I have been given an exciting opportunity and I would like to extend it to you. A friend of mine is the missions director for his church and he sent me the following email:
“One of my goals is to help our pastoral staff and elders be better contributors in the lives of our missionaries. From July 2016- June 2017 I want to begin sending these people (pastors and elders) on missionary visits. Some of them would do a fine job, others have some great areas of opportunity, but all of us could learn something about connecting below the surface with our missionaries. Do you do training for this?”
First of all, doesn’t it stir a part of you deep down that a church would be willing to not only visit you, but invest in professional training before sending staff out to visit you? If you haven’t yet seen Dave Lewis’ interesting discussion on Partnership versus Sponsorship, his article is helpful in having this discussion.
I could also like to add that I believe many churches are well-intentioned but do not know what to do or how to move from sponsorship to partnership. This is why I’m excited we have been given this opportunity. By brainstorming together, we can create resources for both parties (the missionary and the church) to foster more partnerships.
Do you view your sending and supporting churches as partners or sponsors? What would you like for them to be? What would that look like to you?
I have to admit, when I reflect back over the more than two decade relationship I’ve had with my sending churches, I have mixed feelings about someone coming to visit me. I have good relationships with all and know they care for me. The main criteria as I served overseas was that I was with an agency for accountability (one church had been quite burnt in two cases by people sent out without an agency). Beyond that, not much was required of me. I will also say I wrote frequent updates and believe my supporters knew I took their support seriously.
Given this opportunity, let’s help these pastors and elders (and the other churches reading this) by casting a vision of what a visit could look like, why it matters to you and to them, and practical ideas for visits. We will also assume that some people from their church will only get one visit because they will be on the field for three or less years and others will have multiple visits over the years.
Prior to a visit:
In the months and weeks prior to a visit from your church, what would you hope for communication and expectations to look like? What are your concerns at this phase?
What training would you like for your pastor or elder to receive prior to visiting you?
A first visit:
A variety of factors come into play here: how well do you know the person visiting you? Assuming this will be their one and only visit to you, what would be an encouragement? What would help for you to feel the investment and overall support (not just financial) of the church? Are there ways you could help set them up to partner with you better?
What is do you hope to accomplish with this visit? How do you hope to feel at the end of it? What types of questions do you hope the person visits you asks? What questions concern or—let’s be honest—scare you?
How could both sides (you and the pastor) help this to feel less like an inspection and more relational?
For this type of relationship to have long-term value and benefits, the visit is, in my opinion, not the most important part. Without follow-up, it’s really been more of a vacation or cool experience for the person visiting and another hosting of a tourist for you. So, what kind of follow-up would be beneficial? How would you like their visit to make a difference when they return how to their church? What are ideas for both sides to continue to invest in the relationship?
In the years that follow, how could subsequent visits be of value? When you have been visited by people multiple times, what made those visits helpful? What made them more of an item on a checklist to be checked off?
This article has a lot of questions, doesn’t it? (Ha!, there’s one more.) Feel no pressure to answer all of them. How about if you pick one or two that caught your eye and start with them. The beautiful part of a post is that as ideas come to you, you can return and answer them.
I already have several ideas I’d like to incorporate, but I don’t want to miss out on including your suggestions, examples, and desires for this kind of visit.