Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Welcome to episode 113 of Missions on Point. This is number 12 in a series of 14 on contemporary issues and missions, and this particular episode we're going to focus on weak mission agency partnership that is with the sending church and vice versa. I say this is a contemporary issue, but it's actually a long-term issue. This has often been the case that there are issues of a weak partnership between the local sending church where the missionary originates from and is sent out from, and the mission agency that is the facilitating agency or organization for that missionary going out to the field.

The major problem in this issue is that local churches and local church leaders tend to want to just turn over their missionary candidate to the mission agency and assume that the mission agency is going to take care of them, that the mission agency knows what they're doing, that the mission agency is not affected by negative trends otherwise, and that the mission agency is going to keep their missionary on track in a way that reflects the same kind of values and doctrine as the local church.

The problem with this thinking is that the local church is largely wrong about the mission agency's competency and consistency in fulfilling those kinds of things on behalf of the sending church. It's also an unfortunate abrogation of the local church's biblical role in the life of the missionary, so two strikes against local church thinking in that direction. Falling into the same wrong thinking on the other side of the coin, the mission agency often thinks that because they have done this so long that they are the experts and they can take care of all the things concerning the local church's missionary, and they expect to be given the responsibility for those things by the local church whether or not they can actually fulfill it on the field. There is notably a significant positive trend of mission agencies really trying to take seriously their role in what they call member care. We would call it missionary care, and it is simply making sure that they're proactive in trying to take care of their missionaries on the field and the stresses that they encounter and dealing with that somehow.

Most often what they mean by that is trying to avert the possibility of high stress situations and or council missionaries that are having struggles for whatever reason on the field. Unfortunately, what actually happens is the local sending church has to pick up the pieces of whatever tragedy happened on the field because the mission agency at that point takes hands off and say, "Hey, they're your people, they're your problem." The mission agency just does not have the intimate relationship and ownership of that missionary for the long term. When you take into account the Mission Agency's status as a nonprofit organization or institution in the United States legal system of tax laws, they feel like they have a certain kind of responsibility to avoid litigation and they don't want to divulge too much about people that are their employees in their structure.

Therefore, they don't want the employees information and personnel file data, even if they're having problems to get outside of the circle of the legal responsibility of the organization until it's too late. That agency fear of litigation and legal complications is a fallacy. In fact, most mission organizations outsource to third parties lots of different aspects of their management and organization for retirement funds or for accounting or for insurance or for other things, and they let those third parties know all kinds of detailed and private information in order to get the job done. The personnel information specifically about the wellbeing of a missionary sent by a local church should be shared in partnership with the sending church so that the sending church can actually help with the problem before it gets out of hand and the missionary has to leave the field. So what are some of the ground rules or areas of mutual agreement that a local church and a mission sending agency can have in this kind of partnership?

Well, the local church has a specific interest in the missionary's ministry goals and methodology including doctrine, and they should be able to monitor and track with their missionary to see that they're actually teaching and doing the kinds of things that are consistent with the local church's biblical view of their life and ministry. In addition, they need to be involved in allocation or location of that missionary's ministry. In other words, the mission agency doesn't have an individual right without consulting the local church, the sending church, about where that missionary is going to be allocated geographically and what that implies for their life, their family, their ministry, and the target population for which the church is sending them. I'm not saying that the local church has to have a trump card in this respect, but they need to be part of the discussion and decision with regard to where their missionary goes and what their target population is.

In addition the local church has a very special interest in shepherding that missionary and his or her family because they are members of the church and the church is tasked to shepherd their people. Even if they are living in a foreign mission field, they still need to have a sense of shepherding in their wellbeing, spiritually, emotionally, maritally, their family, all of those kinds of things the local church can and should be interested in because they have a role in helping that missionary in those areas so that they can serve long-term for faithful fruitfulness on the field. The local church will also be interested in making field visits. A missions leader or a pastoral leader or perhaps just friends from the church representing the church should be visiting the field with some regularity, not too much frequency, but with some regularity to actually put eyes and ears and feet to seeing how they're living, sensing their stress level, praying with them and for them, encouraging them in the work, perhaps giving them a break from their usual routine in such a way that they are ultimately enhancing the ministry of that missionary.

I have known and advised missionaries that get too many guests that they need to set a policy to limit that because they're actually there for the ministry on the field, not as tour guides for a bunch of people coming from their extended family and their local church.

In addition, the local church is certainly interested in regular communication from the missionaries. If the missionary is not communicating their current prayer requests and needs, the church can't pray, and that is an essential part of communication that goes beyond, say, a quarterly newsletter that's distributed to a wider group, but the local church leaders and missions people in particular need to be informed about the special needs and sort of insider track information about how to pray for their missionary family out on the field.

