In 2009, we made a decision to transition our mission’s strategy as, what I call, a transaction to structuring missions as a relationship. What I didn’t know at the time, but now know, is that this paradigm shift meant that we would work side by side with missionaries and mission leaders. Over the last eight years, we have changed, adapted, and applied various working definitions of what this means for our church, our mission teams, and mission’s budget.
Recently, I had the chance to present our current definition of Missionary Care to a group of mission pastors, directors, and lay-leaders at a Global Strategy gathering. Global Strategy is the mission sending agency for the Church of God, Anderson. I thought it would be helpful to share these principles with you as well. This list will help you understand part of my job and travels.
The following assumptions are those elements that every church must possess to provide a healthy partnership with its missionaries. It is important that the church review, edit, and create parameters and procedures that ensure these are part of the church’s missionary care.
Possess amicable partnerships through the lens of your church’s mission and vision. View the missionaries as an extension of your congregation.
Missionaries should not be considered as separate from your congregation’s vision and mission. It is important to consider the type of ministry, geographic location, and the targeted people group when selecting your missionaries. As well as their vision, values, and passions. Do they mesh well with your congregation?
Possess the right amount of ministry partners to give the right amount of missionary care. Finding the “right amount” is a constant tension, that must be monitored.
There is no magic formula for this. It depends on who is or will be, the “go-between” with your church and the missionaries. It is always better to select less and not more. When a missionary is coming off the field, resist the urge to fill their spot immediately.
You are giving a substantial amount to their personal/projects budgets and increasing your support by a minimum of 3% every year. Also, create margin in your budgets to provide care throughout the year. This margin may help them go on a vacation, send birthday or holiday gifts, or do something special for their children.
Again, there is not a magic formula. However, it is important that you ask the right questions and creates parameters that make sense for your congregation considering the size, mission’s budget, and the number of people involved in missions.
The missionaries are partners, not employees and are not accountable to your church. That responsibility falls on their sending agency. Likewise, you are not the only church supporting them. Realize that you are one of many partners who is asking for their attention. Distinguish boundaries between what we can say/do as a supporting church. In supporting a missionary, you automatically become partners with the missionaries and their agency.
However, do not assume that someone else (i.e. Global Strategy, another church, etc.) is providing care for the missionary. Take the necessary steps to ask who is providing care, the type of care they are providing, and how that care is being provided. Identify those gaps that your church can fill.
Discuss the following steps when a church decides to support missionaries. These steps will ensure that the missionaries feel cared for, connected to, and backed by the congregation.
Connect often via video or phone calls once every 4-6 weeks with a lay or staff person, or with a team of people. One option is to have a designated individual or group (i.e. Sunday School, small group, mission’s team, etc.) connect with a missionary once a month for prayer support and to keep communication lines open.
To understand what your missionaries are doing and the challenges they are facing your church must make an annual visit. Schedule a team of 8-10 people, a small group of 2-3 people, or 1 person depending on where you are going and what you are doing. These trips do not have to be “work” trips. It is important that your congregation go, learn, and understand the context of your ministry partners.
When your church conducts a trip, make sure that you are not creating extra work for the missionaries. Create trips in a way that helps “move the ball down the field” so that they are fulfilling their mission and vision with the help of your church. Utilize trips to connect with the missionary and their family. Take them out to a nice supper. Offer to watch their children so they can have a date night.
Most missionaries and the people they serve are under-resourced. Leverage your congregation’s resources such as graphic designs, videos, children’s material, sermon series, etc. Obviously, you must consider the language and cultural differences.
When missionaries are on home assignment, it is important to give them some “downtime,” but also connect them to your congregation. Instead of having them preach, ask them to do a short Question & Answer time at the beginning of the service. To connect them with the church’s staff, invite them to participate in your weekly staff meeting.
Make yourself available to strategize and work together. Ask the missionaries what challenges they are facing and offer them your services. Many times their problems are not much different than the challenges our churches and leaders face. Work together by discussing the cultural nuances, challenges, and ways to overcome.
If your church has in place the “Basic Assumptions” and is executing the “Pro-Active” Steps, then you will be ready to respond when difficulties arise. Below are three ways how your church can step in to help when it is needed.
Technology allows us to know when natural disasters, conflicts, and family emergencies are happening. Make sure someone from your church is communicating with the missionaries as soon as possible.
Also, identify how to be present for the entire missionary family. It is easy to overlook the children’s needs as well. Communicate with the missionary parents to find ways in which your church can care for their children. Ask the missionaries what they need and how your congregation can meet their needs.
Missionaries are susceptible to stress, fatigue, and burnout. When these are present, they will disrupt ministry, marriages, relationships, and personal growth. Ensure that the missionaries are being cared for by offering assistance via counseling, training, or some other form.
Inevitably, missionaries will have to say goodbye to the people, ministry, and the country they are serving. Help them to say “goodbye” well by offering your services. That could mean sending a team to help pack up their possessions. Sending someone to speak at a farewell service and honoring their years of service. When you decide to help them, make sure to discuss the options with the missionaries.
- Corbett, S., & Fikkert, B. (2009). When helping hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor— and yourself. Chicago, IL: Moody.
- Julien, Tom. Antioch Revisited: Reuniting the Church with Her Mission. Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 2006. Print.
- Lederleitner, M. T. (2010). Cross-cultural partnerships: Navigating the complexities of money and mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Livermore, D. A. (2006). Serving with eyes wide open: Doing short-term missions with cultural intelligence. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
- Martin, J. (2008). Giving wisely? Sister, Or.: Last Chapter Publishing.