Missionary Care

Catalyzing a Missionary Care Strategy in Your Church

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Churches may see their role in sending members to the ends of the earth as the finish line instead of the beginning of a partnership. Some churches even lose their identity as the lead role in the sending process along the way. So why is member care so important to the church in caring well for her sent ones? First, I believe faithfulness to the task of the Great Commission is in direct correlation to our faithfulness to send and support well. Second, the Scriptures speak to the local church’s responsibility in setting apart, sending, and supporting missionaries, as in passages like 3 John 5-8, Philippians 2:25-30, and Acts 14:26-28. Third, through my service in the local church, as a missions pastor, spending time on the field, and interacting with missionaries, agencies, and churches on this issue, I see the need for sending churches to provide faithful missionary care for their sent ones.

While there are a number of ways that the church can begin to develop adequate care for her sent ones, I will explore four elements related to pre-field, on-field, and post-field missionary care.

Assessment and Training – Pre-field Care:

Churches need to work alongside their missionaries and in partnership with the agency during the pre-field stage to assess a candidate’s calling and readiness, as well as finding the right ministry fit, which will aid in missionary retention on the field and strengthen the partnership among entities. Oftentimes, churches tend to be reactive in this stage, rather than proactive in ‘calling out the called,’ and in turn taking the lead on assessment and development. As churches observe and evaluate a candidate’s readiness, they have the opportunity to note areas where they can extend care and establish metrics by which to do so. As a missionary candidate is both known in relationship and their gifts are evidenced by a good cross-section of the church, the church can have collective confidence in that candidate’s call, character, and competency. Churches can assess readiness practically by crafting a personal development plan through their pre-field correspondence with the mission agency and field personnel. This will enable the church (sender), missionary (sent one), and agency to know what it is that the they want this member to know (biblical, theological, ecclesiological, missiological knowledge), be (Christian character), and do (practical ministry equipping). Churches that build this foundational relationship in assessing and developing, will be able to, with deep conviction, deploy their missionaries to the field for faithful service.

Praying for missionaries not only provides individual care, but it also builds communal bonds across the life of the church.

Prayer – On-Field Care:

Prayer is often seen as a means to the work of missions, rather than the work itself. Missionaries want to know that their sending and supporting churches are praying for them and appreciate them. Often, we as the church, tend to pray long after the battle has begun, rather than, praying before, during, and after a missionary’s time of service. Prayer, though, must be a weapon the church wields continually. Praying for missionaries not only provides individual care, but it also builds communal bonds across the life of the church. Finding ways to include prayer for the nations across the church’s various ministries helps build awareness and increase advocacy for missionaries. Whether it’s by praying for missionaries in the service, highlighting them through weekly newsletters, including them in your member directory, or having them share with the church when stateside, thinking strategically about prayer for sent ones is crucial.

Advocacy Teams – On-Field Care:

One very practical and purposeful way to build member care into the life of the church is through advocacy teams. Advocacy care teams can include a small group of members (four to six members) assigned to a missionary who have covenanted and committed to ongoing care. Members of these teams get to know their missionaries, their stories, their heart for ministry, and even their successes and disappointments on the field. I recall an Adult Bible Fellowship class that adopted one of our church’s missionary families. This class regularly prayed for that family, corresponded with them, and sent members of that class to serve with them through ministry and missionary care trips. The depth of the partnership grew because the depth and breadth of the relationship grew through real and tangible expressions of support and care.

Re-Entry Care – Post-Field Care:

Post-field care can be the most challenging care for churches to provide. Missionaries come home for numerous reasons—scheduled visits, life events, abrupt endings or retirements—and just as the church needs to be the launching pad for its missionaries, it also needs to be the place to which its missionaries can safely and confidently return.

Churches should assure their missionaries by being a safe place for openness, honesty, and transparency and plan towards this re-entry phase. Planning begins by acknowledging that no one-size-fits-all approach to reentry care exists and that providing appropriate care will require considering variables such as a missionary’s length of time on the field, unique needs, and attitudes. Our church put together a process by which we knew six months to a year ahead of time when the missionary would be returning stateside. Because we had a mission house at our disposal, we were able to plan for meeting tangible needs through the house and the amenities it included, as well as helping with schooling and transportation needs.

Churches must not only plan with their missionaries for this post-field season, but also be present, as missionaries return home. Just as Paul and Barnabas spent “no little time” with the church at Antioch after returning from their first missionary journey, missionaries need to have significant opportunities to interface with their sending church. This time of interaction as missionaries share stories, successes, difficulties, and challenges is known as debriefing. Debriefing allows the missionary to share burdens of missionary life with others who will provide a listening ear.

As churches and partners plan for post-field care and make themselves present for debriefing, the third area in which the church can assist with reintegration is providing on-ramps into the church. Church leaders will need to establish clear avenues and boundaries for ministry as they incorporate their missionaries back into the life of the church, ensuring their missionaries feel valued, but not overextended.

All three of the stages of missionary care—pre-field, on-field, and post-field are essential and tie into one another, in laying forth a wholistic strategy for missionary care. Determine as a church what the right next steps are for developing a strategy to provide such care. Seek out members who have strong relationships with sent ones and a passion to lead in this ministry, then watch the church labor side by side in caring for your missionaries. Care so much for those you send and support that you can join with Paul in saying, “we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess 2:8). Your sent ones have been called by God to go out from your church to share Christ in another part of the world, and you can help them persevere in declaring, demonstrating, and displaying his gospel as you hold the rope and never let go.

This is adapted from my recently published book ‘Holding the Rope: How the Local Church Can Care for Its Sent Ones’ published by The Upstream Collective. Let me encourage you to pick up a copy and use it as a resource within your church to care well for your sent ones.

  • Missionary Care
  • Pastoral Ministry
Ryan Martin

Ryan serves as Director of Missions and Operations with Lightbearers Ministries. He graduated in 2022 with a Doctor of Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary, where he also serves as a trustee. He has received a MDiv in Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (2008), and an undergraduate degree (2005) from Union University in Jackson, TN. Prior to joining Lightbearers, he served for thirteen years as a missions pastor in the local church. Ryan lives in Fayetteville with his wife, Rebekah, and three children: Hudson, Annie, and Hattie.

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