Battle-exposed servicemen receive it, why not missionaries?
My final post of 2012 will be brief, very brief.
In fact, as you’ll see, it is actually the posting of one long, complicated question that I am personally trying to find an answer to as the new year begins and I continue in my efforts to encourage and equip the leaders and the members of local churches to care for their own members who serve as missionaries.
If the government of the U.S. and a large segment of the U.S. population have begun to take seriously the need to provide specialized attention and care for service men and women who have served in battle, (and no one seems to disagree, including pastors and leaders of local churches), then why don’t those same pastors, leaders, and church members recognize that their fellow church members who have gone to live and serve in various places around the globe and have been engaged in the battle for the souls of men and women, might also need some special attention and care?
Answers are welcome and will be taken very seriously.
Great question, and way too many battle weary souls come immediately to mind. Lord help us to reach out to and help heal those servants who have gone in Your name to make disciples.
Thanks Jeff for your special insights and willingness to share.
Is it because we don’t see missionaries (of any mission) as being engaged in warfare of any type? Or, as leaders who should be able to care for themselves?
As I see it, pastoral care is typically restricted to the local church body, the “congregants”. And pastors are often just slammed with so many other things to do and people to attend to, there’s no room or vision to add to it. I’m not saying this as criticism, but from experience.
Perhaps another reason is the lack of insight to know how to provide pastoral-after care, or post-mission care. But it is needed and a place needs to be made for it that is communicated to returning missionaries and those on furloughs.
Jeff — Trip said something that resonates with me and the sense of things that I get as one of those you’re talking about. He said that maybe it’s because we see them (us) “as leaders who should be able to care for themselves.” I find this to be a bitter and frustrating reality, and one that stretches beyond the battlefield of foreign missions to include many in the local pastorate as well. I understand that qualifications for deacons and elders inherently include a level of spiritual maturity that can appear to others to be self-sustaining, but it is not. We are just as easily drained as any other, we’re just typically better at getting refilled and quickly reused than many others. Still, the daily and perpetual use of that gift leads to spiritual exhaustion just like a gifted athlete who can use and replenish his body’s fuel in order to continually perform will eventually still crash! It’s just a matter of time. Why do we think Jesus spent so much time trying to find a quiet place to rest and pray after doing loads and loads of ministry?
I’ve wondered for years if I was just being the spiritual equivalent to a “big sissy” for wanting the time and place to recover and recuperate from battle. My “furloughs” (whatever that word actually means) are normally just Sundays and midweeks sharing with supporters and trying to gain new support, together with weekdays trying to drum up the Sunday and midweek appointments (mixed with visiting some friends and family — which is great, but not at all on par with the actual sabbatical that’s needed).
Add to that the fact that furlough budgets are usually about half what’s needed just to survive and you’re left with no time or money to find a quiet place to rest. All of this is very specific to me, but I feel represents A LOT of others like me. People tend to think that just because we are “in the States” we are getting the proper rest and recuperative ministry that we need to get back into the battle. Honestly, that’s never happened for me once. I’m usually just as burdened and burned out when “furlough” is over as I was when we started, minus the blessing of being able to visit friends and family for a bit.
For me, personally, I would love to see some or all of these things become a normal way of minisering to missionary families:
(1) A week of pure family time where the kids are spoiled with family activities that they don’t normally get to experience because of service location and/or budget issues. Things like Disneyland, camping in Yosemite, a party at Chuck E Cheese, etc. This gives dads a chance to spoil their kids in a way they normally cannot. The lack of being able to do for our kids what other ministers and friends “back home” can do almost any time they feel like often leads to a “I’m such a loser” mentality with dads in foreign missions. It’s just plain depressing, to be honest. But knowing that “furlough” will include this time because a home church or group of supporters makes sure that it happens would relieve that potential stressor and make the dad (and mom) feel like a champion again.
