Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions On Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Hello, this is episode 19 of Missions On Point. We're going to begin a three-part series on missionary care. We touched on missionary care in an earlier episode, just in general about some of the aspects of missionary care. We're going to go a little bit deeper in these three episodes together. The first one is on grassroots understanding, that is grassroots involvement of the congregation in missionary care and understanding why and some basic principles. First, I want to talk about rationale for reasons behind missionary care. The first reason is because missionaries are needy people for a variety of reasons, some of which we'll go into a little bit more detail in a moment. The second is distance. While distance may make the heart grow fonder for a sweetheart, missionaries need shepherding care at long distance, and it tends to make us forgetful about the immediacy of their personal needs and our responsibilities in shepherding care.

Let's face it, missionaries are away from our congregation for long periods of time, so it's easier for them to get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life right in front of us. Thirdly, I don't mean this to sound unkind, but missionaries tend to be proud, stubborn, and self-sufficient. That's actually part of what God used to get them to the field, but it's also a deterrent to vulnerability and their own recognition of emotional and fellowship needs. At the beginning of their history of life on the field, they're probably more sensitive to separation from their church and loved ones, but loneliness and some degree of isolation can actually dull their heartstrings and thinking to assume that they just need to be tough. There's a balance in there somewhere. Fourthly, celebrations of special days like birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, their home country national holidays, et cetera, are often suppressed or eclipsed under the weight of never ending work on the field and everyday living in a foreign culture. And on the other hand, reluctance to make a big deal of their special celebrations or holidays in view of local neighbors and friends.

The fifth reason shepherding care is so important is because of the reality of preventable missionary attrition. Preventable attrition is when missionaries return home permanently for preventable reasons. In my view, the high rate of preventable missionary attrition should charge us to make missionary shepherding care a high priority. So just to fill in this thought a little bit here, there are two major categories of preventable attrition. First is unrealistic expectations. Lack of realistic expectations is a function of pre-filled preparation and training. The second category is relational accountability and shepherding care from the sending church. Both of those things should be the responsibility of the sending church. Once your missionaries are on the field, it's difficult to make up the gap of unrealistic expectations. However, there is much that can be done to fill the need for relational accountability and shepherding care. Now, you may object and say, we are not the sending church, but if you are a significant supporting church and care about your missionaries, maybe you need to step up. Or perhaps with good communication with the actual sending church, you can encourage them to step up in a bigger way.

It's done together. If you have support of a missionary, you have at least part some responsibility for this area. Now, Propempo likes to do things based on biblical principles, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful model we have in the church at Philippi in relationship to the Apostle Paul and his ministry. When you look carefully at the book of Philippians, you see that Paul refers to the Philippian church as a whole, as partners and partakers in his ministry. They participated in person in many ways, and they were persistent in their generosity, in their giving. They gave funds to Paul repeatedly over a long period of time. Here are some applications for your church congregation to understand from the book of Philippians. There is a sense of ownership. Our international workers are part of us extended beyond our reach as a local church, so they are a part of us.

There's intentionality. We consciously think of them and pray for them and give to them and serve them with care. They are representative in that they represent us. If the missionaries didn't go to the field, then someone else from our congregation would have to, perhaps even someone from our family. There's also a sense of having skin in the game, a heightened awareness that these people are fulfilling their role on the mission field representing our church as if they were in our place there. Lastly, we see that the Philippian church sent emissaries. They sent representatives to give Paul a visit in his place of ministry, wherever that was, including ultimately in prison in Rome. One last note here. A missions hearted church is full of missions hearted people, and that is partly a function of the leadership of the church getting people on board, firing them up to own it and wrap their hands around it.

So now we come full circle in this concept or idea of grassroots understanding. If your congregation understands that they have a significant and important role in missionary care in shepherding their missionaries, then what is some of the practical involvement that they can do to help with the task? The key concept here is to push the idea of missionary care down to the grassroots, the lowest level of organization of your church. We want to see missionary care be a function of the church body and not just higher levels of the organization doing it on behalf of the congregation.

One of the big picture concepts is to not have so many missionaries on your support list that your congregation will never be able to wrap their hands around it. You want missionary care to be part of the grassroots DNA of your church, that your people know and love your missionaries and find it easy to extend care to them because they know them well enough to know their names and where they serve and what their ministry is like.

