First of all you might want to think about what is missionary shepherding. By missionary shepherding we mean the loving, relational care and concern for their well-being and spiritual fruitfulness. If a Shepherd knows his sheep then the local church, especially the sending church, should know their missionary well. In order to know them well, the church, especially through its missions leadership, needs to interact with them and communicate regularly.
Missionary shepherding includes knowing the health and status of their marriage, their family relationships, their physical and medical health, the key relationships in their ministry, the things that most commonly bring them joy or discouragement. “Missionary care” is often thought of as the mission sending agencies institutional human resource department or counseling functions. Think about it: most mission agencies don’t know their missionary as well as their home church should. Mission agencies get to know their missionaries through a few weeks of interviews, interaction, and paper references. Their home church gets to know them through time and real life experiences in the ups and downs of ministry and relationships in the church and in the community.
The local churches in a better position to understand, probe, and meet the unique needs of their missionary. Just like a shepherd, the local church seeks to feed, nourish, guard, protect, and serve their missionary with the goal of enabling their healthy, long-term service.
While regular communication and mutual prayer is important when the missionary is on the field, every opportunity for sympathetically growing deeper in relationship with them while they are home should be taken. Confidential interviews with leaders should be expected. Loving questions about their home and family life are normal in a shepherding church. Church pastors or mission leaders should inquire about their spiritual vitality, personal spiritual disciplines, and how they are getting spiritual nourishment on the field.
One of the reasons the local church needs to be proactive in shepherding their missionaries is that, ultimately, the local church usually ends up with the responsibility of caring for missionaries with broken lives or ministries after the fact. How much better it would be for church to prescribe and pay for a missionary couple to go to a marriage retreat weekend rather than try to put together a broken marriage? How much better for the church to enter into solving an educational problem for one of the children then to have the whole family leave the field for lack of help? How much better for a loving church leadership to discover, confront, and turn back a missionary from sinful patterns and continue in viable field service then to be disqualified in shame?
Along with cross-cultural living comes a large added layer of complexity and stresses. However, a loving church which accepts the mantle for missionary shepherding can help their missionary stay on the field, long-term, fruitfully, contentedly, for the glory of God.
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