Paul, in the closing remarks of his letter to the Philippians, writes, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Phil 4:15). Paul knew the value of partnership throughout his missionary journeys, whether alongside individuals like Barnabas and Luke, or through the faithful sending of the church at Antioch, resources of the Philippians, or prayers of believers throughout Asia Minor. We, too, as believers, are called to take Paul’s commendation and call for partnership among those we support.
The missionaries we support, as a local church, are those for whom we have sent out ‘for the sake of the Name’ (3 Jn 7). So, what does partnership look like for a local church in caring well for her supported workers? Let’s explore four marks of healthy partnership:
1) Ongoing Member Care
Specifically, for those members raised up and sent out by the local church, it is vital to provide ongoing member care for partners while they are on the field and as they go. We see examples of faithful member care even in the life of the church in Philippi. This church sent their brother Epaphroditus to Paul, as a ‘fellow worker and minister to Paul in his need’ (Phil 2:25) and Epaphroditus even risked his life for the sake of providing care to Paul in his distress. Churches should emulate Epaphroditus to their workers or as Paul relates to the Thessalonians, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess 2:7). This care could take the form of sending two elders each year to check-in on partners. This could be in conjunction with a short-term team where part of that trip (either on the front or backend) gives necessary space to provide spiritual care, checking up on their physical, spiritual, relational health; encouraging them in their work; praying and counseling with them.
As the sending/supporting church, members and leaders take the lead responsibility of those who are their own, as missionaries, both in their vitality and sustainability on the field. As issues would arise that relate to areas such as marriage, parenting, team conflict, depression, or any number of other issues, churches will want to communicate to their partners their desire for them to reach out to the elders for pastoral care. As well, in regular correspondence with them on the field, churches lean into these areas.
2) Ongoing relationship with field supervisor(s)/mission agency
Another aspect of this type of missionary care would be to establish an ongoing relationship with the field supervisor assigned to them through the mission agency, as well as member care personnel of that agency, such that the local church can be the first ‘go-to’ when stress or crisis hit. The church ought to work side-by-side with the mission agency to provide necessary care for those that the church has sent, alongside the help of the mission agency.
3) Stateside Visits
A third aspect of member care churches provide is when workers return for stateside visits. Often returning stateside is part of the regular rhythm of missionaries, but on other occasions a return stateside might be due to a crisis, health issues, or even a death in the family. Regardless of whether planned or otherwise, churches will want to receive their sent ones back well. Part of this receiving would include having supported workers sit down with the elders and share an update on their lives, ministry, and ways the church can be praying. As well, pastoral staff would give a more focused time of debrief with mission partners to go deeper into their lives and ways they can exhort, edify, and encourage.
Churches should give partners opportunity to speak back into the lives of members through sharing in Sunday evening services, Adult Bible Fellowship classes, LifeGroups, and at other events.
4) Advocacy Groups
As an ongoing extension of member care and connection between partners and the congregation, churches can connect missionaries with small groups. These small groups would take responsibility in the following ways:
- Pray for their missionaries
- Correspond or connect in some way with their assigned missionary once a month
- Send emails/notes of encouragement/cards on special occasions
- Provide care packages
- Receive them into their small group when the partner is home on stateside
- Become a part of short-term teams to visit them.
As churches aim to provide this level of missionary care, it will not only serve the church’s partnerships well, as it relates to sending capacity, but also to their ‘staying’ capacity. As Arron Menikoff writes in his article, “Don’t Just Be a Sending Church, Be a Staying Church:”
It’s not enough to be a sending church. You need to be staying church. A staying church doesn’t let the rope fray or the bond loosen. As inconvenient as the relationship may be, the staying church remains involved by praying faithfully, communicating regularly, visiting occasionally, and always looking for new and creative ways to help. This is how we hold the rope, and we mustn’t let go.
May we be those who send and support well that our partnerships might be long-lasting and bear eternal fruit for the glory of God!