Stay in touch. Read their updates and encourage them to continue keeping the church informed. If a mission team or committee is the only group of individuals that are being made aware of the events, struggles, victories and needs of missionaries you support, start finding some creative ways to get the whole church onboard. One way to do this is to communicate through your own church mailing list that your missionaries have a mailing list as well, or better yet, begin regularly including what missionaries are saying as you broadcast the happenings of the church. Missionaries often feel that their communication stops at the leadership or committee/team level and does not often enough filter down to each family’s refrigerator door. Encourage the church to then respond and communicate through hand-written notes, care packages, or simple acknowledgements of the details of a last newsletter. Build them up.
Give consistently. My challenge to churches is to consider the difficulties of operating the church budget without regular income or for each family in the church to consider the struggle of international life and ministry when the month-to-month finances are a constant nagging question of “if” and “how much”. Meanwhile, the bills are not near as much in question as what people are giving. Larger churches tend to give out of a regular budget more often than smaller churches, but even larger churches can have an unhealthy habit of delaying payments, skipping months, or even constantly changing the amount to be less or more than something promised. One church that I applaud gives a certain percentage of each month’s offering, with the guarantee that the monthly check will not fall below a certain amount. Therefore, each month is either what they expected or blesses their missionaries with more.
Hold accountable. Pastors and mission teams tend to avoid this area of the partnership between missionaries and the church. However, it is actually a comfort for missionaries to be asked about goals, plans, purpose, and the struggles to get there. Many a missionary actually feels that these areas are more often misunderstood and unrecognized by home churches. Accountability about those things which it was believed God had called a family to aid in staying focused and on track. This also aids greatly in the process of praying for your missionaries, fostering understanding, grasping the issues surrounding culture, and discovering areas in need of spiritual warfare. Another aspect of this ministry of accountability is the simple holistic health of each member of the missionary family or team. Who is asking them the tough questions, encouraging a strong marriage and recognizing that parents might need an ear? The temptations and triggers for pitfalls can be compounded by the stressors involved with cross-cultural ministry, and isolation is one of the enemy’s biggest tools. Give them a no-risk, grace-based space to be real, and get through the issues that can keep a missionary family from moving forward.
Give creatively. I speak frequently in reference to the Golden Rule aspect of support and care for missionaries. While the monthly budget needs are a huge concern of those on the field, being able to take a guilt-free date night to keep the marriage healthy would be an incredible blessing as well. Invite folks in your church to take on certain aspects of your missionary families’ lives, such as the birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays, crisis events and simple joys that parents would all like to be able to provide for their children. Missionaries struggle with using any funding for items outside of strict ministry and living expenses on personal care, blessing their children, or just enjoying as a family what local culture has to offer. They need to be given permission, if not outright instructed, to use these other funds to bless those other areas of life too. Consider how your church could supply missionaries with the same blessings that we all want for our own families, but do not have the same opportunity or resources as they would back home. Care for them as you would want to be cared for.
Pray more intelligently, fervently, and effectively. Church leaders can excel in intercessory prayer, but forget that the average church member they shepherd may not know what to pray or how to pray for missionaries that appear on a prayer list or in a weekly bulletin. Ask missionaries for specific ways that they can be prayed for, and then instruct the church in how to specifically lift those needs, wants, concerns or spiritual strongholds up before the Lord both individually and corporately. Be honest and mindful of any lip-service to the effort of prayer for those whom the church has commissioned and sent for missionary service. Hold special times of prayer for those the church is supporting and do the work of prayer together. This is the most powerful weapon the church has to advancing the Kingdom of God forward, and it is also the best and most effective way that churches can partner in the work that God has called people to internationally. That is why it also the most overlooked and least intentionally addressed ministry of too many churches toward their missionaries. The enemy knows the power of prayer and desires to so distract and bog down the life of the church in other areas needing focus and attention that it no longer makes the time or sees the results of being a house of prayer.
There are dozens of other ways in which churches can provide more practical help in the partnership of ministry with missionaries, but it is my hope that these five areas will prove a good start to rekindling or beginning the great work of ministering effectively alongside the ones we have sent to serve around the world.
(Rob Casey is the founder and a missionary through GoSendMe Global, a missions training and sending agency that is dedicated to furthering the mission and vision of the called and the sent.)