Partnerships (Wayne Schmidt)

A week ago I returned from a trip to Bogota, Colombia.  I went with others to share in the 30th anniversary celebration of the North Bogota Wesleyan Church, the second largest congregation in The Wesleyan Church.  Pastor Juan Pineros has led this congregation to an average attendance of over 7000…and without one parking space.

The trip was also an opportunity to meet with potential students for our Spanish-language Master of Divinity degree.  It was such a joy to hear Jesse & Jenny Lamos, two of our students who lead the largest Hispanic Wesleyan Church in North America (Columbus, OH) challenge their fellow Colombians (Jesse & Jenny came to the U.S. after pastoral ministry in Bogota) to Seminary education.

The conversations led to “partnership” possibilities.  Could there be intensives based in Bogota that would serve students in Colombia and throughout Iberoamerica?  This would certainly help contextualize their studies for this region of the world, while avoiding the extra commitment of money and time (and sometimes visa challenges) to come to the U.S. for the onsite intensives that accompany their online learning.  These partnership conversations took place with national and district leaders of The Wesleyan Church of Colombia, Pastor Pineros and leaders of the North Bogota Wesleyan Church, as well as Global Partners leaders and missions’ pastors from North America.

It was so exciting to dream together about what might be, to return home with initial paperwork for application from over 40 ministry leaders, and to work together on next steps.  It could only be accomplished through partnerships complimenting the excellent leadership of Joanne Solis-Walker, Directora of Seminario Wesley.

So the “power of partnership” is fresh on my mind.  It reminded me of opportunities in pastoral ministry, particularly to serve the surrounding community or make an impact globally that could only reach their full potential through partnership.

When is there a need for partnerships?

  • Serving underserved constituencies.  Ministry leaders in ethnic minority churches in urban settings often do not have access to contextualized and accredited practical education.  As a Seminary, we want to serve that constituency, but recognize it can take years to build trust and a network of relationships.  In Indianapolis, we are joining with Bishop Tom Benjamin who spent 43 years as pastor of Light of the World Christian Church, offering courses in connection with the Tom Benjamin School of Ministry already recognized and esteemed in the Indianapolis urban community.  We each bring something the other can’t provide so together we might service core city African American leaders.
  • Addressing critical causes.  An increasing priority of the evangelical church is creation care, yet from a foundation of biblical and theological truth.   Our Seminary board at our last meeting discussed joining the Seminary Stewardship Alliance (in conjunction with BlessedEarth.org) so we might engage with seminaries such as Asbury, Fuller and Gordon-Conwell in theologically-informed reflection and biblically-sound action.
  • Extending missional impact – as mentioned above, partnering with ministries in Bogota to serve Iberoamerican church leaders may be the quickest and best way to contribute to the critical need of global theological education and ministry preparation.

What I’m learning about partnerships…

  •  Even when we work together on a common cause differences may remain.  The degree of difference may vary, and there can be a point where the concern about those differences (theological, philosophical, political, etc.) may make partnership an unwarranted risk.  When we work together with Wesleyan churches, there are few differences but there is also the risk of duplication of strengths offered and constituencies served.  When we connect with the Church of God In Christ leaders (COGIC is a large African American denomination that does not have its own Seminary) there are some theological differences (we are Wesleyan, and while we both have roots in the Holiness movement they are Pentecostal) and ecclesiological differences (we ordain women for all roles in ministry, they have different categories for men and women).
  • We have to discern whether the differences potentially negate the advantages.  Does a local church partner with a non-profit that would not share its convictions or a secular agency, but can help the church effectively meet a need in the community?  Can evangelicals join with Catholics or mainline denominations to address a common cause?  In this political season there is much discussion about “co-belligerence:  when disparate groups join forces to fight a common enemy, even though they have little else in common with each other.”  The degree of difference viewed as permissible will certainly vary by person, church and organization.
  • Emphasize strengths and contributions each partner can make rather than focus on weaknesses.  I’m always amazed when people join together for a common worthy cause, but soon are critiquing those they’ve joined with for what they don’t do rather than emphasizing what they do or stand for that provided the reason for the partnership in the first place.

As we’ve discussed partnerships for Wesley Seminary at IWU, we’ve recognized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a prelude of affirmation of each partner, a clear statement of how differences would be handled, and identification of what each expects from the other in the partnership, is a helpful tool.   Major George Hood of the Salvation Army (a group that partners with many agencies to fulfill its compassion ministries) is a member of our Seminary Board and encouraged us to weight the “reputational risk” of each partnership, and to have a draft of prepared statements for release if the public media (or social media) fails to acknowledge the differences that may define each partner.