Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Partnership and Missionary Personnel

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Partnership and Missionary Personnel

Article excerpt


Joyce Bowers is the Associate Director for International Personnel in the Division for Global Mission of the Evangelical Church of America. She prepared this paper as a contribution to the study on "International Relationships in Mission," by addressing the issue of partnership as it affects and is expressed in the sending and receiving of personnel in cross-cultural mission.

Partnership or accompaniment?

The use of the words "partners" and "partnership" to designate the relationship between traditional missionary sending churches of the north (mostly in Europe and North America) and traditional missionary receiving churches of the south (mostly in the "two-thirds world") is currently being questioned. In the standard use of English, "partner" usually designates equality, for example, partners in owning a business, partners in a law firm, or partners in marriage. The use of the word "partners" by churches of the north when referring to churches of the south usually designates a working relationship, often of long standing, and is a term of respect. The use of the word "partners" by churches of the south may be primarily to designate "sources of funding and personnel." In terms of material wealth, the churches of the north are the "haves" and the churches of the south are the "have-nots." So, to the degree that financial resources are the focus of the interaction, they are not equal partners, and perhaps therefore another term is needed. On the other hand, with regard to spiritual and other resources, and in the eyes of God, they are equal partners, so the term is valid in that sense.

Some have suggested the word "accompaniment" be used to better express the nature of the relationship between churches of the north and those of the south. When people accompany one another, they walk together, supporting and encouraging one another, and sharing the same experience. The term implies care and mutual respect, but not necessarily equality. The image of Jesus with the disciples on the road to Emmaus comes to mind. The word "accompaniment" is often associated with Latin American experience, liberation theology, etc., and is therefore not usually used in reference to Africa or Asia. But perhaps the word should be "liberated" from those restrictions!

But, despite the reservations just expressed, the words "partner" and "partnership" are used in this paper. The intent is to connote equally valued though not necessarily equal partners.

Some unavoidable limitations

The author is a part of a large, materially wealthy, relatively powerful church in North America - the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This paper therefore reflects the perspective of a traditional missionary sending body, and cannot honestly be written from any other perspective. The perspective of traditional receiving bodies should be expressed by someone in that position.

The disparity in material wealth is an unalterable truth of our present existence, and cannot be ignored or discounted. This paper, therefore, is written from the perspective of churches that, unfortunately, have not yet really learned how to receive; it discusses their relationships in mission with churches that, unfortunately, have not yet really learned how to give. There has been and still is too much emphasis on funding as the means of giving and receiving, so that if a church cannot give money, it often feels that it has nothing to give.

This discussion of partnership relationships assumes recognized church-to-church relationships. If the sending agency has a project in an area where there is no church with which to cooperate and partner, most of the following could not be practiced. In fact, a church may be present in the area to which missionaries are sent, but if it is not recognized as a legitimate Christian church, there is no partnership to discuss.


How is the "partnership discipline" played out in personnel issues? …

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