Author: Lewis McClendon, BCMN Missions
Sending churches and pastors are vital to God’s mandate to take the gospel to the world. Paul was sent out from the church at Antioch and reported to the church when he returned from his first missionary journey. Frequent communication between sending pastors and their sent missionaries is also vital. Sending pastors and sent missionaries can have better relationships by having a conversation that covers three vital issues.
The first vital issue is the expectations the pastor and church have of the missionary. We make a mistake if we think everyone thinks like we think. I talked to a pastor who had just finished a mission conference. He told me he was disappointed in the missionary because he did not preach a message on Faith Promise Missions Giving. My question to the pastor was, “Did you tell the missionary your expectation of a Faith Promise Missions Giving message?” He looked at me like he thought I was crazy and said, “Why should I have to tell a missionary to preach on Faith Promise Missions Giving at a mission conference?” He said that any missionary should know that if they speak at a mission conference they should talk about Faith Promise Missions Giving. If we don’t communicate our expectations, we are going to be disappointed often. Sending pastors don’t want to be disappointed with their sent missionaries. To prevent that from happening sending pastors can speak with and write down their expectations of their sent missionaries and then have follow up conversations with them to see how they are implementing his expectations. It may sound like an unnecessary conversation until you hear something from one of your sent missionaries that reveals they are not doing something that you thought they just knew they were supposed to be doing. A few expectations to discuss:
- the goal for fluency in the language of the country (husband and wife)
- the process used to plant a church
- how often the missionary plans to return to the United States
Another vital issue is the expectations sent missionaries have of the sending church. One new sending pastor told me of a missionary who told him that he expected his sending church to pay for his airfare whenever he needed to return to the United States, provide a car to drive, and a credit card for gas, food, and motels when he needed one. He also said if he died on the field the sending pastor was come to the field, get his family resettled and stabilize the church until a new pastor was called. The pastor told me he wished that conversation had taken place before he agreed to be the sending pastor. Sending churches come in all shapes and sizes. There are sending churches that could afford to do everything that missionary told that pastor he expected from them, but most could not do that. If every sending church had to qualify for that missionary’s expectations, there would be very few sending churches. Since every sending church is different a sending pastor should have a conversation about what the expectations of his sent missionaries are. Once this conversation takes place the missionary will not be disappointed in the sending pastor and church. Here are a few expectations to discuss:
- the amount of monthly financial support
- the help the sending church will or will not give to buy a car on the field or to a building project
- does the sending pastor plan to visit his sent missionary on the field
- how will the sending pastor help promote his sent missionaries to other churches and pastors
- what help will the sending church provide when his sent missionaries return on furlough, i.e. housing and transportation
- how long can or should a sent missionary spend at the sending church when he comes home for furlough before beginning to visit other churches
- How will the sending church minister to the missionary wife and children, on the field and when in the US
The third vital issue is what the missionary will do in case of a natural disaster or civil unrest. Missionaries in every country can experience both of these scenarios. If a hurricane hits or riots break out what is the plan for the missionary? When should a missionary stay and when should a missionary go? There is no set answer for this, but a basic plan can be discussed so there is a guideline for decisions that must be made in a hurry and when, for various reasons, the sent missionary cannot reach the sending pastor. Sometimes the greatest time of ministry can take place if the missionary stays and sometimes it is best for the missionary to leave. There are ways to get help in making those decisions:
- Ensure the missionary is registered with the US Embassy or Consulate in their country.
- talk to other sending pastors and missionaries about their plans
- talk to some mission agencies about any guidelines or plans they have for their missionaries
- talk to groups that train missionaries for civil unrest. One agency that does this is Fort Sherman Academy (www.fortsherman.org) It is recommended that every missionary have at least “A” level training. If there is any risk of civil unrest “B” and “C” level are recommended. The best answer is not always to get out, and that decision is best made before the problem arises.
A good marriage is a lot of work. A good working relationship between a sending pastor and a sent missionary is a lot of work too. The work is worth it. When all parties know all the expectations and plans have been made for natural disasters and civil unrest, no one has a conversation about how disappointed they are.