As more and more of our missionaries become agents of specific churches, as opposed to denominations, I see a trend emerging that is troubling.
We are neglecting some basic issues related to the care, health, and encouragement of the very missionaries we are supporting and sending to the ends of the earth.
Let me give you an example.
I work with a missionary couple in Mexico who are supported not by their denomination, but by their local church. For over 7 years, this local church has stood where others would not, and month by month financially supported this couple and their family in their work.
As a result of that work, churches have been built, lives have been changed, and Gods’ Word has been proclaimed. But I am troubled. And here is why.
Nowhere in the budget that was worked out for this couple when they were commissioned was any amount for pastoral care. Nothing for occasional raises, no vacation money, and nothing for regular visits from any members of the congregation to serve as an encouragement.
Sadly, this is more the rule, than the exception.
Luke 14 gives us a great account of Jesus’ words that I believe apply here. Verse 28 says “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and consider the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?”
I want to suggest that if your church is considering supporting a missionary, then you need to be more involved than just sending your money. I want you to consider investing in the total package, with all of your hearts, all of your wallets, and all of the gifts and talents that God has given to your church. I want you to, as Jesus says, count the cost.
Here are some concrete steps you can take that will be an incredible encouragement to your missionaries in the field.
Regularly, the sending or supporting US church should make a vacation happen for their missionaries. Here in the US, many people own time shares. It should not be hard to find a member or friend who could donate a week every so often to give that couple a place to stay away from their home base.
Since the support we offer is generally at a subsistence level, you will need to couple that with a donation to cover travel and meals. This will ensure your missionary gets a break from the frequently draining daily routine and is energized for his or her work.
We would never think of not giving our pastors here in the US a vacation, we should expect no less for our missionaries over there.
Go and visit. But not just once. Send some people from your church a few times a year. Just to hang out, serve your missionaries, and see what life is like where they are serving. Not only will this be an encouragement to them, but the people you send will become the eyes and ears of your congregation into your mission and your continuing work “over there.”
You will be surprised at how much something like this will encourage not only your missionaries, but your church body as well when your visitors return home with their stories from the front.
No missionary wants to feel that they are isolated in ministry. Regular visits by friends from home remind those of us on the field that we are loved and not alone.
Take us to dinner. Often those of us on the field make do with slim financial resources. Why not make it possible for your missionaries to occasionally have a nice meal out and maybe see a movie?
The cost to you would be negligible, but the impact on your missionary will be unbelievable. Just make sure to tell them the extra gift is for them, and not for the ministry. Sometimes we need those words.
Finally, don’t forget, we are part of your body. As missionaries, we are expected to report regularly on what is happening “in the field.” It would be nice for our sponsoring churches to do the same.
How can we as missionaries pray for the needs of our home churches if those needs are never shared or expressed?
Frequently we forget that missionaries from our churches have left friends and family behind. Regular newsletters from home, made easier these days by e-mail, can be a real point of continuing connection between a sending church and their missionaries.
Now I know a lot of this stuff costs money. Thus the passage I cite from Luke on counting the cost. Too often, in the rush and excitement to send someone out, we don’t consider the long term implications of our actions.
That is from the church side. From the mission side, all too often we are not going to speak up on our own behalf. It is as if we have an almost dysfunctional belief that “God will provide.”
Missions work in the field can be incredibly lonely, hard, and depressing, and wonderful, exciting, and life changing, all at the same time.
Are you doing a good job counting the cost and tending to the care and feeding of your missionaries?