(2) An extended weekend of husband and wife only time. Somebody (family, friends, church volunteers) arranges to watch the kids (to whatever extent possible). The church/supporters treat the couple to an extended weekend alone. No phones. No kids. No ministry. Just a husband and wife tending to each other and reaffirming their unity.
(3) A weekend or week of targeted ministry to the missionary couple/family at some sort of retreat facility. NOT a missions conference where we hear about missionaries and are in classes all day or being sold books or trying to make contacts. Those are fine, but not what I’m talking about. I mean a RETREAT that is designed to provide quiet, rest, pastoral counselling, encouragement, good worship, and maybe even a bit of targeted teaching depending on the missionary’s need.
I’m just thinking all of this out loud and very much from the perspective of what I would do if I were a missions pastor or in a similar position of devising a spiritual health program for foreign ministry workers, especially those in difficult locales and/or those in pastoral roles. Obviously the extent depends a lot on the size of the local church and budget, but the ideas are still valid regardless.
Some good points Jon,
What would my ideal trip home look like?
1.) Funds to come home would be great (it costs around $5000 for our family of 6).
2.) Away time. This is time to get away where prayer/thinking/reading/studying can happen like a sabbatical.
3.) Ministry time. Time to pour into leaders/future missionaries etc. I see this as a way to further ministry.
4.) Opportunity to communicate to the church what God is doing, what our needs are etc.
5.) Some vacation time with the family. It’s always tricky because coming home seems to be a back and forth between visiting churches and visiting family, both of which take a toll.
6.) An In-N-Out burger.
Jeanne, Trip, Jon,
Thanks for the feedback. I do believe a combination of factors have led to the situation, some of which you have pointed out.
What I find interesting about the “leaders should be able to care for themselves” angle that Trip introduced and Jon agreed with is that the Senior Pastors who do navigate with that mentality themselves, (and some times reap what that mentality sows), they do so by willingly NOT participating in what is offered for ministry to Senior Pastors.
In other words, there has been a recognition that Senior Pastors have unique challenges and stresses and specialized ministry to them has been developed. There are the Senior Pastors and Senior Pastor’s wives conferences. There are local pastor’s luncheons and gatherings that make relationship with others that are in a similar context possible and the ministry that can spring forth from that relationship.
I would also venture to say that most Senior Pastors also have another Senior Pastor or a small group of other SPs that they can talk with when the stresses of their unique position get to them. And no one would have a problem with that.
And also, many churches and their leaders recognize the value of giving their Senior Pastors breaks and retreats, (similar to what you mention in your suggestions Jon).
Trip, your other points are insightful too. They actually stimulate to ask a few questions in response to them:
1. If a Senior Pastor doesn’t recognize the reality and the level of spiritual warfare that is going on in the life of a missionary, does he have room in his theology at all for spiritual warfare?
2. If a pastor is busy doing pastoral care for his local congregation and he really sees the importance of pastoral care, even if he couldn’t provide it himself for his missionaries, wouldn’t he take the lead and challenge some one else in his body or from somewhere else to provide that care for one of his members that is now serving in a foreign country as the fruit of his own ministry in his own church?
3. Again, if he sees the value of pastoral care in his own ministry to his own congregation, and he recognizes that missionaries have unique challenges that might be out of his realm of expertise, wouldn’t he take the time to understand those unique challenges himself so he can do so, or at least search out some one else who does so that the missionaries from his church will have their pastoral needs met?
To give the benefit of the doubt, my default is to move forward from the proposition that Senior Pastors just don’t know….there is an ignorance in this area. And therefore, trying to get them to recognize the reality of the situation is step one towards helping them to move forward in some way with resolving it.
On the other hand, if a Senior Pastor says he recognizes the unique challenges and needs of missionaries, but then doesn’t initiate some way to meet that need, it forces you into one of two options:
1–He doesn’t really know, even though he says he does.
2–He does know, but it just isn’t a priority to him.
And Jon, your suggestions are right on. Those kinds of things are done for Senior Pastors somewhat regularly, but not for missionaries.
