Hey Missionary: 5 Reasons Churches Won’t Partner With You

Everywhere I go, I find missionaries who have lost faith in the local church. Bad experiences have left them unsure that there’s even a place for churches in the work on the field. Well I’ve got news: it isn’t the churches who have a problem. Here are five common reasons churches won’t partner with people on the field.

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14 thoughts on “Hey Missionary: 5 Reasons Churches Won’t Partner With You

  1. “but truly missional churches think it’s you that couldn’t contextualize your way out of a Wal-Mart sack.” Ha!

    Thanks for the links to those books by the four authors you mentioned. I’ll also look to see if they have blogs I can follow.

    This is a great post – I wish you had a bigger audience, because I think the quality you put forth deserves it!

  2. Pingback: 5 Reasons Churches Won’t Partner with Missionaries « the upstream collective blog

  3. I am challenged in many ways by this post. As a former staff guy and as a new worker in new field I have much to learn. Thanks for writing.

  4. I picked up your post to read after seeing it mentioned on the Upstream’s feed. (Maybe that means I have actually overcome your third barrier).

    As a field worker for several years and one that has shifted in my perspective on partnerships over the years, I was interested in what you had to say.

    After reading through your slides, I was immediately struck with how much of your critique of field workers mirrored what would be the top barriers I have found with working with stateside churches. The churches I have found simply unable to work with already had in mind their strategy, which often was based on some questionable missiology, accentuated by their isolation in a majority culture. This of course included communication difficulties because I didn’t keep up with all of the stateside jargon and capped off with a healthy dose of pride on their part.

    If these are five major barriers, certainly they need to be seen as owned by both sides.

    For myself, I have gone from being adamant that I would never work with stateside partners or volunteers, to that of having several significant partnerships and volunteers on the ground almost year round as a result of those partnerships. I don’t seek out partnerships and in fact turn some away who come looking simply from a matter of capacity. Staying focused on the task that God has set out in front of us, and staying consistent in laboring in that task produces fruit – and fruit, or momentum, attracts partners like nothing else will. Overemphasis on ‘developing’ partnerships and strategizing on how to work together is simply distraction from the task.

  5. i assume these ideas change drastically from church to church. it’s humorous, though, because some of these are almost opposite in the churches of Christ, with whom i work. #1, for instance, says to allow the church to be involved in the initial strategic planning. when we were making plans to move to tanzania — and seeking church partners — this would have been seen as a sign that we were not prepared to move onto the field; churches would have steered clear of our team. i’m not suggesting the list is wrong in any way, just that it’s interesting how differently churches can think about these things.

    but i much appreciate the time and thought put into the list. and i’ve enjoyed looking at your website; this is my first visit. i’ll be back.

  6. Thanks, James, for reading.
    I didn’t mean to imply that all churches (or missionaries, for that matter,) share a particular perspective on these things. I do, however, hear these objections from churches on a regular basis, and I thought many missionaries would be surprised to hear them.

    You mention that inviting churches to be part of strategic planning before you moved to Tanzania would have been a sign that you weren’t ready. Why is that? Also, what sort of churches are you referring to? I certainly know churches that would expect a missionary to have every detail of his strategy mapped out. Those churches tend to be very bad partners.

  7. Kyle,
    You bridge the gap between the church and field like few others really can. I’m excited about your work and appreciate your participation in the dialog!

  8. AJ,
    Yes, the same objections could be said of churches. Your experience is all too common.

    I would disagree with what you write about “developing partnerships and strategizing on how to work together” being a “distraction from the task.” I would argue that for the missionary, these things are the task (or, at least, a very big part of it). You see, as a missionary, it really is your job to disciple churches into thinking and acting like you do; sharing the stories of what God is doing on the field and teaching the lessons learned there. The Apostle Paul did this regularly (through the letters he wrote), and so must you. If missions training doesn’t come from missionaries, where will it comes from?

    Bloggers, I suppose.

  9. your words: “You mention that inviting churches to be part of strategic planning before you moved to Tanzania would have been a sign that you weren’t ready. Why is that?”

    i just mean that most of the churches of Christ i know prefer missionaries who are “applying” for sponsorship, etc, to “have it all together.” i’ve found that most of them don’t feel qualified for cross-cultural work and so prefer to hire missionaries who have a really good idea of strategy and missiology.

    it’s not that i think this way of doing things is better. or even good. just the way it often seems to be within our denomination.

  10. interesting article. i spent 9 years in latin america as a missionary and have a terminal degree in missions. you give some good advice to missionaries but your article has a bit of a sarcastic tone to it. not all missionaries are as you suggest. i would assume that you would not have placed yourself in the catagory when you were in western europe.

  11. Darrell,
    I’m sorry if you found my tone off-putting. The sarcasm you noticed is meant to reflect the perspective of the churches I talk to every day who are frustrated with missionaries on the field for some of the reasons I’ve given here.

    Actually, I was very much in this category when I was in Western Europe. As a strategist, I took it upon myself to develop a very specific (if misguided) strategy for our work. There were times when I told churches not to come to my city because I couldn’t see how they would fit into my strategy.

    All the while, I thought I’d had this church-centric, biblical missiology.

    Of “Lone Rangers,” I was among the worst. I avoided national church leaders for their politics and their out-of-date, imported methodologies. I shunned other workers for their anthropological missiologies and inability to contextualize and integrate socially.

    I was the missionary to whom this post was written.

    A major motivation for my writing here is to allow others to learn from my mistakes and warn them of the pitfalls that I stumbled into.

  12. Thoroughly enjoyable and helpful post. Especially as I consider going into full-time missions; having dangers pointed out to me is priceless (especially since i was headed right towards most of them)


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