Churches tend to treat missionary sending like a finish line, as if their job is done when their supported workers have boots on the ground. A better approach is to think of sending as the starting line. You’ve invested time and resources to equip them and send them, but your congregation’s involvement with your missionaries is only just beginning.
How Do Churches Relate to Missionaries?
Missionary work suffers at the hands of passive sending churches. The lack of an ongoing, vital connection between the senders and the sent effectively hollows your church’s culture of missions and leads to discouragement all around. But what happens when churches take initiative and are actively involved with their missionaries?
Providing Pastoral Care
To risk stating the obvious: missionary work is tough. Heck, life is tough. Add in trying to live and minister in a new country, with a new culture, using a new language and you can easily see why your supported workers might get discouraged from time to time. They may also struggle with their team dynamic. Perhaps their teammates don’t share your missionary’s philosophy of ministry. Maybe they disagree about how best to contextualize the gospel to their people group of interest. Even teams in lockstep on matters of theology and practice can experience strife since missionary teams are made up exclusively of sinners.
Your church is vital to the well-being of your sent workers. Open the lines of communications up wide. Keep a pulse on their team dynamic. Become well acquainted with their particular pressure points. Sometimes the best way to care for your missionaries is simply to listen, to be an outside, relatively unbiased sounding board to help them process what they’re experiencing. When appropriate, share prayer requests from the field with your congregation. This will get more hearts praying and hands mobilized to help as the church takes ownership of their people overseas.
Missionaries also benefit from pastoral visits. Send elders to bring embodied encouragement. It’s not a bad idea to bring others in the form of a short-term mission trip. As long as you do things that genuinely aid the work on the ground and aren’t just there for an “experience.” Babysit their kids, bring them their favorite coffee from the States, or, again, just listen. Taking the trouble to come see them in person is a great way to communicate, “You may be out of sight, but you are not out of mind.”
Honestly Assessing Work on the Field
We’ve already discussed the pressures your missionaries are under on the field. Satan is going to tempt them to take the easy way out. He is going to convince them it’s fine to cut corners. So much modern missiology is compromised for this very reason. Sending churches should help keep missionaries on task. Keeping tabs on what exactly those you’ve sent are up to is important for at least two reasons.
One, your support—monetary and otherwise—is a tacit approval of their ministry. You are endorsing whoever you send and whatever they do. As an embassy of King Jesus, it’s your duty to make sure your missionaries are remaining faithful to do his bidding. Two, your missionaries may genuinely not know what faithfulness requires of them in certain instances. Especially if they are still technically members of your church, you have a responsibility to help them ply their trade in a manner worthy of the Lord.
One caveat here. Don’t pressure your missionaries to produce numbers. Honest assessment has more to do with observing faithfulness than fruitfulness. Men and women plow and sow but the harvest belongs to our sovereign God (Mark 4:26-27; 1 Cor. 3:6-7). Demanding evidence demonstrating their ministry is worthwhile in the form of how many decisions they’ve seen or baptisms they’ve performed will only add stress and encourage the bad habits you want to discourage.
Encouraging Church Members to Go
Don’t be surprised no one wants to leave your church and give their lives for the sake of the unreached if people drop off the face of the earth when they are sent. Support for your missionaries tells members of your church they will be cared for if they are commissioned to go.
Support for your missionaries tells members of your church they will be cared for if they are commissioned to go.
You communicate your long-term commitment every time you pray for a missionary in your Sunday gathering or read an update from a couple on the field during a prayer service. Demonstrating comprehensive care for those sent out helps to cultivate a healthy sending culture in your church.
Churches Care for Missionaries to Strengthen Them
Missionaries benefit from active sending churches. Your approach to missionary care may look different at your church than mine, and that’s okay. But let’s all endeavor to strengthen our supported workers, praying God might bless their work.