If I seem a bit frustrated and flummoxed…it’s because I am.
My prayer is that our generation of local churches, either by ignorance or by intention, don’t produce missionaries that share the neglect from lack of ignorance that many of the Vietnam era veterans faced when they returned from battle.
Great questions. Did Jon Langley really just compare himself to a gifted athlete? 🙂
I think the foreign mission mentality needs an overhaul in some segments of the church.
Jim — c’mon, brother. You now I’m in shape… a rather larger globulous one, but it’s a shape nonetheless!
I’m glad you are asking this question. I think it is correct to be concerned with the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of missionaries and their families, not only while overseas, but also upon their return. I am merely a supporter of missionaries, but as I read their blogs and newsletters, I often wonder how they are managing to always “be on.” No doubt their faith in God and a lot of prayer keep them going, but it just seems to be a non-stop job. Even when they are home on furlough, they are moving from home to home, meeting lots of people and speaking, soliciting support, etc. Where is the rest? However, I think it could be a lifestyle to which one adjusts, and then the thought of returning home to who knows what would then become the big challenge.
I think that there is a great need for special attention and care to be paid to returning missionaries. I think they need to be able to return to a church home that fully supports their re-entry into the church as well as American society. I do not think it has to be the senior pastor, as I agree with Jon that they are already spread so thin, but I also believe that the senior pastor may or may not be best equipped to relate to the missionaries. I believe that God moves in the hearts of certain people to love and care for missionaries – to be their support, and those people may not even be in current church leadership. I think there are probably many people in the body of a church who could fill this need. They may already have a heart for missionaries, but they just need to be asked to help. I think it would be good for the sending church to have such people in place to help returning missionaries transition.
I believe that the church should arrange for some outside professional counseling, paid for out of the missionary budget.
I like the idea of arranging for a “fun week” for the family. Not all families would like Chuck E. Cheese, I’m guessing, but perhaps the father could be given a budget to spend as he wished for family activities. The church could be asked to love on the returning family with a love offering and/or donations of services/time/gift cards, etc. in order for the family to enjoy time together.
I also like the idea of the husband and wife having a weekend away. Most likely, the children of missionaries are very adaptable, so childcare could be found for a weekend, but if the children would struggle with this, perhaps a caregiver could accompany the family (with a separate room) and take the children on shorter outings so the parents could have some time alone.
Transitioning into “regular” life I’m sure would be a challenge. Perhaps a supporter could also have a list prepared of local activities, such as AWANA, sports and whatever other classes would suit the interest of the children, and perhaps a fund could also support the first few months of transition into “regular” activities.
I am not sure what returning missionaries end up doing for jobs upon their return. If they need re-entry into the work force, help with that would be good also.
It might be nice to have a “mission support group” for people by region with a gathering once per month or once per quarter, depending upon the distance required to meet. Those who have been previously involved in mission work can gather and discuss their transition stories/challenges and share what works for them and what does not. Perhaps there could even be volunteer “leaders” who are assigned to new families, to be in more regular contact, to make sure that the family is adjusting.
Just a few ideas off the top of my head. Perhaps they are already in place. My church is relatively small (big for our area but not a Mega Church) and we have just sent off one single missionary so far who has not yet returned. I’ll add more later if I think of it. Thank you for soliciting ideas from people – it’s nice to be asked and seriously considered. God bless!
You’ve given some valuable input and I’m very thankful that you took the time to write. I’m blessed to hear that your church has just sent someone to the mission field. If you don’t mind sharing it, I’d love to know where they will be serving and what they will be doing there.
Your “mission support group” idea is definitely worthy of some further thought and even an attempt at “fleshing” something like that out. I’m going to run with doing just that and I’d love to hear more of your thoughts.
Good words Jon! Next time you’re in VA, we’re going to Chuck-e-Cheese. (I’ll drop you off at the door. I’m convinced that place is a demonic passageway between here and hell).
