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The Power of Partnership – I

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I once read about the dynamic partnership of a commissioned missionary, a married couple who owned their own successful business, a short-term worker and a local congregation. The carefully scripted history of North American missionary efforts over the last two centuries may have viewed such a relationship with suspicion, but it was powerful because the partners understood six critical components of successful missionary partnerships. Oh, and by the way—I read about it in the Bible.

Partnerships are powerful when the partners are humble learners. In ACT 18.1-3, we learn that Paul meets the married businesspeople, Aquila and Priscilla, in the thriving city of Corinth. He teaches them while they make tents together, and they no doubt attend his weekly lectures in the synagogue. God-fearing Jews who have been expelled from Rome by Claudius Caesar, they develop a thorough knowledge of the gospel and the doctrine of Christ. Their business being a mobile operation, they accompany Paul to Ephesus. When he leaves them there to sail to Caesarea, they employ the Pauline learning cycle described in 2 TIM 2.2.

Partnerships are powerful when the partners are willing teachers. Jesus makes it clear in MAT 28.18-20 that the Great Commission will be fulfilled through teaching. No Christ follower can bow out of his or her responsibility by saying, “Yes, but I’m just not a teacher.” Encountering the Egyptian scholar Apollos, an eloquent Jew who speaks boldly in the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla take him aside and patiently explain to him the things Paul has taught them about the Lord Jesus. Though they are tradespeople with limited formal education, they are not intimidated by Apollos’ academic pedigree or commanding presence. They teach him privately and gently. Satisfied that he has been sufficiently trained, they encourage him to go back to Corinth, sending a letter of recommendation with him to the new believers there.

In a powerful partnership, there are no know-it-alls.

Partnerships are powerful when the partners are trusted colleagues. Paul goes to Corinth discouraged by the response he has received in Athens. Once there, he determines to use the simple approach of preaching “nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 COR 2.2) He avoids the philosophical entrée he used in Athens, and does not preach in Corinth with eloquence or confidence—two qualities Apollos possesses. Paul has already debated Christ’s deity with the Jews in Corinth, and has not been well received. (1 COR 18.5,6) When Apollos arrives, he “greatly [helps]” the disciples there, “powerfully [refuting] the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” (1 COR 18.28) Paul was not inadequate—he was a masterful debater and a peerless Old Testament scholar. But Aquila and Priscilla recognize Apollos as someone God can use to enhance the work Paul began among the Jews in Corinth. Partnerships work when people acknowledge that some team members are more effective at some things than others are, and that no one person has all the gifts required to do the job.

Partnerships are powerful when the partners are confident decision-makers. A lack of trust in missionary teams is a hellish contagion that destroys both ministries and reputations. In 1 COR 16.12, Paul tells the Corinthians that when he “strongly urged” Apollos to visit them, Apollos refused. Paul assured them that Apollos will come at a later date, when he feels God’s timing is more auspicious. In the famous disagreement over John Mark in Acts 15.36ff, Barnabus withstands Paul and actually parts company with him. This issue is later resolved, as is the men’s confidence in each other. Interpersonal conflict is still a leading cause of missionary attrition. Partnerships work when, within the parameters of a team’s structures, partners are empowered and encouraged to make sound decisions.

Guest Blogger:  Rob Heijermans, BMW