The Pathway to Partnership

I resonate with William Saum's reminiscence of General Assemblies focused on "great issues confronting the church and the world." I lament with Saum that little at this year's Assembly reflected the enthusiasm of last year's cutting-edge report from the Church Growth Task Force, "Hey, I am doing a new thing . . . . Do you get it?"

However, another significant document was approved at the 212th General Assembly, a policy statement of the Worldwide Ministries Division entitled “Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership.” Partnership is intrinsic to God’s trinitarian nature and incarnational mission. We participate in God’s mission in partnership with God, with partner churches and agencies around the globe and with the hurting world. Moving beyond ingrained paternalistic patterns to equal two-way mission and authentic partnership is a challenge before us.

I suggest six essential missional attitudes on the pathway to partnership:

1. Humility — Mission today must begin with the recognition, repentance and abandonment of our attitudes of pride, arrogance, condescension and superiority. Humility entails an openness to receive, to learn from and to be corrected by others.

2. Compassion — If we give money, build churches, feed the hungry, resettle refugees and preach the gospel without deep feelings of compassion, we are only cruel imperialists. Mission is not charity; it is first touching others with sincere compassion, and then empowering them to transform their lives.

3. Respect — When we approach others with compassion, we truly respect their dignity as human beings and the gifts of their culture, ethnicity and religion. We demonstrate interest in and respect for their ideas, practices and traditions that are different from ours.

4. Hospitality — This is more than opening the door and saying, “Make yourself at home.” We have not practiced biblical hospitality until the stranger truly feels welcomed, accepted and a contributing part of our home, church, mission and country.

5. Mutuality — Mission is giving and receiving, speaking and listening with shared planning, orientation, decision-making, fiscal accountability and pastoral support. It is not easy for unequal partners to develop mutual mission together. Mission today means waiting for and following the initiative and leadership of our global partners.

6. Solidarity — Many times our differences or distance from others is so great that mutuality is impossible, but we can be in solidarity with others if we are able to empty ourselves, set aside our positions, sacrifice our privileges, put ourselves in the place of others, feel their pain and identity with their cause.

My greatest fear is that we smugly think that we are already doing all of this. The reason I know that we often fail miserably is that my Brazilian friends, international students and people from diverse nations, ethnicities and economic classes — both in this country and around the world — have shared with me their painful experiences resulting from our insensitivities. Much of what I write and teach I have learned from them. In this new day of mission in a Global Church, it is time for us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to learn from our partners in mission the nature of true partnership.

SHERRON K. GEORGE is associate professor of evangelism and mission at Austin Seminary