Friday, December 17, 2004

Partnership for good, partnership for God, Part 1

Part 1: Base hits and foul balls

Step up to homeplate, Presbyterians, it's your turn at bat in the highstakes game of mission.

Mission no longer belongs to the pros. Sure, we still have the greats, the established mission superstars who have a lot to teach us. But they're mainly on the sidelines, and the walk-on league is the new major league.

The ballpark gates are wide open. Everyone's a free agent. Any one of us with a yen for doing good can find ourselves wearing a team shirt and waving a bat at homeplate, wondering just how well we'll hit that ball.

Our biggest surprise is that the pitcher is slinging hardball, pitched with a curve at 130 mph. No slow ball in this game. And so we wonder: Will we get a base hit? Foul the ball? Strike out?
Individuals, congregations and presbyteries are stepping into major-league missional roles and finding steep learning curves. Into that situation a new stream of material is beginning to be developed that recognizes this new playing field - and offers truly helpful training.
In a sense we're discovering that mission is not quite as easy as it looks, just like driving or cooking or flying. The pros have made it look easy, and so we unabashedly step up to plate only to find the game a bit tougher than we expected.

Hmm. In the back of our minds a little voice pleads for some mentoring in this wild game. Maybe, we admit, there is some collective wisdom somewhere, some manual it just might be handy to learn from.

Welcome to mission in the 21st Century, the new team sport.

The Presbyterian Church has seen this trend coming and has been thinking a lot about partnership. Not just its own partnerships, but also all these new networks and partnerships and joint ventures that pew-level congregations are kicking up.

Surprise! - the PCUSA has found a genuinely helpful voice, offering up insights borne of 200 years of mission involvement around the world.

The 215th General Assembly (2003) presented the church with a paper affirming that “Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership.” You can read that paper online and can be ordered free in printed form as well.

This month the PCUSA has come up with practical-level guidelines on healthy mission partnerships - based on the GA-approved paper - that I would commend to you. These guidelines have a ponderous name -- "General Guidelines for International Partnerships Between PC(USA) Congregations, Presbyteries and Synods and International Church Governing Bodies and Institutions."

The Guidelines are not yet posted on the PCUSA Website, so I'm presenting portions of that document now for your benefit.
Within the guidelines are some valuable insights that churches and presbyteries, frankly, need to learn to do well if we want to hit base hits and avoid foul balls. Those foul balls are the all-too-easy mistakes we can make in mission that dishonor Christ and disable the cause of Christ.
This article will present one part of the guidelines, and in a subsequent article I will continue with other parts.

As we go about joining with other Christians in mission and ministry, the Guidelines suggest, we are all called to seek these:
  • To answer God’s call in mission, not serve our own needs by ‘doing good;”
  • Opportunities for initiatives in mission by any partner, not one-sided efforts;
  • Mutual respect, not paternalism;
  • To be independent (self-propagating, self-supporting, self-governing) church partners with a mission vision, not dependent churches focused on survival;
  • Interdependent partnerships that are of benefit to all partners, not one-sided dependent relationships;
  • Mutuality, not one-way mission;
  • Opportunities and recognition for “the least of these,” not exploitation to the benefit of the more powerful;
  • A growing web of partnerships, not exclusive or private relationships;
  • To meet the holistic needs of churches and people(s), not serve narrow agendas;
  • Open dialogue, prophetic challenge and mediation of differences, not coercive or manipulative imposition of solutions;
  • To honor the integrity of the church context, structures and social dynamics, not to subsidize another’s central church life nor exert undue pressure to change or conform.
The paper reminds us that "All international partnerships are called to seek the day when Christ’s church in all its diversity may show its unity for the sake of the gospel, not promoting or being content with division in Christ’s Body."

These 12 points, each paired with their "foul ball" opposites, each deserve further discussion. But you can do that on your own.
I trust your mission team to have a fruitful discussion asking what each statement means, and whether you have been hitting base hits or foul balls. Now is always a good time to improve your game, even mid-game. Please take this as a coach's advice. Players that excell receive coaching with humility and a teachable heart.
Coming up - Part 2: Forming a winning team

-- Dave Hackett

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