At QC Family Tree, we regularly get the question from congregations, “How can we be good partners for your mission?” The question often, but not always, comes to us from the same social locations that my wife and I, the directors of the organization, come from — mostly white congregations full of good white people who really want to love their neighbor. We recognize those folks because we are them — well-meaning white people working and living in a black neighborhood with beautiful families of rich African-American heritage.
Over a dozen years, we have learned that there may be some good ways we can work together, both us with our neighbors and congregations with our organization. But the question of how to do that is not easy to answer. Sometimes the answers take years of working together to become clear. We have discovered a few things that help. While these are not perfect guidelines, they work well for us, and they have been discovered in partnership with other people doing exemplary missional work.
So you want to be a good partner in mission with another organization? Here are a few things to think about:
• The revolution starts at home. There is no small number of folks living under the thumb of poverty and oppression. There are numerous organizations which are working against poverty and oppression, all in various ways (not all of which are effective). All those people, and all those organizations, would be greatly helped if there were less poverty and oppression.
Within your congregation, get educated about how poverty, racism and oppression work. Learn how faith groups can work effectively against the systems that maintain those conditions. And organize your own people. If you have landlords and real estate developers in your church, organize to act in ways that build common wealth and that create more just and equitable places. If you have chamber of commerce members, organize them to push for better conditions for low-wage workers. Understand your church’s and your denomination’s role in the history of your municipality. Look to see how that history is still alive, and what parts of that history call for ongoing repair. Begin with the resources and people you have. Start your work there.
• Plan to stick around. The most fruitful partnerships become friendships. People know one another and learn to trust one another in friendships. This takes time and attention. It requires patience. A good partner needs to be willing to be patient and to be slowly changed through the relationship.
• Don’t disappear when things get uncomfortable. On more than one occasion, we have had partners to disappear without explanation. After doing a little digging, we find out that they withdrew their support or friendship because of something we said, or something I wrote, or something that went unsaid. Rather than engaging a sticky subject or scenario, the congregational partner just walked away. This is precisely the point where transformation can take place, though. Withholding your time or financial support robs your congregation of the opportunity to dig more deeply into the ways that poverty and oppression are made manifest, and the ways that their own lives are bound up in the maintenance of systems of oppression. And your mission partner may not always get it right. Don’t rob them of the opportunity for transformation by running away when discomfort arises.
• Assume power. Oppressed communities are not powerless. Assume that the people you are getting to know in your partnership are powerful and able to change their communities for themselves. Don’t try to do that work for them. Instead, find ways to amplify that work, and to augment it when requested.
• Know your motivation. What do you gain from the work you are doing? What do you want to gain? What is your self-interest that makes you want to do it? Having self-interest is not bad. Being able to name it helps you to be clear about what it is, and thus how to keep your relationships healthy for you and others as you work together.
There are many more ways your congregation can work at being a good partner in mission. Your willingness to examine yourself in these areas will help your mission to be fruitful. And such effort will help move us toward the day when poverty and oppression no longer mar the bodies of the poor, or the souls of the oppressor.