We hope that you have read some of the sections previous to this one. If so, you would have learned about the importance of shepherding care for your missionaries. You will already know about the priority of regular communication. A “problem missionary” should never be new news to the home or sending church.
One of the issues you will have to face right away in dealing with a problem missionary is discernment. Who should you believe? And, to what extent? No doubt you will be getting information from different sources, some of which may be extremely troubling. If you have had any hint of problems with this missionary, you will know that you shouldn’t completely trust their perspective exclusively. You must do whatever it takes to hear “both sides of the story”.
You probably had some inkling that this particular missionary might have this particular kind of problem before it ever emerged. In the pre-field training process, or in the evaluation as a missionary candidate, or in counseling prior to their leaving for the field, you probably had or should have had some indications that would give you for warning.
Ignoring the problem never works. Problems tend to only grow worse and larger in scope the longer they are left unattended. It’s best to get together directly with the missionary, face-to-face if possible, or by Skype or by phone or by Internet chat. Tell them what you know or have heard via a third-party or even a rumor. Ask them for an explanation. Also ask them for a reference to verify their explanation. You may need to seek a separate, private interview or audience with their spouse. Even then it’s best, if possible, to find an objective third-party.
If the problem behavior is a one-time event, then it may be handled in a completely different way than if it is a consistent pattern of behavior. If it is overtly sinful, then it may be handled in a different way than an irascible personality trait. If it is discerned to be destructive to their testimony or ministry, decisions may need to be made much more quickly.
We have known instances in which the home church pastor completely changed his personal plans to travel to the field himself in order to deal with the situation face-to-face. This would only be required in the rarest of situations. Typically, the field leadership really can be trusted to do the right thing and to act in the best interests of the missionary involved and their home church when the communication and information is flowing freely. Sometimes assistance from the home church might be in order for someone to accompany the missionary and or their family back home in order to best guide and protect them as they travel with all the logistics of family, luggage, multiple check-in’s, immigration checkpoints, etc.
The missionary may face difficult debriefing and discipline issues with the home office. The home office may request to visit and/or debrief the home church leadership regarding the problem. Usually, if the problem is of such magnitude that the missionary has to leave the field and/or leave the mission, the home church will get some notice from the mission. On the other hand, some mission agencies, fearing litigation, completely close down communication about the issue while abruptly terminating the missionary with little or no explanation to there supporting churches. In such cases, the church may not have opportunity to get additional or objective perspective on the problems caused by the missionary on the field. Whatever the official position of the mission agency (or the missionary, or whatever “they” decide will be the public reason) the church should not fail to try to get whatever information, good, bad, or ugly, about their problem missionary in order to best serve them in correction and restoration.
Missionaries are real people with real problems and real sin. It is only by God’s grace that they are able to serve at all. No one has a right or entitlement to serve as a missionary, supported by God’s people, no matter how strongly they feel about their call or how brilliant they think their ministry or strategy may be. There are biblical disqualifications for ministry. There are also legitimate incompatibilities in ministry. There are predilections of proud and sinful personality and sinful behaviors which discredit and negate an otherwise effective ministry. Sending churches must sometimes exercise tough love by speaking the truth with grace and not giving in to enabling support.
If you have a problem missionary, deal with it! Get to the bottom of it quickly! Find out both sides of the story as soon as possible. Do as much as you can to balance grace and truth, while providing the resources for your problem missionary to overcome their problem, if possible. Protect the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.