Pursuing Partnership Series: Men & Women in Ministry
Part 26: Leadership Profile on Karin Primuth
By Rebecca Hopkins, Paraclete Mission Group http://www.rebeccahopkins.org
Some say collaboration is 2020’s greatest gift to missions. Meet a woman whose leadership is devoted to it.
When Kärin Primuth was a kid, she wanted to be a missionary, not a leader.
“I don’t really remember giving a lot of thought to whether I had leadership skills,” she said. “I simply saw things that needed to get done and stepped in to do them and mobilized others to help me.”
She also learned to say yes. Yes to God. Yes to urban ministry. Yes to volunteering in South Asia. Yes to mentoring other global workers. Yes to teaching in China. And finally, yes to leading visionSynergy, one of the few organizations that is helping mission groups to learn to collaborate well.
“One of the biggest challenges to the missions movement is that people aren’t working together,” she said. “We areoften divided and the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”
But 2020 helped to spur people to see the need to partner.
“During the pandemic, many ministries faced new challenges and opportunities,” Primuth said. “That caused them to explore partnering with others to accomplish more together than if they kept working separately.”
The increased reliance on technology has now brought everyone up to speed on virtual work, which provides further access to partnerships all over the world. But that’s just the foundation, she said. Partnerships don’t just happen from good motivations and a gathering.
“We would say that the surest way to kill a partnership is to call a meeting,” she said. “There is so much more that has to happen before you ever call a meeting.”
Specifically, it requires research, identifying the potential partners and their values and vision. What would it take to build trust? What are the obstacles to doing that? The job of visionSynergy is to identify the people who are the catalysts with the dreams that are too big to tackle alone. And then they train them how to collaborate well.
“They know they cannot work alone,” she said. “They know that the vision God has given them is way bigger than their organization. ‘We’re going to reach a people group of 10 million.’ ‘We’re going to deal with women in poverty.’ ‘We’re going to address children at risk.’ It requires bringing together multiple organizations with the same vision but they may have complimentary gifts and strategies, different ways of getting to that same vision. (It requires) working together to share resources and information and building a shared strategy.”
Primuth’s father was the one who first birthed the idea for visionSynergy back in 2003. In 2009, he invited Primuth to work on a project. Soon after, the board asked her to succeed her father as the next chief operating officer. She grew up affirmed by her father and other men and women. Yet, when faced with the prospect of becoming the senior executive, she didn’t feel qualified to fill her father’s shoes. But after clear confirmation from God, her family and the board, she felt compelled to say yes.
“I think that’s the experience for so many women of how they get to where they are,” Primuth said. “It’s because someone else, often a man or men, see skills and capabilities in them and invite them into leadership, versus them aspiring to a certain role—particularly within Christian organizations. We have to encourage women to be willing to take risks and invite them to consider new roles because they may not advocate for themselves.”
In 2012, Primuth was the only woman at the Missio Nexus’s Mission Leaders Conference’s CEO lunch. She met Wendy Wilson at the conference. Wilson was just starting the Women’s Development Track to develop more women into leadership for Christian mission organizations. As a result of Wendy’s investment in women leaders, Primuth has watched the numbers of female executives grow from just a few to about 100 at the 2019 conference.
“I see so many more women actively pursuing leadership roles and organizations intentionally talking about and developing pathways for women,” Primuth said.
In leading visionSynergy, Primuth stepped into a big role that is trying to meet some of missions’ biggest needs. The visionSynergy website reminds us that while modern missions have resulted in growing 5 million churches worldwide, millions of people still have no access to church. visionSynergy is in the business of setting up networks to create breakthroughs in mission work. In addition to meeting this big vision, Primuth also didn’t want to fail in carrying on the work that her father had started.
Initially, “I led primarily out of fear of failure,” she said. “And that is an exhausting way to live and work because I felt like I had to give my everything to ensure that the ship did not sink.”
She learned, though, to depend on God, learn new things, and to find ways to take care of herself, create boundaries and establish a pace.
“You cannot give everything, and not come to a place where you are completely empty,” she said. “And I’ve had to learn how to slow down, create margin. I’ve learned that I also want to create a culture that supports my entire team…so that we’re all learning to live out of a place of wholeness, rather than exhaustion.”
For leaders working in these challenging times, she has some advice.
“Learn to empower others and their dreams,” she said. “Leaders who empower others build loyal teams that can accomplish more together than a visionary leader can accomplish alone. Expect failure. It will happen. That is the crucible for building humility into your leadership journey.”