The realities of world missions require partnership—across national boundaries, spanning different cultures, and between rich and poor. How do we work together in ways that respect our differences yet bring tangible effects? How do we partner so that the rich and powerful do not overwhelm the weak? How do we partner so as to give honor to God through loving "family" relations? Christianity Today senior writer Tim Stafford interviewed Valdir Steuernagel, a Brazilian pastor and theologian, and vice president of Christian commitments at World Vision International. His roles expose him to the church in scores of countries around the world.
Why does partnership matter?
Jesus tells us very clearly that the gospel message is a message of community. Paul says the same in his letters. The gospel is never an individual enterprise. In the same way in which we are called to preach the gospel and serve the poor, we are called to build community. To be a community of the gospel is never an option but always a mandate. Jesus tells us clearly that this is so important, he is praying heartily for it.
Something I have been trying to learn is that God himself is community. It's beautiful, and I am fascinated by it. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are a community, and they model community for us. The prayers of Jesus to his Father are amazing. What the Father tells the Son is deep and loving: "You are my beloved Son." The way Jesus talks about the Spirit coming is warm and intense: "I'm leaving but the Spirit is coming." The Trinity is a community that models for us how to get along, how to be interdependent, how to keep our own specificity without the sense of competition.
We are not simply talking about a pragmatic modus operandi. We are talking about a deep core of the gospel that we need to obey. And I would say that we evangelicals are not very good at that. We look at it through the lenses of pragmatists. We use the word cooperation more than community or family.
Cooperation is a word that suggests a high level of individual autonomy. It's a contractual word.
And it's more pragmatic. You put on the table what you have, and we'll see how we can work together. We should start with the challenge of being a community in order to arrive well at the level of cooperation.
What are the unique challenges of partnering today?
In the past when we sat around the table, our eyes would have been focused on the European missionaries. What will they bring? Last century our eyes would have been focused on the North Americans. We thought only about what they brought to the table. Today when we sit at the table there are many more players. One comes from Brazil, another comes from Africa, and one comes from Korea. They bring their own particularity; they bring their own experience and discernment to the table. It's important for us to listen to each other. If we don't listen we don't discern well, and if we don't discern well we serve poorly.
Can I tell you a story? I am a Lutheran, and I went to theological school in Brazil where some of the professors were Germans. I remember trying to take notes as a first-year student in systematic theology. The professor was teaching in German. I was taking notes in Portuguese. ...Read Valdir Steuernagel's complete article
Selected writers respond to Valdir Steuernagel from around the globe.
Valdir Steurenagel is right to stand with many others who call for equitable relationships between churches and organizations of the West and those of the global South. Western cultures are notable for ...Read More
In your role as bishop, you see both problems and joys when different cultures work together for mission. Did you find Valdir Steuernagel helpful?
I greatly appreciated his starting point on the nature ...Read More
We hear that partnership in mission is much more complex today because it is global and the people taking part are so diverse. I don't believe that. Our relationships to each other are not a question ...Read More