FYI — when I mentioned Chuck E Cheese, Disneyland, camping in Yosemite… I was just trying to give generic examples of activities for different types of families and different ages of kids. The point being they are things most foreign missionary families aren’t able to do because of budget and/or location that would make the parents feel like rockstar parents if they could do it for their kids sometimes.
Chad — please don’t take our family to Chuck E Cheese. That will end our friendship. We’ll settle for a family movie and lunch. 😉
Jeff — in regards to your questions and comments about pastors being aware, ignorant, unwilling, non-prioritising, etc.
I have many friends/colleagues that are Senior/Lead Pastors. I’m blessed that those I’m close with have a pretty good grasp of the things you’re bringing up and either already do a good job or are working at improving. But these guys, it seems, are in the minority.
Lack of understanding does seem to be the primary culprit, but, as you’ve said, I’ve noticed there is also a blatant non-prioritisation that occurs as well. Let me be clear, without a healthy local church to serve and support the foreign work, there is no foreign work. So I understand and agree that pastors should focus in such a way as to keep the local church healthy and growing. But the purpose of doing so should not be just for the sake of growth, but that the growth may be used to fulfil the command to make disciples throughout the world.
I think that having this foundational paradigm not only fixes the first issue of leaders not recognising the reality of the battlefield foreign missionaries are on, but it also provides the impetus to then properly prioritise the necessary resources for victory (including recuperative ministry).
It all comes down to remembering our Christ-commanded purpose as the Church: recognising that the local body is of EXTREME importance and needs to be healthy and growing, but not for its own self satisfaction or glory, but rather for the purpose of making disciples everywhere in the world to the glory of God.
I think part of it is the disconnect between the missionary and the sending/supporting church(es). Fundamentally, does the pastor view the mission/missionary as an extension of their church ministry or not? If they view that missionary as an extension of them (as Paul was an extension of Antioch), then the care should flourish. Since mission work is people work, to neglect the person on the mission opposes the mission.
Realistically, the missionary should not be a needy person and many are not. Maybe this is why pastors don’t think about the missionary’s relief. Missionaries are pioneers, ready to leave behind certain comforts for the glory of His Name. But missionaries are people who suffer loneliness, rejection, alienation, raising 3rd culture kids and who also struggle in a culture foreign to their own, but are equally committed to communicating Christ as clearly and joyfully as the grace that sent them allows…
As a movement, we release people to missions pretty easily, but we rarely send people. I think this is the real crux of the matter. Releasing seems to me to say, you are free to go where you want and we will remember you and think on you from time to time and send you some money. Sending is like co-signing a loan. It’s saying, we are invested in the work and the worker. We are confident that you are both called and equipped and we want to send you on in a manner worthy of God (3 John 6).
I’ve seen far too many missionaries adrift on the oceans of foreign missions who scarcely have a lifeline back home. Some call this spiritual claiming that it forces the missionary to trust in God and not in the church, but if this is how the missionary is, he/she never should have been released. On that note, I’ve met plenty missionaries whose greatest contribution to the mission field was leaving it.
Another issue is vision. I stand on the shoulders of John Piper for this. In the opening paragraph of his book Let The Nations Be Glad he writes…
“Mission is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.”
The reason for missionary enterprise is Christ exalted in all nations through the proclamation of the gospel. The reward is the lamb who was slain receiving the reward of his suffering. What a joy to join in worship with every tribe, tongue, and nation before the throne of God. What an honour to be given opportunity to join in the work of God in the world. If missions is a box a church ticks because of guilt to prove they are really doing something, then they don’t have this vision. But the church that has this vision takes Matthew 28:18-20 seriously and says, we will send our best because God is worth it. We will give our best because Jesus gave his best. Since God is a missionary God, we need to be missionary people.
