The missions team is the facilitator of relationships between the church body and its missionaries. The missions team acts as a matchmaker, account representative, personal investment counselor, and chaperone all rolled into one. There is no doubt that all the members of your missions team our missions enthusiasts and desire to be a part of or entirely hold the reins of relationship and communication with your missionaries. However, the prevailing principle must be mobilizing/involving the congregation and acting in their best interests.
The missions team has a significant interest in staying up-to-date with communication to and from their missionaries, the missions team does not have to be the primary point of contact responsible for that communication. Often the missions team will delegate communication responsibilities to Sunday school classes or small groups. Practically, it’s important to have one person within the delegated group to be named as the responsible missions advocate for that missionary. The missions advocate keeps the missions team up-to-date and represents the news and prayer requests of their designated missionary to their small group. That same small group, coordinated by the missions advocate, can take responsibility for hospitality and missionary care on a regular basis.
Remember that communication is a two-way street. It’s a good thing for the pastor to write a letter about leadership issues, major directions and teaching or ministry for the church, etc. to the missionaries directly at least on an annual basis. Someone on the missions team or in the church office can make sure that supported missionaries receive newsletters, bulletins, e-mail updates, etc. from the church office as may be appropriate (or preventing that kind of communication if it might be inappropriate, as in a high-security ministry environment). Missionaries like to hear tidbits of news and happenings within the church body. Missionaries also need to know who is their designated missions advocate.
Besides routine communication, newsletters, and congregation-wide info, it is wise for the missions team to establish a sense of accountability and evaluation in the relationship. This can take place through some simple annual goals and accountability questionnaire. It is legitimate to ask missionaries about their marriage and family. It is certainly the responsibility of the primary home or sending church to ask personal questions in-line with a caring, shepherding relationship with their people on the field. It is better to discover issues in which the church might have a constructive counseling role well before those issues caused irreparable damage to your people and or ministries on the field.
This might be a good place to mention some pitfalls in the selection process of missionaries to support. It is very common for the missions team to be pressured to consider for support a missionary friend or relative of someone on the mission team, or dear Aunt Sally, or Deacon Joe, or big-financial-giver Ferdinand. So, it is wise to establish the criteria, priorities, and credentials of those missionaries or ministries the church wants to support strategically before personalities and personal issues enter into the discussion. Similarly, there may be considerable pressure to consider FOP-s, that is “friends of the pastor”. Now the pastor is often in a position to have friends through seminary or previous ministry experience who are trying to get to the mission field and need support. It is a problem, though, to discover that within a span of a few years almost the entire slate of missionaries supported our FOP-s, without any particular coherence or alignment as a group with the church’s vision for missions. It becomes a bigger problem whenever that particular pastor leaves the church or retires and another pastor comes on the scene. Then what do you do?