Friday, September 04, 2009

Developing Healthy Partnerships

In an age of limited budgets and downsizing, partnerships between ministry organizations are looking more attractive. These ministry organizations may be individual congregations, judicatories, institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and consulting groups. In an effort to be better stewards of their limited resources, Christians are looking for new ways to work together. Imagine that!

What should a ministry organization look for as it seeks to develop a partnership? What are some warning flags? Let me suggest a few. You may have some of your own.

First, shared values. The two organizations should share some basic values. These will be determined only through clear communication and dialogue. Examples of shared values could be a similar view of the person and work of Christ (Christology), practice of gender equality, integrity, financial accountability, and concern for human need. The values upon which the partnership is based should not be negotiable once agreed upon and should be clearly stated. Some would say that for two organizations to work together, they must have an identical theology. I am not sure that this is true. I can work with someone who has a different understanding of the practice of baptism or church polity if we both believe in the centrality of Jesus Christ.

Second, a shared vision. Before two organizations “marry” or start “going steady,” they need to determine if they are each moving toward the same goal. Are they both aiming for the same outcome of this partnership? If either enters into the partnership with a hidden agenda, the relationship is bound to fail.

Third, a shared commitment. Is this a long term or a short term arrangement? If we are in this for the long haul, how will we reconcile differences? How far can we bend without breaking? If the relationship is not based on equality and mutuality, who has the final word and why?

Fourth, shared health. Very rarely will the merger of a sick organization and a healthy organization result in a healthy relationship. Too often a weaker organization sees a partnership with a stronger organization as its salvation, but the weaker may just drag the stronger down. If an organization is not making it on its own, this is a good sign of dysfunction that can spread and destroy both organizations.

Good partnerships—like good marriages—require communication, negotiation, and commitment. Good partners understand and respect their differences and rejoice in their similarities. Desperation can cause a partner to enter into an unhealthy relationship. Just because someone asks you to dance, you don’t have to accept. Stop and consider the consequences first.

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