Partnering with local churches is so important, but it can be tricky. Sometimes we can end up taking over like the kid who’s determined to get an A in chem-lab despite her remedial lab partner. We think, “This (whatever) needs to go faster, smoother, prettier. If only they’d listen to my ideas and just do them, we would ace this.”
But the truth is, when we outsiders give our ideas and our resources, we aren’t partnering with the Bride of Christ. We’re trying to take over for the Bride Groom. Really–who should they be depending on, looking to for wisdom and provision, thanking and praising when all is said and done? Who knows what’s best for them? Who defines their calling and ministry? Who has power to transform? Not me. Not a donor. Not a church a thousand miles away or a short-term team. Not an NGO.
My first experiences in community development taught me one lesson – it’s not as easy as I would like. It always felt like a dance. Sometimes we did see good results but often it felt like one step forward and two backwards. Some of our experiences were great and sometimes we found out that while things can improve in one area, it doesn’t necessarily mean a life transformed. For example, more money doesn’t always mean better educated children, it may mean parents buying more alcohol.
In only three years of community development work I was already starting to ask if I had missed something, was there another way of addressing the needs that we saw around us. Around that time I attended a conference. One of the conference speakers, Bob Moffitt of Harvest Foundation shared three truths.
People are often surprised to hear about the progress being made in places that are very closed off to access by westerners. Many times, as we tell the stories of what God is doing among persecuted, impoverished churches in places that are very hard to reach, our friends in the West say, “We don’t want to miss out! God is at work and we want to be a part of it!” So we at Reconciled World want to give opportunities to get involved in what God is doing.
Not long ago, the team at Reconciled World sensed God was calling us to develop opportunities for churches in the West to connect as partners in the work of Reconciled World.
We’ve likely all observed the scene in a grocery store: a demanding child insisting on some sugary snack that not-so-coincidentally is placed within the reach of said child in the check-out lane. The parent voices some version of “no” and “put it back,” which often is met with a louder, “why?!?” from the child.
Depending on the level of the patience of the parent in the moment, there might be some sort of reasoning offered, but when the child doesn’t relent, eventually the parent replies with the same naked appeal to power that has been employed by all parents since Adam and Eve:
“Why do you have to put the candy back?
BECAUSE I SAID SO!”
Seven months ago I sat with a group of men at a men’s event in Sioux Falls and shared about God’s heart for the vulnerable and poor. We read scripture, discussed the meaning of some verses, shared our hearts in worship and committed to doing something about the brokenness in our community. In the room that evening were mechanics, accountants, contractors, farmers, coaches, graphic designers and entrepreneurs.
I challenged them to dream. What could this group together do for the kingdom of God? How could these talents and skills be used to love the vulnerable of Sioux Falls? Within a matter of a few weeks Men of Action was formed.
I remember visiting an orphanage in Haiti about 18 years ago. This was my first real cross-cultural experience so everything was intriguing and I asked hundreds of questions. One afternoon I was walking around the compound where we were staying and I saw a Haitian lady doing laundry. She was scrubbing the clothes by hand on an old washboard. I sat for a moment from a distance and watched her. As intriguing as it was to watch her scrub the clothes against a wooden washboard the most compelling question was “Why isn’t she using the washing machine located 10 feet behind her?” The work time would be cut in half not to mention how much less labor intensive the washing would be. In my mind I thought:
“Surely she sees it right? Maybe she isn’t the normal washer and she doesn’t know how to use it. Maybe it is just broken and they are waiting for a part.”
Partnership is one of those tricky words that gets thrown around a lot. And it can mean different things to different people and organizations. Since one of Reconciled World’s Core Principles is “Partnering with Churches,” we want to take a few hundred words to unpack what we mean by partnership.
Just to be clear, Reconciled World is a community of programs that apply biblical truth to brokenness in a wide range of circumstances. We have all committed to the principle of partnering with churches, but that doesn’t mean we all do it perfectly or identically. We are all at different places on the journey. But we are all striving for the same goal–that the church would take its rightful place at the center of God’s transformational plan.