Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. This is episode 99 of Missions on Point. We're in number 12 of 14 on church-based missionary training.
We've turned the corner from all of the home-based training for the missionary to commissioning them, getting them out to the field. And this episode is going to talk about shepherding on the field.
The obvious question is, why should we consider these three topics as church-based missionary training? That is, episode 12 of 14 about shepherding on the field, episode 13 of 14 on accountability, focus, and communication, and episode 14 of 14, the last one, on the partnership agreement with the Mission-sending agency.
And the reason is this. One of the primary reasons that missionaries have problems on the field is because of inappropriate, or wrong, or misinformed expectations. Having realistic and biblical expectations is key to the missionary's peace of mind and heart, their confidence in the sovereignty of God in all things, and in their understanding that they can actually work through the challenges and difficulties on the field, and survive and thrive long term.
So I'm including shepherding on the field as part of building the right expectations on both sides. On the missionary side and on the home church side. While shepherding on the field is an ongoing thing that includes regular communication with your missionaries, in some form or fashion with your care team, or your church leaders, or missions team leaders, that kind of communication is essential and ongoing. It's part of the routine of their life and of their sustaining support.
But this episode is going to focus on the field visit, both in preparing the one who's visiting and in having the right kinds of goals and expectations for what the field visit will include. It's good for the missionary to know this ahead of time so that they don't feel ambushed when someone comes and starts asking significant questions that get beneath the surface in their life and in their heart.
There are a lot of reasons or opportunities that someone from the sending church may visit the missionary on the field, and it may have to do with some specific tasks, or objectives, or short-term missions goals. However, I'm focusing on the shepherding part.
The first big question to ask is, who gets to go on a field visit on behalf of the church? Most often it is a church leader, a pastor, or a missions team leader. But it may be someone from the care team. It may be someone that has a particular relationship, close relationship with the missionary that is best able to understand them and minister to them.
It may be a couple, a husband and wife, who are going particularly to minister to the husband and wife on the field. It is always of value, if it's possible and financially feasible, for a lady to go because she just has a different perspective, and a little bit more insight perhaps into the relational and heart issues, especially of the wife and children.
I've often said that if you want to know what's going on in the ministry, ask the husband. If you want to know what's really going on in life, ask the wife.
Here's a short list of some qualifications or some orientation of people who might go to visit on behalf of the church. First, usually it's a leader. Someone who represents or is deputized to represent the interest of the church and speak with some authority on behalf of the church.
Secondly, a listener. Someone who recognizes the field visit as an opportunity to really get to know the missionary, their ministry, and their whole situation on the field better. That takes someone who is more focused on asking questions and listening than in themselves talking, or teaching, or being the focus of attention.
The third characteristic is this person must be someone who is a learner. That is, they're willing to see, and taste, and hear and smell and feel the situation, the culture, and what life is like for their missionaries on the field. Remember, they're going to be reporting back to the local church as the communication spokesperson on behalf of the missionary to explain what their missionary's life is like on the field. If they're someone who likes to be pampered, and only likes American food, that's probably not the right person.
The fourth characteristic is they must be someone who is a confronter. Someone skilled and willing to say the hard things if necessary, to help keep the missionary's mind and attitudes on track.
The fifth characteristic is a counselor, someone willing to apply biblical truth and sound doctrine to the issues confronting them. Even though it may be interpersonal and not cultural or religious doctrinal in nature, there is always a place for the Bible's principles to be applied to real life, even in that situation.
The last thing is to be a good communicator. Someone willing and able to communicate what they've learned through the privilege of the field visit to those back home. They need to be able to express and articulate what it's like there as much as they have experienced anyway.
Now, here are a few key ideas to keep in mind for the person traveling. First, you're there to minister to your missionaries. Don't pressure them too much to making your visit comfortable for you. Learn the challenges and the discomforts of their life as part of the lessons you need to learn.
It's better to hang out and observe their life and ministry and relationships than for you to do whatever they have to offer in terms of touristy kinds of things. If you are given an opportunity to lead a Bible study, or to encourage other missionaries or national Christians in some setting, that's fine. But don't make that the reason or the center of why you're there. It's not about you getting another notch on your belt for ministry.
One very practical key is be mentally prepared for jet lag. It's real. It can hammer you. Some people handle it better than others, so mentally prepare yourself to be one of those that handle it better than other people. Sleep, or at least try to sleep, or pretend to sleep when you're supposed to sleep. And stay awake when you're supposed to stay awake in that time zone. Drink plenty of water and take aspirin, it actually does help with the brain fog.
Now in just a moment, I'm going to give you a whole checklist of inquiry areas. But I would encourage you not to try to push through in one sitting. You might not even get through the whole list in your whole visit, whether it's a couple of days or a week. But take your time, make it relaxed and relationally warm. You can even use transit time if you're traveling for some distances, or over a period of time, whether you're on a train or metro or in a car or bus. You can sit with your missionary, and kind of work through this list of things to check up on.
So here's that key list of areas guiding my visits. Obviously, the concerns are pastoral in nature, and may vary depending on the length of time that your missionaries have been on the field, or length of time that you have to talk to them and work with them.
