I received a letter from a Christian organization inviting me to “partner” in ministry. The letter described the vision of the organization, some of the work that was being done, and invited me to become a partner by giving a financial donation. But it was clearly a limited partnership offer—no involvement in the decision-making or day-to-day operations required. Just give x amount of dollars to become a partner in ministry.
I suppose there’s a place for that kind of limited partnership, but over the last year I’ve been thinking about partnership more broadly and about how to develop an effective ministry partnership. As a full-time pastor, I was a full-time employee with a salary and benefits, a job description, and a raft of personnel policies that allowed for sick days, snow days, and addressed other employment concerns. At other times in my life, I’ve been a freelance writer working under contract, a volunteer candy striper in the hospital where I watered plants or delivered food trays or did other small tasks for patients.
I loved each of these roles at the time, and in some measure each was a kind of partnership. But as I’ve been making the switch from pastoral ministry to the writing life, I realize that I’ve also been searching for a new way of doing ministry. Not as a full-time employee or as a volunteer under or even working within an organization, but as a partner working alongside. And not a limited partnership defined solely by money, but a broader partnership of working together.
That’s the kind of partnership I envision for my Resident Author Partnership with Valley CrossWay Church, and in this article I share the partnership principles that have become key for me as well as some other helpful links. Whether you’re an employer, employee, or volunteer, in an already-established ministry or starting a new one, a church or other organization looking for partners in ministry, consider the following in your prayers and discernment. As always, I welcome your feedback and additional suggestions in the comments.
1. Identify Common Ground
When I started to explore the possibility of a Resident Author Partnership with a local church, I knew that I would need to find common ground: (1) theologically: in the confession of Christian faith and understanding of ministry including the role of women, and (2) practically: a church open to exploring new ministry coming to them from outside their present structure. What common ground do you seek with your partners in ministry?
2. Share Common Goals/Passions
The first time my husband and I visited Valley CrossWay Church on a Sunday morning, we were warmly welcomed at the door and given a worship booklet. Instead of a bulletin with a few announcements, the worship booklet focused on the liturgy for that morning—and it was 27 pages! Clearly this was a church that shared my love of Scripture and the written word. What common goals and passions do you look for in your ministry partners?
3. Show Mutual Respect
I have great respect for Valley CrossWay’s core identity as a liturgical worship community, and I sense their respect for the preaching and writing gifts I bring. Mutual respect means a mutual regard rather than taking one another for granted; it means speaking well of one another; being considerate of one another. As one small example, the church office that I use is shared also with the worship banners, music, and other files, and the offering is counted there on Sunday mornings, so I always try to leave the desk area clear so others are able to use it when I’m not there. How is mutual respect demonstrated in your ministry partnerships?
Communicate goals. Communicate expectations. Communicate verbally and in writing. The church and I have a signed agreement that sets out the background, vision, and respective responsibilities for our partnership, including this disclaimer: “It is understood that the views expressed in April’s publications may not necessarily reflect those of Valley CrossWay Church.” I already have a similar disclaimer on my websites, and it was also good to clarify that as part of our partnership agreement. Do you have a written agreement with your partners in ministry?
5. Have Roots and Wings
The core idea for our Resident Author Partnership was for me to provide presence and preaching, and for the church to provide support and a church context for my writing. From that core, we gave ourselves room to develop our partnership. So our initial idea to partner together in building community and outreach grew into a Write Your Story Workshop as a bridge-building event with the community. I’m grateful that this event was rooted in our initial partnership agreement, but we had also built in enough flexibility to create something new. What roots and wings are important in your ministry partnerships?
Our partnership agreement included the possibility of my speaking “from time to time,” and it was only after my first sermon at Valley CrossWay that we settled on my preaching once a month. I see that as a sign of growing trust, for me to give myself in preaching and for the church to receive it. After all, the liturgical framework with a 15-minute sermon was new to me, but I enjoy the discipline of the short form and appreciate the liturgy which means that the message is not borne entirely by the sermon, but is expressed in Scripture reading, song, litanies, confession of faith, prayer, and in other ways. How do you develop trust with your partners in ministry?
7. Review REgularly
The church and I agreed to review our partnership agreement yearly and update it as necessary. Since we began in January of this year, we’ll review it in the new year, but I don’t expect any surprises as we’ve continued to communicate regularly throughout this year. What is your process for reviewing your ministry partnerships?
Other Helpful Links
This resource begins with some excellent questions for discerning a potential ministry partnership: “What can we accomplish together that we could not as effectively accomplish independently? In what way would partnering benefit you? Us?”
Seven “actionable steps” including “trust who you work with . . . follow through on your commitments . . . pray.”
“There is a growing awareness and practice by leaders in various fields of expertise, whether in Christian circles or the business world, who acknowledge that partnerships are no longer optional. They have become a necessity.”
For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better,