Illustrated Dos and Don’ts for Urban-Suburban Faith-Based Partnerships (Salt & Light Chapter 4.6B, p. 404-405). Principle #1:.
If there is no pre-existing relationship, the two sides will have to undergo a lengthy process of getting to know each other before developing any kind of working ministry. Premature partnership is like rushing into a marriage before getting to know your future spouse. Don't even talk about planning projects until a level of trust and communication has been established.
Meeting needs is a powerful motivation for partnership, but if there is no intentional spiritual component, the need can consume the ministry relationship and lead to disillusionment and burnout. Strong collaborations between urban and suburban Christians encourage shared worship and celebrate the spiritual ground on which their partnership is built. Loving God together reminds both parties that despite facing deep needs and significant socio-economic and cultural differences, they stand united in the grace, mercy and power of God.
Partnerships founded on Christian unity will reflect God's justice. If we let the standards of our society define the relationship, it often becomes a one-way flow, where one side contributes (usually the suburban partner) and the other receives (usually the urban partner). The receiving partner typically has a diminished sense of ownership and influence. This arrangement perpetuates the very divide we long to cross. While acknowledging the reality of inequitable wealth and privilege, both sides must strive for equality, reciprocal respect, shared decision-making, and mutual power.
If one partner is seen as a burden, this breeds frustration, resentment, and conflict. Enter a partnership only if each side honestly needs and appreciates the other, and also has something of value to contribute. The less affluent partner must not become overly dependent on the partner's money, and the wealthier partner needs to know it is valued for more than its money. Similarly the urban partner must know it is valued for more than helping its suburban partner "feel good" about serving. Both sides should recognize the value of non-monetary, intangible contributions to the partnerships, such as access to neighborhood networks, a trusted reputation, ministry skills, or prayer partners.
Partnerships have the potential to grow beyond joint ministry projects into friendship. Authentic friendship means that urban and suburban church members may eat at each other's homes, enjoy shared family activities, pray for one another, and speak honestly with each other. Because of the differences between urban and suburban realities, it takes intentionality to persevere through periods of awkwardness and tension. Keep working together, but also set aside time for hanging out and having fun.
Have a set time frame for evaluating whether the partnership should continue. Some partnerships will only last as long as a specific ministry project; others become life-long relationships. But whether short-term or long-term, partners need the tenacity not to abandon their ministry goals when (not if) problems arise. Successful urban-suburban partnerships do not develop overnight.
The number of partnerships is not as important as their quality and depth. Urban-suburban collaborations that deliver financial, volunteer and prayer support to ministry projects are important. But it is the deep partnerships that have the most enduring, significant impact on the community. This kind of relationship is not entered into lightly and is sustained through substantial, prayerful investment of time, effort, and heart.
Original source: Adapted from Ronald Sider, John Perkins, Wayne Gordon, and F. Albert Tizon, Linking Arms, Linking Lives: How Urban-Suburban Partnerships Can Transform Communities (Baker Books, 2008).
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