Just a little footnote, if you are not from their sending church, you might want to communicate with their sending church, and give a little debrief report after you come home about their missionary.
Number one is spiritual vitality and consistency. This includes things like their devotional life, their fellowship with other Christians, potentially what areas of sinful temptation or weakness. What is their relationship with local bodies of believers, if that exists? Secondly, is a general physical, mental, emotional health area.
It includes typical local maladies or diseases or susceptibilities. Check up on their schedules, their individual needs. Thirdly is the whole area of marital relationship, the health of their marriage, the strength of their marriage, their growth or problems or needs in their marriage. Or if they're a single person, their relationship with the opposite sex, or issues of singleness that they're dealing with. Whatever the man says, ask the woman separately or even privately to confirm.
Fourth is area family relationships. This has to do with children and the stresses of having children in a foreign culture. Their concerns, what they are practicing with regard to family life and family devotions perhaps. Discipline, spiritual leadership of their kids, spiritual condition of their kids.
Fifth is schooling and ongoing education, and this really is for everyone in the family. Does the husband, does the wife have a plan or a goal for ongoing education, whether formal or informal?
What are they learning? What are they trying to learn, besides the language and culture, and the ministry things that they need to do? Are there areas of expertise they could grow in? And what are the schooling resources and needs for their children? Often, missionary kid education, MK education, is one of the areas that causes missionary families to return home because they don't think that they can handle, either financially or logistically or academically, the special needs of their children's education on the field.
The next area is kind of obvious, but you need to ask questions about their language acquisition and proficiency. Their culture acquisition. Are they showing diligence day-by-day? What are their requirements and expectations of their team, of their mission, of their field? Where are they in the total process of months or years of language acquisition? Are they seeing growth? Do they have enough resources? Do they have an actual plan? Are they continuing to grow in culture and language acquisition for the whole family, including the children?
I remember hearing recently about a missionary candidate who is planning to go to the field. And someone who was a potential supporter asked them, what are your plans when you get to the field? And they had no good answer for that. That's just not acceptable.
When they land on the field, their first priority and responsibility is language acquisition, culture acquisition, until they have a sufficient level of proficiency to be able to communicate the intangible truths of the gospel, and of God, and of Christ.
The next area to ask about is team relationships. Most all missionaries around the world work in some form or fashion with a team. Whether they actually coordinate all of their work and ministry together, or they just meet together for fellowship. Whether it is a small team meaning regionally, geographically small, or a larger regional spread-out team. Learn who they work with, who they report to, how they relate to them. Are there regular meetings? Is there an annual conference sort of meeting or retreat for everybody that's working together in the same area or region?
What spiritual input, and pastoral care, and onsite visits do they receive from their team or their organization? Do they have a sense of regular accountability and check in with people who are more senior in their experience in ministry on the field?
The next area is relationships with nationals, that is their neighbors and friends. Are they showing hospitality, receiving hospitality? Do they have specific ministry partnerships with nationals, or participation in the community? How well are they accepted in their community?
The next area is housing and utilities. How adequate is their housing? How appropriate to the cultural environment? Is it a healthy environment? Do they have good water supply, septic system, heating and air, or electricity? The next area is transportation. What are their needs, and resources, and alternatives? Are they using public transportation, if that is most appropriate? And in what ways do they use it? How expensive is that?
Then there's a whole area of communication. What are their phones and phone systems like? What is internet like, radio? Other kinds of communication, perhaps? How adequate is it for their needs for education, for communication, even for shepherding?
The next area is financial, and this has to do with their support and or projects. Do they have funds that help them return back to the states for a home assignment? Do they have a retirement plan? Do they have medical and health insurance? What are their long-term plans for support of their children in schooling? Even college?
And last on my list, but not least is how can we, our church, help? What can we do to do a better job of supporting and shepherding you and your family? How can we pray and partner better? What means of communication or channels of information can we establish so that we can check up on you, and particularly the needs and concerns that you have?
One of the things I want to leave you with is the concept that it is okay for you to ask specific questions. You not only have a right to do so, I think you have an obligation to do so. What's really going on in their life? Leave no stone unturned. If you run into something in which you need to go deeper, then go deeper. You do not have to cover the whole list every time. Lord willing, you'll be visiting them with some frequency over a long period of time. And you have these other means through email, or WhatsApp, or Zoom, or Skype in order to continue to follow up.
I remember running into a missionary couple who had some marriage relationship concerns that were exacerbated on the field. And a supporting church found out about that, and had a particular interest in skills in marriage counseling. So they set up a regular monthly thing where they checked in with them on specific growth in their marriage relationship skills together.
It was an awesome result of a great field visit, and followed up regularly over a long period of time to help these sweet workers continue to serve on the field, and not have problems grow to the point of crisis.
There are lots of other examples of churches that have done really amazing and extraordinary things to help encourage and uplift their missionaries, and missionaries from their missionaries team or field, on the field that have been greatly used to the Lord to enable those missionaries to stay faithful and fruitful long term. It's my prayer that many more sending churches would have such a vision for their role in their missionary's life.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, propempo.com. Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.
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