It’s been a long, long time since I have had any training in partner development. More than 30 years have passed since I went through “candidate school” and first “raised my support” as we called it back then.
This year, at part of my Individual Growth Plan, I wanted to learn some new skills in this area, and decided to read The God Ask: A Fresh, Biblical Approach to Personal Support Raising by Steve Shadrach. I ended up listening to it as an audio book over a period of a few weeks on my morning runs and walks (see previous blog post). What a valuable resource! I wish I had read it ten years ago, although I guess that would have been impossible, since it was only published in 2013.
The title comes from the author’s conversation with Tom Stickney. Tom, a missionary in Africa described his appeal in partner development as not being a “Tom ask” but a “God ask.” The ministry worker asks God for resources. Meanwhile the potential supporter also asks God for wisdom in knowing where to invest God’s resources. Then when the ministry worker invites potential supporters to join their team, God may ask the person to participate – or he may not. See the diagram below.
This diagram is adapted from a similar diagram in “The God Ask” found at location 173 in the Kindle version.
Shadrach spends a good part of the book explaining a biblical mindset for partner development. Nehemiah’s request of the king is used as a model for making big requests, ones that are potentially risky. I was also struck by how the author presents Jesus both as an example of and one who commands his disciples to live in dependence on regular supporters.
To my surprise, Shadrach argues that Scripture indicates that tent-making for Paul was more an exception to the rule, rather than his standard operating procedure. He finds only 3 locations where Paul made tents to support himself.
Shadrach emphasizes that ministry vision must drive our partner development efforts, not our desire to get to 100%.
Deep down, if getting to 100% is dominating your thinking instead of your ministry vision, they won’t want to invest. But, if they sense you getting to full budget is just a small stepping-stone toward fulfilling your bigger and greater vision, they will jump on your team— substantially! (loc 1929)
The God Ask is filled with lots of practical advice and a step-by-step process for contacting potential financial partners and asking them to join your team. Shadrach argues that by far the best way to make this appeal is in face-to-face meetings, not through letters or social media. The author even provides guidance in developing phone scripts to set up those appointments. Although we already have a strong financial support team, I found much in this book that can help me in my ongoing partner development. Although we are still on the field, and cannot yet set up the face-to-face appointments that Steve Shadrach recommends, I found it very helpful to follow his advice and put together a ministry portfolio that explains my ministry vision in a way that would be meaningful to potential partners, and would answer questions they might have.
For those who are already at full support, the last section of the book entitled “Nurture Your Flock” is also highly recommended. It provides great ideas for continuing to develop the relationship with your present supporters so that they feel loved and valued as a member of your team. The goal is not only to win them, but to keep them on the team, and then to lift them to higher levels of participation over time.
The book also directs readers to Steve Shadrach’s website, Support Raising Solutions, which includes many more resources, as well as provides information about the training that his organization provides for those who would like to learn more about partner development.