Building Friendships into Partnerships

Dr. Bekele Shanko - GACX

Two weeks after officially reporting to my new job with Campus Crusade for Christ, I was appointed national director of Ethiopia. This appointment came at one of the most challenging times in the history of the ministry in our country. Our former director had been ill for at least a year, senior staff members had left the ministry, fewer than 10 staff were left, and we had less than $50 in cash.

Though not a welcoming place for a new leader, it was a perfect environment to grow in my dependence on God. In that unfriendly environment, my wife, Shewa, and I spent much time in prayer. We poured our hearts out to God, telling Him our inadequacies and asking Him for miracles. We made God our primary partner in His mission.

Those who believe God for the impossible and take giant steps of faith are the ones who accomplish great things for God

Bold and crazy

Together with the handful of staff members who remained, and with God giving wisdom, we developed an ambitious national plan. We would divide the country into 12 regions, recruit 300 full-time workers, mobilize churches, raise funds from both inside and outside the country, translate the JESUS film ® into 27 major languages, and acquire 100 vehicles and two helicopters. All so that people in every village and town could hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The next step was to identify key church leaders and communicate the vision. Given the dire situation of the national ministry, I needed courage and confidence from God to share our vision. It was not easy to talk about buying helicopters while struggling to pay monthly bills. But we believed that God would change our circumstances.

Standing in front of those significant leaders, I shared the vision with conviction and passion. But most of the leaders did not know me. Whey they heard me talk about reaching every person with the gospel and buying helicopters, they asked each other, “Does anybody know this young man?” “Is he crazy?” “Does he know what he is talking about?”

Obviously, what I was saying would not make sense to the rational mind, and it would take faith and the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who believe God for the impossible and take giant steps of faith are the ones who accomplish great things for God. To my encouragement, most of the participants endorsed the vision and promised to work with us.

Partnerships cannot happen without taking intentional steps.

Tuesday lunch

After the vision-casting event, God gave the idea to make follow-up appointments with influential church leaders. Hence, I developed a strategy called “Tuesday Lunch.” We lined up lunch appointments with leaders, primarily those who had attended the vision-casting event, and then I met a different leader every Tuesday for 12 months.

I invited one leader at a time to some of the best restaurants in the city, and I paid for the lunch. It was a strategic investment that would soon bear fruit. In our culture, if you give something worthwhile to somebody, that person is indebted to you. Sometimes my guests offered to pay for the lunch, but I refused. Also, it was my first face-to-face meeting with most of the leaders.

I went to each lunch appointment with specific objectives. Before showing up, I did my homework, researching and learning about the leaders, their ministries, potential resources and any needs they might have. Such preparation was necessary to make the most of our lunch meeting and move us to action.

Partnerships cannot happen without taking intentional steps. Since I was most interested in finding ways to work together, I asked three important questions during the lunch. I believe any person who desires to have a meaningful conversation toward partnership could use these three questions.

Question #1: What?

After introducing one another and ordering the food, I would ask my first question: “Please tell me what God is doing in and through your life and your ministry?” The question may seem simple and ordinary, but it is not. By asking that question, I was positioning myself as a listener and learner.

The listening and learning processes were vital for me as I learned how to partner. I would carefully listen to the leader’s dreams and hopes, frustrations and discouragements, weaknesses and ministry challenges. These factors provided open doors for me to enter and explore opportunities for partnership.

Furthermore, after carefully listening to my friends, I would do something rare in my culture. With great excitement and absolute sincerity, I would honor and appreciate the leaders for the great contribution they were making toward furthering God’s Kingdom in in our nation. I would say something like, “I am really proud of you and excited about what God is doing through you. You are a blessing to our nation. Thank you so much!” Then I hug them and take time to praise God in prayer for the great work they were doing.

I don’t know what your culture is like, but leaders in my culture are often criticized and seldom appreciated. I saw what genuine appreciation could do in one’s life. Every leader whom I appreciated left the lunch with a glowing face, encouraged heart, renewed hope, and arms open to embrace one another in love and to work together. After such an encouraging experience, I was ready to ask my next question.

Question #2: May I?

The fact that I listened to and celebrated their accomplishments led to my friends’ openness to hear my side of the story. So, I would ask my next question, “May I share what God is doing in my life and ministry?” I paused, and they usually replied, “Of course, please.” Then I shared the vision God had laid in my heart with deep conviction and great passion. People give their resources not necessarily because you have a great plan but because you have deep conviction. Whenever I cast vision to people, I want people to connect with my conviction.

My aim in sharing the vision was always to leave my friends inspired, motivated and challenged to do more for the Lord. So I shared examples and best practices that generated interest. I described changed lives, people who became effective in ministry after receiving our training, donors who made a difference through their sacrificial giving, and churches that were growing because of our partnerships. I even cast a vision for what could happen if 20 of their people were to take our training.

Question #3: How can?

My last question was, “How can we work together for the glory of God?” You probably realized that I had already given enough ideas to my friend. But by asking this question, I was giving my friend an opportunity to make suggestions. The types of suggestions they would make usually indicated whether they were ready to take the next step.

Before making any decision, potential partners want to know the motive, the cost, and the responsibilities involved. So, my friends asked me questions like, “What would be my responsibility?” and “What do you need from me?” I loved those questions and waited for those moments in our conversation. Often, I answered questions with questions. My first important question was, “Pastor, I would like to come and preach in your church. Would you invite me to your church?”

I invested very little money in the lunch compared to what we harvested as a result.

Do you remember the way I have already prepared the pastor up to this point? I paid for the lunch; I have listened to him; I have encouraged him; I have shared the vision with some examples. Of course, I have motivated the pastor. Do you think he would say no to my request to preach in his church? Nearly every pastor said, “Yes, please come and preach in our church.” Why do you think I was inviting myself to preach in various churches? Why do you think I wanted to become a friend to every pastor and preach at every local church in the city?

A shrewd manager for the Kingdom

This was because I saw myself as a salesperson, a shrewd manager for the Kingdom. I wanted every believer, every pastor, and every local church to be involved in the Great Commission. I wanted the gospel of Jesus to be preached in our nation with a sense of urgency, and churches to be mobilized with great passion.

I invested very little money in the lunch compared to what we harvested as a result of it. By listening first, I learned about the leaders in the city—about their dreams, passion, opportunities and struggles. Most lunches ended with clear and specific next steps. Sometimes we agreed to meet again. Most of the pastors gave me a specific date to preach in their church. We agreed on when and where to start training. We identified locations for the JESUS film showings.

I spoke in most of the local churches in the capital city that year, helping believers learn about and commit themselves to the Great Commission. Whenever I marketed the ministry and tried to influence leaders of churches and mission agencies to work together, my motivation was always the Great Commission, the Cross of Christ, and the everlasting Kingdom of God. I never wanted to build my own organization or lift up my name, but rather the Church and the Name of Jesus.

I thank God for opening my eyes to see His Kingdom as bigger and more important than my local church or organization. I have also learned that key ingredients of partnerships that further the Kingdom of God include a bigger vision, a pure motive, humility, and a spirit of generosity.

As a result of this partnership approach, within four years we shared the gospel with twenty million people in Ethiopia, trained thousands of believers, and helped plant hundreds of churches. God used our relationships far beyond what I could have imagined in taking the Body of Christ in Ethiopia to a higher level of spiritual maturity and leadership.

And I have learned that true partnership–whether with or without a Tuesday lunch—can move mountains and accelerate the spread of the Kingdom of God.

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