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How to Get Your Church’s Mission Off Life Support

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Rob Wegner and Jack Magruder of Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind., on shifting ministry partnerships from "transactional" to "transformative."

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In the transactional model of partnership, an agency owns and operates the work of mission. The agency works directly with the indigenous people, whether that is the homeless population in its town or an unreached people group on the other side of the planet. If it’s a good organization, it effectively accomplishes its mission vision. Churches are planted. Wells are dug. The homeless are sheltered. The hungry are fed. The illiterate learn to read.

Often, these organizations are doing great work. That’s not the problem. The problem is the way the local church relates to the mission. Where does the local church stand in this partnership? The people sit safely in the comfort of the sanctuary, outside of the mission flow. Periodically, a few select individuals cross the divide as volunteers or as part of a short-term team, tagging along with the organization. But it is the organization, not the church, that actually owns the mission. The organization works hard to give the church a sense of ownership, but the truth is that local churches aren’t involved in the flow of mission. At worst, transactional partnerships leave us with churchless organizations and missionless churches.

Ironically, many times both the local church and the hired partners are quite happy with this asset-based relationship. The hired organization gets the funding it needs to carry out its mission vision. The sponsoring local church gets to take credit for the work that is done without having to do any of the actual work of mission. But we are convinced that this divorce between the local church and the work of mission is not God’s plan A. It’s a poor substitute for the true mission of the church. The local church is God’s plan A, and this means we need a new model of partnership.

Transformational Partnerships

In transformational partnership, we move beyond a money-driven, organization-centered, one-dimensional way of relating toward a kingdom-centered, multidimensional way of relating to mission. In this new model of partnership, the local church becomes the catalyst for a web of relationships, all built around a shared mission vision for a specific context, a vision for community transformation that is expansive, involving people from different domains of society. The local church begins by relating to different parties among the indigenous people: people in nonprofit organizations, government agencies, businesses, other churches, even leaders of other faiths. These parties explore how to work together toward a common goal. This model depends on several key factors:

1. A shared mission vision. A mission vision statement is developed together with other partners. This mission vision represents more than just the goals of a single organization. Each party has elements that drive the agenda, and it is comprised of a shared focus, shared work, shared values, shared resources, and genuine community.

2. Everyone leads and everyone follows. In the older model of partnership, one party leads and everyone else parties. In the new model, everybody takes leadership in some way, and everybody follows the lead of others. All of this is based on the expertise, affluence, and contribution of each partner. In addition, everyone defers to others who may have expertise in other areas and insists on true confluence as the goal.

3. Everyone gives and everyone receives. In the old model, one party gives and the others receive. In the new model, as each party turns their affluence into influence, the confluence leads to effluence. At that point, everyone has given something and everyone has received something. We have each brought our wealth to the mission, offsetting each other’s poverty. In so doing, we are all richer.

Transformational partnership is love in action. We come together out of our separate lives, industries, sectors, and constraining frameworks to accomplish a shared mission, one birthed by the love of God. In the process, we are all transformed.

So how, exactly, do the players from all of these different sectors of society work together?

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