The following is another guest post by Meredith Cooper. Meredith has been researching the topic of member care for missionaries and recently presented her findings. I wanted you to get a chance to hear from her on the topic.
Recently I presented a paper at a regional meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society. In this paper, I argued that the local church should be the center of the missionary sending process and should take responsibility for providing member care to its members who it sends out. The centrality of the church in all aspects of mission is something I am still researching, but I want to focus this post specifically on member care and practical ways the church can take care of those it sends out.
Member Care is Biblically Based
This may be obvious, but member care is a special area within missions that has only been developed in the last few decades. However, member care has its foundations in the “one another” commands in Scripture. The Bible tells us to love one another, bear one another’s burdens, encourage one another, etc. We should be doing these things for our brothers and sisters who are serving overseas.
Member Care is a Cooperative Effort
Member care is first and foremost the church’s responsibility. The church should actually know the missionaries it sends out and commit to care for them. If the church is involved in the missionary sending process from the beginning, it should know the strengths and weaknesses of those it sends out, how they thrive, how they struggle, and anything else that may affect how they function overseas. Even if struggles or weaknesses manifest differently in a cross-cultural context, knowing these basic things about the missionary gives the church a starting point for caring for them while they are serving.
However, member care is not solely the church’s responsibility. The missionary and sending agencies also play a valuable role. Member care is not one-sided and the missionary is not a passive recipient of it. Even at its best, the church cannot maintain a constant line of support if the missionary does not take responsibility for his or her own spiritual health and open contact with his or her support team. MIssionaries must be diligent to communicate with their home church, in times of need and in times of success. The church cannot know how to pray or how to provide other support if the missionary does not clearly and intentionally communicate his or her needs.
Finally, sending agencies provide valuable resources for member care. The organizational structures of sending agencies allow them to have an entire department dedicated to member care. In addition, they are able to have member care personnel available on the field to help with more immediate needs. While sending agencies are not a replacement for the church in member care, their structure allows them to assist the church in taking care of its missionaries.
Member Care is, in Some Ways, Easier Than Ever
Throughout history, sending missionaries basically entailed putting them on a boat and promising to pray for them. Communication was difficult, travel was hard and expensive, making caring for missionaries pretty difficult. Now, though, we have numerous resources at our fingertips. I can text my friend living halfway across the world and, if I get the time difference right, I’ll hear back from her in minutes. Since she left for the field almost two years ago, I have talked with her through email, Facetime Video, Facetime Audio, Facebook messaging…you get the picture. I also had the opportunity to visit her last year. Travel advances have made it to where anyone is mostly within a 2 days’ trip. That is nothing compared to the month(s) long journeys of missions history. Thanks to these advances, we should be able to care for our missionaries pretty easily.
So what do we do?
Member care will likely look differently depending on the church. However, here are a few things that churches can do to take care of its missionaries:
- Commit to pray. Host monthly prayer nights for the missionaries you support. Have them send specific prayer requests that can be posted in a prayer room, or presented at a members’ meeting.
- Have the missionary create an “advocacy” team before they leave. This is a small group of people that will commit to staying in contact with the missionary to encourage and keep them accountable. They can also communicate serious needs to the elders of the church.
- Send care packages. While these can be sent at any time, Christmas is often a great time to send these. Ask the missionary what they need or would like. You’ll often end up with requests for cake mixes, taco seasoning, deodorant, and other random things that cannot be bought in a lot of countries.
- Send someone to visit. It is expensive to travel, but I think most churches can scrounge up the finances to send at least one person to encourage the missionary in person.
These are just a few ideas based on what I have seen my church do to take care of our missionaries. I would love to hear what other churches do for theirs.