by Geoff Whiteman and Heather Pubols
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Essentials for People Care and Development: A Collection of Best Practices, Research, Reflections, and Strategies, an excellent new book on member care from Missio Nexus. ~Elizabeth Trotter
Since 2000, I (Heather) have served in missions and communications. These days much of my work is focused on equipping and encouraging other missionary communicators. I often tell them that the job of a missions communicator is more than just developing content and materials to promote a mission organization’s vision and programs. As we help our missionary colleagues share their knowledge and stories, in the process, we care for them as encouragers and advocates.
World Evangelical Alliance Global Member Care Network Coordinator Harry Hoffman has a category for people giving this kind of care. He calls them “people helpers.” Harry says this group includes lay counselors, mentors, peers, and spiritual mothers and fathers. I might add colleagues to his list. People helpers are an often untapped or overlooked source of peer-related member care.
In his book Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church that Transforms, Jim Wilder decries the neglect of relational skills development in Christian organizations. Instead, he says, as we collectively strive to accomplish our organization’s vision, staff tire, disconnect, and become spiritually dead.
However, Wilder goes on to explain that when our organizations first cultivate healthy relational cultures, vision is implemented in a better way. People stop “burning out for Jesus,” mature spiritually, and exhibit greater trust in God. Member care in this model becomes a critical organizational strategy for sustainability, and everyone is invited to play a part in it.
This brings me great encouragement and was part of my inspiration in spearheading the creation of this book. My desire was not just to see member care professionals better equipped. I also wanted anyone involved in missions to have the chance to expand their view of member care and see ways they could apply the contents of this book as they cared for their fellow humans serving in God’s mission.
To achieve these objectives, I partnered with Geoff Whiteman. Geoff has served as a member care professional in private practice and with mission sending and service organizations (both as a resilience researcher and a marriage and family therapist) and currently advises member care professionals directly. Together as co-editors of this book, we bring our experience as co-laboring missionaries as well as our perspectives from different ends of the member care spectrum. Geoff gave leadership to this book’s topics and authors, while I worked with each author on crafting the content for a broad audience.
So whether you are a person who simply wants to be more aware of how to better care for global workers you know or work with, you are considering a ministry of care for God’s beloved missionaries, or you are a seasoned member care professional – welcome! This book was written for you.
Most of the contributors to this volume presented at the MissioNexus Mission Leader Conference in 2022 and 2023. The themes of those conferences were “Counting the Cost” and “Shift: Rapid Social Transformation and the Gospel.” The people care and development workshop track connected these themes with the needs of the missions community through a practical theology lens.
To develop this further, we asked several questions. What do member care professionals believe (theological and biblical reflections)? What do we know (research and case studies)? How can we respond (frameworks and strategies)? What will help (tools and resources)? And who can we join (kingdom collaboration)?
An axiom of missiology is that faithfulness to the universal gospel requires attentiveness to the particulars. We need exegesis of the text and ethnography of the context if the good news is to be good news here and now. This axiom is true for member care as well. There have been seismic shifts in the world that impact the world of missions and the discipline of member care.
I (Geoff) can think of many people who have lamented to me about what they are seeing. An executive director of a mid-sized agency explained, “We used to have a good handle on member care, but now we’re not so sure. Everyone coming is carrying so much trauma. We want to help them, and we also have a job we need them to do.”
A seasoned trainer told me, “We keep seeing major member care issues in our trainees. The people coming through training now need more training, but organizations are placing a lower priority on training. There’s a huge gap between everyone’s expectations. I’ve given my life to closing this gap, but it keeps widening.”
On another occasion, a senior pastor shared with me about texting with global workers on the other side of the world who were in a medical emergency with their child. He said, “I’m their pastor. I have to help them, but I don’t know who to turn to.”
I share Heather’s conviction that the invitation of member care to love one another well belongs to each of us. And I add my conviction that some of us are invited to become member care professionals who do so with excellence. This is because many of the perplexing and pervasive challenges are best understood as structural. These are places where our walls are not framed plumb and square to our foundation and where no amount of fresh paint will remedy the problem.
One of the more pervasive structural problems is the belief that the aim of member care is to eliminate preventable attrition rather than to see reductions in attrition as an outcome of a healthy system in which member care has a key role. Through research, we found that attrition is multi-faceted, complex, and rarely (if ever) clearly differentiated between preventable or unpreventable. Member care workers often play an essential role in helping global workers do well, but their work is often tertiary and occurs alongside friends, family, colleagues, supporting churches, and others.
To move forward we need to grow in awareness of how care fits across cultures in individual relationships and in organizational systems. And we need to approach this area with hearts and minds that honor those who came before us and are open to the diverse perspectives of those involved in today’s global mission environment. Reading and interacting with the content of this book can be one step in moving forward.
Our prayer is that this book will meet a real need you have now and provide you with resources you can return to again and again. We trust it proves to be a blessing to you and through you to those God invites you to care for. We hope you’ll share it with someone you know and the dialogue that follows will spark new insights.
May we each be a part of building healthy relational cultures in the organizations we serve!
Heather Pubols is the editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ, emqonline.com) – a professional journal for North American missionaries that has been continuously published since 1964. She is also the founder and principal communications consultant for le Motif (lemotif.org) – a communications consulting firm focused on global mission. She has served in missions for more than 20 years.
Geoff Whiteman, ThM, LMFT, serves member care professionals as the director of the VALEO Research Institute (valeo.global/research) and the MissioNexus People Care and Development track co-leader. Since 2000, he has served in vocational ministry and has supported the care and training of global workers in Christ since 2007. Those experiences piqued his interest in how global workers could persevere with joy which led him to research resilience (resilientglobalworker.org).