Simple things can make a big difference. For example, all your missionaries will be sending out newsletters approximately quarterly. With their permission and appropriate security disclaimers, you can distribute that to your whole church body through email, not just the people that are on their newsletter list. I know of a number of churches that distill prayer requests from the missionaries on a monthly basis and compile that into a prayer newsletter for all the missionaries that's distributed to everyone in the church. Another way to get it down to grassroots level is to make sure that Sunday school classes, small groups, youth discipleship groups, whatever the smallest core ministry cell is in your church, that level needs to be aware of, to know a specific missionary family that they can pray for. In our church, we have small groups that meet regularly and most of the congregation participates in those.

Every small group adopts or is assigned one missionary family to pray for through the whole year. Those names may rotate year by year, and they get to know other missionary families. But for one year, each small group or adult Bible fellowship group or discipleship group is looking at and understanding one missionary families work on the field, their life, their children, their ages, their special needs, and they extend special care to them. How do they do that? Well, they pray every time they meet for that missionary family. There is someone within the group that's assigned to be a global outreach advocate or missionary advocate, and they have a channel of communication directly with the missionary to find out what their needs are, what their relevant new prayer requests are, and how the group may help them. Certainly that cell group of ministry is also doing little things like sending birthday cards or Christmas cards or anniversary greetings.

Sometimes it has to be only by email because regular mail either can't be trusted because of security or there isn't a legitimate easy way to get something physically to them. Another big concept for pushing missionary care to the grassroots is having an annual missions event in which reports are given from all the missionaries that you support and or represented to the people from these missions advocates and others, the missions team perhaps explaining to the congregation the specific needs and concerns and goals and joys of what the missionaries are experiencing on the field. One of the comments that we frequently get from newer members in our church is that they have never been in a church where the congregation so knows their missionaries well and takes care of them so well. That is a reputation worth striving for. To move it a little further down the line, these elemental groups like our small groups or adult Bible fellowship groups are made responsible for the logistical care of missionaries when they come to visit in our area.

So the first line of responsibility for housing, transportation, for making sure that their needs are met in terms of doctoring or cars or phones, internet, even stocking the food pantry for them when they come home, the first responsibility lies in the hands of that small group that owns them. In our church situation, there are several small groups that own the same missionary family. So there is a little bit of coordination that has to take place between the small groups and they almost wrestle each other for the privilege of supporting and caring for the missionaries when they're in our area. To get it down to the grassroots, you just have to make it easy to communicate, to visualize, to see who the missionaries are and how they can pray for them. Whether it is making sure that every family has available to them, if they ask the prayer cards or prayer reminders of missionaries, whether it's the newsletters, whether it's praying for them weekly in their small groups or Sunday school groups.

When that happens and a missionary is in some sort of crisis or special need, the congregation responds overwhelmingly and very quickly to those needs because they know and love them and have been bonded with them for months and years prior to that. So you see this whole concept of missionary care at the grassroots is wrapped around a sense of ownership. It is a proper biblical ecclesiology that says, these missionaries are representative of us. They are like us in doctrine and faith. They are an extension of us out on the mission field, and we owe care to them as much as if they were with us and being week by week a part of our congregation. There's one other aspect I should mention. It's kind of ironic, but missionaries who receive this kind of care that we're explaining in this episode, and the next two with regard to specialized focus and field visits, those missionaries become the envy of other missionaries on the field because it is so rare and so significant.

However, those missionaries that receive this kind of care tend to be more joyful, more fulfilled in their ministry, and stay longer term than missionaries that do not receive this kind of care. It is lonely, no matter how urban and densely populated the place is where they're serving, it is lonely if they do not have that pipeline of care with the local sending and supporting church. When you have established that kind of loving relational shepherding care with your missionary, then when certain crises pop up and they will, it is natural and easy for you to address those things in whatever way they need to be addressed, whether it is with rebuke and admonition or special comfort and care in their lives.

So when drastic things happen on the field, when they have a falling out with a national believer, when their marriage is in trouble, when their kids are struggling, you are able to minister to them in a special way because you've taken the time to establish that platform of relational accountability and care for years before it ever happened. Please stay tuned as we develop this a little further in the next two episodes, Missionary Care: Specialized Focus, and Missionary Care Field Visits.

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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