When I was growing up, I envisioned missionaries to be super spiritual people who were impervious to normal spiritual struggles that the rest of us endured. They were so holy that they never had family issues, crises of faith, or bad days.
Then I got to know missionaries and discovered how far off from the truth that actually is.
As all believers are called to engage in the Great Commission, missionaries have to endure hard times and trying circumstances like the rest of us.
What missionaries often lack is not the level of faith needed but the degree of relationships invested in them.
I have known many missionaries to get frustrated on the field and eventually quit because their lack of support system. Why does this happen?
- Churches have trained people who missionaries do the job of world evangelization and we should leave it up to them.
- We put ministry leaders on pedestals and never imagine they might ever need prayer, encouragement, or support.
- When missionaries are out of sight, they are unfortunately out of mind for many of us.
At North Side, we used to do what I call “pins-on-the-map missions.” We just went all over the place. We literally did have a map with pins with all the places to which we had traveled. We rarely ever did a return trip. No relationships built, but we sure did have some stories and some great pictures.
A few years ago, we felt compelled to partner with some missionaries and throw all of our support in one direction. We talked about having a laser beam focus rather than a flood lamp. All of our trips, personnel, and resources went to one missionary partner. We covenanted with them for a time period and promised to provide certain things and we also had certain expectations of them.
Since then, it has grown to more partners, but the focus is greater than ever before with each one. It has been absolutely incredible for our church and for our missionary partners.
We check on our missionary partner, because I can’t imagine trying to lead a family without access to brothers in Christ all around me. Their job is tough. There is not a lot of support day-to-day. They are responsible to get the gospel out, pay bills, nurture a wife, care for children, and lead through hard situations.
The mission field is tough. That is why partnerships are so important.
Why Mission Partnerships Are Important
The reason I have a conviction that we need to have mission partnerships is because these people are partnering with us in the gospel (Phil. 1:5). The missionary Paul spoke of how “no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Phil. 4:15). This church had a special place in his heart because God had supplied every one of his needs through that church (4:19). They met financial needs (4:16). They were concerned about Paul as well concerning his entire being (4:10).
The Apostle John talked about supporting Christian missionaries:
3 John 1:5 Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 6 who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
The early church took all efforts to care for missionary strangers, how much more should we for those who are from our own churches?
Paul asked for the Roman church to help him on his way to Spain (Rom. 15:24). He asked the Corinthian church to help him on his journey (1 Cor. 16:6) but he also asked “to spend some time with you” (1 Cor. 16:7) and to visit them (2 Cor. 1:16). Paul even asked on the sake of other missionaries that they “lack nothing” (Titus 3:13).
More than financial needs, missionaries who have been away from the comforts of home, family, and a large, supportive Body of Christ need to be invested in by their church.
Missionaries need support on the field and when they return off the field.
I have talked with so many missionary friends who came home on furlough and had a house supplied but never felt like they were home. One such missionary said:
This church gave us this great house to live at during our furlough. Fully furnished. It was difficult because it was an hour from our families, but we were OK with that. But what was weird was we never saw the church after they handed us the keys. Honestly, we came off the field exhausted and burned out. When we walked in the doors of our home church for the first time in 3 years, it was like people wondered where we had been. We felt like a distant memory.
Trav, maybe this sounds selfish, but we needed someone to minister to us and that never happened our entire time on furlough. We felt isolated on the field, but we never imagined feeling so isolated when we returned home.
I feel like supporting missionaries is our biblical mandate. I believe that we need to shepherd these members of our flock well (1 Peter 5:2) when the return home so they are renewed when they hit the field again. What a great gift for those families and ours as we are constant contact with people on the front line during their time of furlough!
When Reality Sank In
I was sitting in their living room on the mission field. It was my first time to be around this family though I had prayed for them many times. We had Skyped them in our services. We had received updates. Finally, I got to sit in their home. With no air condition and flies swarming constantly at me, I felt like I knew this family. They knew our church family even though they had never been on our campus.
“Did you know we have never had a church take a second trip here?” the missionary asked me.
After the day-long flight and the 14-hour bus ride that would be enough torture to make many tough people crack, I understood why, but I thought it still seemed a bit exaggeratory.
“Come on, someone has had to have been here twice.”
“No, not until North Side. We have had numerous churches come work with us. They were helpful. We were hopeful they would return. And every time, their conversations on the field turned out to be empty promises when they got home.”
When this couple eventually were able to join us on a Sunday and preach in our pulpit, we all were overwhelmed with emotion. The missionary got up to the podium and with a trembling voice and tears welling up in his eyes, his first words were, “We love North Side. You have no idea how much we love you guys. We don’t feel alone anymore.”
How Do You Partner?
Our partnerships work with the International Mission Board. We commit many things to our missionaries:
- Pray for them
- Provide different needs
- Send qualified and trained teams to them
- Send short-term teams and long-term teams
- Check on them
- Send notes of encouragement to them
- Spoil them when they are home
- And so much more!
We are not perfect at this task, but we are improving. We have become aware of the need and it has changed how we look at things. It is a top-priority of ours to care for those we send out!
Jeff and I actually had a meeting with some IMB personnel months ago discussing partnerships. I asked one of the directors, “Can you tell me what church you know of that really gets partnerships? Who is it that is really on the pulse of what it means to be a partner? Who is caring for their missionaries well? Tell me who that is and we want to learn from them.”
He shook his head, and replied, “If anyone else asked me that question outside of this room, I would point them to your church. You guys are the ones knocking it out of the park.”
I am not sharing that to boast, because in honesty, it is nothing to boast about. It was somewhat discouraging, because I believe we are only scratching the surface of what we should be doing. I share his statement for these two reasons:
- Partnering with missionaries can be accomplished at different levels. Your church can do it. If what we are doing is considered noteworthy, I promise you can jump in to a partnership as well.
- Churches need to step it up. Shame on us, churches, if what our church is doing is noteworthy. Like I said, I don’t think we are going all out, but the fact that we are in one leader’s eyes at the front of the pack means we all need to step it up. Our church needs to step it up in caring for missionaries. I pray your church would consider how you can step it up caring for missionaries.
Imagine the difference that can happen if our congregations move from general offerings and prayers to specific, intentional partnerships.
I am praying to see that in our congregation and committing to be a change-agent. Won’t you join me? Let’s partner together for the nations.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.