Church Engagement Part Three

October 09, 2023 David M

Jim and Jane (*fictitious names) were ready to throw in the towel and leave the mission field forever. Family problems, an unusually stressful host culture, immigration hassles, team conflict… You name it; they were on the edge of ministry burnout.

Fortunately, their sending church knew all about it. There were no secrets. And their sending church was in the battle with them, providing shepherding care and positive solutions to meet every one of those needs. It wasn’t easy. But their church was not surprised or put off by any of it. It was their duty and privilege to share the burdens of their sent ones to keep them on the field for the long term.

It all begins with a prior commitment to shepherding their dear sent missionary family. It continues with a commitment to deeply personal and nurturing communication, field visits, crisis counseling, and whatever it takes to nourish their souls. This kind of shepherding doesn’t sugarcoat the issues; neither does it shrink from loving, biblical admonition when needed. It makes a huge difference to the stressed-out cross-cultural worker, enabling them to stick with it even when times are tough.

By missionary shepherding, we mean the loving, relational care and concern for their well-being and spiritual fruitfulness. The sending church knows their missionary best. The church’s leadership needs to interact with them and communicate regularly.

Missionary shepherding includes knowing the health and status of their marriage, their family relationships, their physical and medical health, the key relationships in their ministry, their financial pressures, and the things that most commonly bring them joy or discouragement.

It is their home church that gets to know them through time and real-life experiences in the ups and downs of ministry and relationships in the church and in the community. The church knows them well before they became missionaries. They know them even more deeply through the field preparation process. The local church is in a better position to understand, probe, and meet the unique needs of their missionary. Just like a shepherd, the local church seeks to feed, nourish, guard, protect, and serve their missionary with the goal of enabling their healthy, long-term service.

While regular communication and mutual prayer is important when the missionary is on the field, every opportunity for sympathetically growing deeper in relationship with them while they are home should be taken. Confidential interviews with leaders should be expected. Loving questions about their home and family life are normal in a shepherding church. Church pastors or mission leaders should inquire about their spiritual vitality, personal spiritual disciplines, and sources of spiritual nourishment on the field.

One of the reasons the local church needs to be proactive in shepherding their missionaries is that, ultimately, the local church usually ends up with the responsibility of caring for missionaries with broken lives or ministries after the fact. How much better would it be for a church to prescribe and pay for a missionary couple to go to a marriage retreat weekend rather than try to put together a broken marriage? How much better for the church to enter solving an educational problem for one of the children than to have the whole family leave the field for lack of help? How much better for a loving church leadership to discover, confront, and turn back a missionary from sinful patterns and continue in viable field service than to be disqualified in shame?

Along with cross-cultural living comes a large added layer of complexity and stress. However, a loving church which accepts the mantle for missionary shepherding can help their missionary stay on the field long-term, fruitfully, contentedly, for the glory of God.

The person or persons in the church who are tasked for missionary shepherding should be: a leader, a listener, a learner, someone willing to confront, counsel, and communicate clearly.

Regular communication, including field visits, prepare the way for candor and transparency. The missionary learns to trust the caring heart and appropriate confidentiality of counsel, so that they open up to the shepherding agent. Routine areas of concerns are: Physical (Health, Financial, Housing, Energy, Time Off), Mental (Language Progress, Learning, Reading, Time Management), MK education, Spiritual (Personal Disciplines, Corporate Worship, Worship with Nationals), Relationships (Marriage, Family, Team, Church, Nationals, Neighbors, Community), Planning (Vacation, Home Assignment, Career/Credentialing Development), House Help, Security and Contingency issues.

Of course, when they visit Stateside for “Home Assignment” for care, the list shifts to: Housing, Transportation, Technology, Medical-related, Support Funding, Vacation/Break/Relaxation Time, and more.

Shepherd your missionary! It may be a slow and painful start. But the dividends are eternal.

Read other articles in this series: Church Engagement
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David M
David C. Meade has been the founder, C-level officer, and consultant for a number of non-profit organizations. He has nearly fifty years of experience with church planting, pioneering field ministry among UPGs, and leadership in international and domestic NGOs. He has a strong biblical local-church-centric ministry philosophy and commitments, serving as an international outreach leader, pastor, and elder in local churches throughout his adult life. He loves teaching and mentoring church leaders and global workers preparing for service to meet the greatest need of the neediest places on earth.

David is an international business consultant, NGO executive, and international leadership trainer. He has a weekly podcast and has authored hundreds of insightful and practical blogs, articles, and several books. David is a well-received speaker and teacher. His experience in non-profit leadership and international NGOs informs his counsel for leaders and workers in challenging areas of service, analyzing corporate strategies, conflict resolution, crisis management, and event leadership. David is passionate about core values based on timeless principles, valuing people, and leadership training. He is an avid family man, reader, fisherman, and world traveler.