The local church and missionaries on the field should be on the same team, but often a wedge of misunderstanding is driven between the two.
There is a danger when missionaries feel entitled to the support of a local body. Many dig their own grave in destroying relationships with their sending churches.
Equally, misunderstanding can come within the body of Christ and be directed towards those on the field.
As a veteran of missions for over 23 years, here is my encouragement for the body of Christ about their care of missionaries.
5 Ways the Local Church can Serve a Missionary:
There are two forms of communication which are essential. Communication to us, and communication for us
Please communicate to us because it is often lonely on the mission field. I remember calling home collect in the middle of the night when I happened to find a phone. Now with technology, we literally are always available.
While it is primarily the responsibility of the missionary to maintain communication, a call or email from home asking how things are going or even updating us on church life is fantastic.
When we do return, please communicate favorably for us and about us. I recently sat in a church service where the phrase “deepest, darkest Africa” was used several times. This does not create a love for the nations, but a fear of them! Language like this makes us strange and difficult to relate to (not to mention what it says of the precious people in “deepest and darkest…”).
2. Help us connect
Returning to your church after months or years away can be daunting. Times and people change quickly. Any assistance you can provide to help us plug-in and meet new people through small groups or BBQ’s would be welcome.
These connections do not need to be ministry oriented; allowing us to “share.” Relationships are what make home, feel like home.
3. Engage us when we return
A one word answer satisfies many people as to how things are going. It can be demoralizing to sum up your entire ministry with responses of “good” or “really well”.
While this conversation is the norm, please provide someone who can celebrate our successes and empathize with the struggles we face. Nothing beats a face to face with someone else in ministry. Even better, would be a conversation with someone who is familiar with the work we are doing.
A simple service to a missionary would be having a person who “understands us.”
4. Ask us the hard questions
Many meetings with the pastors involve recaps of our ministry. This is valid and necessary. But we desire and need more.
Please engage us on a deeper level about our ministry and our personal lives. Ask questions like:
– Have you maintained freshness in your vision?
– How is your walk with God?
– Are you dealing with the stress of missions in your marriage?
– How are your kids responding to life in a foreign country?
– Are you making it financially? Can you set aside some money for the future?
– Do you rest regularly?
As a leader or missionary overseas, we may not have peers in our life asking these questions. Please make us uncomfortable for the sake of our long-term success!
5. Let us rest
Trips home are often busier than ordinary life. We are living in a house which is not our own, visiting all kinds of people, all while trying to bang the drum for generating support.
It is exhausting. And worse, our co-workers on the field think we are on holiday!
While still engaging us, please don’t run us ragged!
My church has often gone the extra mile by providing opportunities for fun, or even simple assistance such as a car or a bit of pocket cash for shopping.
This post is not designed to take any shots at our supporting churches. (Ours are fantastic!) My hope is to bring awareness from a missionary’s perspective and to engage us in a dialogue.
I invite pastors, missions boards, or people who support missionaries to comment.
What would you add to the discussion?
What are your pet peeves in the way missionaries respond or act entitled?
What other suggestions do you have to assist in the relationship between the church and a missionary?
What does a missionary need to know about the local church?
Photo credit: In the Shadow of the Cross St Martha – paint via photopin (license)