A church cannot logistically partner with every missionary or mission opportunity that is placed before them. It is so difficult to say “No” to a potential ministry partner. When making a decision about whether or not to partner with this ministry, that planter, or those missionaries, there are some key questions to consider. But, of course, the Lord will often lead us in ways beyond our feeble understanding or logic. So, prayer, seeking the Lord’s leadership, and unity in the church are the primary ways to begin evaluating a potential ministry partner.
In addition, it is also good to add some foundational research and groundwork so that we are good stewards of money, time, talents, and gifts of God’s church. Unfortunately, we are living in a time where it is common for charlatans to pose as legitimate missionaries and to take advantage of our assistance. We need to be diligent and do our basic research before leading our church down a path that wastes valuable resources.
Take time to evaluate and to carefully examine the strategy, doctrine, and structure of a ministry before jumping in head first. It is not good to have zeal without knowledge (Prov 19:2.) Here are some key areas that I focus on BEFORE moving forward with serious commitments to a ministry partner or mission option.
1. Does the ministry or missionary have a strategy that is reproducible and catalyzes church planting? Ask them their long-term goals? Can this be reproduced and multiplied for growth of disciples? Or is it a very narrow niche that will not ultimately create a church planting and discipleship movement in the area or community?
2. Is there a discipleship strategy in place to make disciples and to help believers grow in their faith & develop sound doctrine? We are called to make disciples of Christ. Not just converts. So, there needs to be a discipleship-growth process in the vision.
3. Is there Financial Accountability? Does a board or group of trustees hold the ministry accountable in their finances, stewardship & record keeping? Can they give you an annual summary of giving and an overall annual budget? If they do not have oversight, then this is a concern. How would you know if the money is being spent in an honorable way?
4. If we take volunteers to assist the ministry, does the ministry partner have security protocols and a crisis plan in place in case of emergencies? (i.e. earthquake, government detention, crime, medical emergency, etc.) I would highly recommend not taking teams until there is a security or crisis plan in place. For the safety of the team members and the missionaries themselves. I would be extremely reluctant to send people without any response or plan dealing with security issues, especially in Muslim countries or places where Christians are persecuted and even killed. For more information on security, see Travel Safety Training for Christians Traveling Abroad.
5. Check the Doctrinal statements of the ministry. Ask careful questions and verify that you are on the same page theologically. The very same Christian terminology can be used while having a completely different meanings. So dig a little deeper and ask for details and specifics rather than general questions.
6. Check References. At least 3 other churches and/or individuals who have had experience with the ministry. In particular, I would be interested in other partners. How does the potential mission partner handle volunteer teams? Has their ministry been fruitful during the time period the references have been involved with the partnership? Are they good communicators with their partners? i.e. Enewsletter? Prayer Updates? etc.
7. Does the ministry foster an unhealthy dependency or does it strategically include self-sufficiency? If the ministry produces churches dependent upon financial/foreign supporters with no plan grow to self-sufficiency, then growth and multiplication will be stunted. – There is a danger in creating a dependency that actually prevents growth and indigenous church planting when it is completely funded by foreigners or solely outside partners.
Before I even look at partnering in a ministry, I ask the above questions. The answers paint an overall picture of the ministry, goals, safety concerns, etc. Our partnerships should not necessarily be in response to whomever shows up at our doorstep. We should be intentional, faithful, diligent, and prayerful about where we can partner with what God is already doing. Let us maximize our time and resources for the Kingdom and be wise with our partnerships.
I am aware that there are many, many effective ministries out there. But, I am going to share with you a personal bias I have for Southern Baptist missions. Those we send out through the Cooperative Program with the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board already have the accountability, training, coaching, and strategy as a part of our cooperative efforts in missions. (We are not perfect, but I have not seen any other comparable missions/church planting ministry on this scale.) This is actually why I became a Southern Baptist. They do missions well. I was swept away be the whole idea of the Cooperative Program and the results. We Southern Baptists have an amazing plan to send out folks to the field. Those who go through the IMB and NAMB can answer the above 7 questions. And our network worldwide is extensive. I do wish that the Cooperative Program had a fun, catchy name. I wish that my generation of X’ers and Millennials understood the gift and resource we already have through the Cooperative Program. (Maybe Ed Stetzer can coin a cool, catchy missional re-brand for the Cooperative Program.) In the meantime, I pray that God is glorified and His Name is made great in all the nations through our cooperative efforts. We do more together than we could ever do on our own.