergy. It is important to go in with some expectations but be flexible with what comes out of it. Listening is very important. Give permission to disagree and talk things through. Trust is developed when you open up to one another and agree to work through misunderstandings and miscommunications to show that you have each others’ best interests in mind.
2. It is important to understand what your potential partner considers a “win.”
When you understand what a win is for your partner, you can do your best to achieve it. Long term partnerships result in wins for both sides. If the partnership is only one sided it will not endure long term. Eventually someone will get frustrated and the partnership will fall apart. Each organization has a vision for the work that God has given them. In some cases the other organization will only seek to benefit their own work and will not be willing to help you achieve your needed results. In these cases a partnership may not be possible. Too often this reality is ignored. Authentic partnerships start when both sides believe in each others’ mission and strive to help each other achieve it. To do this you must agree and be in line with the mission of the organization you are partnering with, which is above and beyond just focusing on the money that the partner may be willing to give.
3. The talk of money and expectations makes things weird and awkward but it is important to have these difficult conversations before the money changes hands.
If you do not have these conversations initially it will create bigger problems down the line that easily could have been avoided. I have learned this the hard way. As an Asian American I hate talking about money, but when I have avoided talking about it, it has not turned out well. It is hard. It is uncomfortable. But it helps the partnership in the long term. And if the money and expectations conversation does not conclude as planned, that is okay; if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Not all groups should partner together.
4. Build a relationship and build trust in the process.
This is key and important to be reminded of. I often have an agenda in my head when I walk into a meeting, but by taking time to build the relationship we establish a level of trust where we can openly talk things through. When I am unclear or make a mistake, I make sure I admit it and ask for forgiveness. Depending on the culture it may take longer to build a relationship. I find that in international partnerships relationships are very important and spending time with people is key. In the US we typically care more about the transaction than the relationship so we must be very intentional about spending time with our partners, listening and asking questions, before just asking directly for what we need.
5. Lastly, trust the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is involved in all parts of our ministry. I am always listening to the Holy Spirit when I am in partnership conversations and I ask the Spirit to help me see clearly with His eyes. I can prepare my part to the best of my abilities, but at times the Holy Spirit gives me a burden to ask or offer something, or even to hold off because something does not seem right. As I grow more in my walk with the Lord I trust that He will guide me. I will make mistakes but I need to be praying and listening. Our organization and our ministry work depend on it.