And last but not least in this particular list is that the local church needs to respect the mission agency role. That is, they need to know the people that are in the chain of command, as it were, in the organization working with, and for, and above their missionary so that when problems come up, it's not a brand new introduction, they already have a relationship. The church needs to respect the kinds of roles that a mission agency tends to normally want to have in influencing and helping their missions staff become effective on the field. So what then does the mission agency do? Well, certainly there's general supervision because they're going to have people in or near the field where the missionary family's working and they will know better what their living circumstances are, help make those choices perhaps, and have a more regular onsite visit or supervision of what's going on there.

The mission agency is often also better positioned to help the missionary in language proficiency and cultural acquisition. The mission agency is better positioned to help with field logistics, just moving around and finding a place to live, that kind of thing.

Immigration and visa status. Usually the mission agency has pathways or relationships that enable the missionary to find an easier pathway and not have to reinvent the wheel and do it all on their own for getting their long-term visa in hand. In addition, the mission agency probably has some sort of formula or standard pattern for developing a salary and benefits for the field, including whatever HR policies they have for their mission agency.

Also, the mission agency will want to have some kind of means, even if it's just an annual means of report and respect to the sending church. In other words, if they do an annual report on the work of the missionary, then that report ought to be shared with the local sending church. Not necessarily everybody in the church. Perhaps just the leadership or the missions team. And not every single church, but the actual sending church in which the missionary is a member.

We actually have some sample partnership agreements between the sending church and the Mission agency that encompass some of these things. There are also some three-way sort of waiver agreements for the missionary and the agency and the sending church to agree on how the usually private information of the personnel file of the missionary can be shared with the local sending church. And these kind of agreements often include a statement that it will be reviewed on some annual basis by a particular officer of the church and an officer of the mission agency to make sure that things are running well, that communication channels are open, that there's no significant problems with any one of the parties involved.

So you may be asking why all this extra work? Well, for one thing, in our experience, one of the keys to keeping a missionary long-term on the field, being faithful and effective on the field is having a strong sending church relationship. It does not get cut off when they sign the employment agreement with the mission agency to become a missionary with that agency. The church can do so many things that the mission agency cannot, and most of it is intangible. That is, the relationships, the communication, the prayer, the ownership of the ministry that help guide that missionary and help put an arm around them to stick with it through the tough times. Missionaries that have this kind of strong local church sending relationship and partnership with the mission agency tend to not have as much attrition, that is leaving the field for preventable reasons.

What I've seen on the field is that those missionaries that have that kind of warm and constant relationship with their sending church are the envy of all the other missionaries on the field that do not have that. I've actually presented this kind of concept on the field to a bunch of field missionaries, and there was hardly a dry eye in the room because most all of them were saying, we just do not have that kind of relationship with our sending church.

Shame on us as a sending church that we give up our responsibility and our rights to be more involved in the missionaries that we're sending. And shame on the mission agencies who don't respect and honor the role of the local sending church and give them a place at the table all the way through their missionary's life and work on the field. This failure to partner with the sending church and fear of litigation is hollow and has negative consequences all the way through the life of the missionary.

So I strongly encourage churches to not allow their missionary candidate to sign on the dotted line to become a member of a mission agency unless they have a prior partnership agreement with the agency as to how that relationship is going to work out. This also forces the missionary candidate to not go far down the road with becoming a part of a mission sending agency without including their church in the process. Their church leaders should be informing and guiding who they choose as a mission agency partner, and it might not be the one that is the most appealing or initially grabs the heart of the missionary. That might not be the very best mission agency to go with. The sending church should be involved in that conversation and decision.

The other side of the coin for the mission agency is the way to find the very best missionaries that are going to last the longest on the field and be the most effective is to go to local churches as your recruiting ground. Find local churches that are going to develop and send those kinds of missionaries, partner with those churches, and the mission agency will not be disappointed in the quality of missionaries and the long-term tenure of those missionaries in their faithfulness and effectiveness on the field.

Go back and listen to our episode series on church-based missionary training. If a missionary goes through that kind of training with their local church and has that kind of relationship, they are virtually assured that they're going to meet every qualification that the mission agency can put forward to start as a missionary with their agency, and they're going to have the benefit of that intimate discipleship relationship and shepherding relationship with their local church so that they will be able to stick it out through the tough times in long-term ministry on the field.

That's a win-win, win for everybody. It's a win for the missionary, it's a win for the Mission agency, and it's a win for the local church. And you could add one more win. It is a win for the ministry on the field.

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, 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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