I’m not saying everything a church does should be about foreign missions, I’m just saying part of the problem is many haven’t caught that vision. Zinzendorf’s Moravians had this vision. One community of 600 Moravian believers sent 70 missionaries. That’s over 10% of the people. In America more money is spent on dog food each year than on missions. I should probably stop now before I go on a rant, but to say the least, creating a culture and casting a vision for missions ignites the work and cares for the workers.
Matt, that was brilliant. I especially like the way you laid out the difference between releasing and sending.
I agree with Jim. Your perspective is insightful. And I also agree on the way you describe “releasing” versus “sending”.
When someone is merely “released”, they aren’t viewed as an extension of that church, as you mention in your first paragraph.
And honestly, that has been the challenge, trying to get pastors to see their missionaries as a fruitful extension of their own ministry and the church and sheep they have been called to pastor/lead. And when those that are called are viewed that way, planning, resources, and especially the specialized care that missionaries need will flow naturally from that foundational view of things.
Great input everyone. I am taking notes!
Just a short thought on this: maybe pastors are often a little cool due to encounters with missionaries who are a bit like the leeches two daughters in Prov. 30:15, “‘Give’ and ‘Give,’ they cry.” It’s not always the sending/releasing churches that are the problem when it comes to returning missionaries.
That’s true. But, those would be the kind of people we shouldn’t send out. If their character hasn’t been tested, they shouldn’t send them.
You make a valid point brother. I’ve seen quite a few of those missionaries who do cry “give” at every opportunity. But I always wonder whether they started out with that attitude or whether they morphed into it because of the lack of interest shown them from their own home church leaders and members.
My guess based on the hundreds of missionaries I know is that the few that are like that didn’t start out that way or, as Matt stated, they wouldn’t and shouldn’t have been sent in the first place. They moved in that direction in response to the minimal interest, care, and financial support they received from their home church leadership.
And as in so many other areas of life, once they started crying “give” “give” at every opportunity and they got some kind of response, it validated to them that that was the way to do it. It shouldn’t be that way, obviously, but that’s what happens.
Having said all of this though, I am also very disturbed by that type of missionary.
I remember when I was out on the field from 1987 to 1993. There weren’t that many of us out there in those days and at the Senior Pastor’s conferences, Pastor Chuck would take about 30 minutes of a teaching session and give it over to the missionaries that were present.
He would have us line up on the stage and then he told us to take about 3-5 minutes at the pulpit to tell everyone where we served and what we were doing. And of course, there were always 2 or 3 of the guys that would seize the moment and the platform and burn up their own time and the time of 3 or 4 others. It was shameful and totally selfish, and what was sad was that the same guys would do it again at the conference the following year.
Eventually, because of those type of missionaries and the increase in numbers of those that were going out to the field, they stopped doing it in that manner. And honestly, not many people were saddened that they did.
Those missionaries, by their blatant self-promotion and insensitivity to other missionaries actually shot themselves and other missionaries in the foot by what they did. And many missionaries have done so since then. Missionaries do have a reputation for being given an inch and trying to take a mile, and some of that criticism is valid.
But the question I always default to is: why do they do that? Would a missionary who is well cared for and supported, especially from his home church, need to take that approach? My guess is, probably not. I certainly didn’t.
Using Matt’s lingo from above, I was truly “sent”, not just “released”.
Sadly, I’ve come to recognize that my personal experience was definitely NOT the norm.
And so, one of my “missions” at this point in my life is to challenge pastors and leaders of local churches to not only rethink their perspective on “missions” but to also take seriously the role and the privilege that God wants them and their church to have in taking His name and glory to the nations through the members of their church that He would call to actually go. And to then love on them and care for them as they loved and cared for them when they lived in the local area.
Jeff & Eric,
You want to send me some money?
🙂 I’m joking.
I was going to hit YOU up. You can help feed hungry children (mine) with your tax deductible donation, just make the check payable to… 🙂
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I think the question of “why would they do that” puts it well. The few I’ve known over on this side of the Pacific, I would agree with your and Matt’s assessment that they probably should have stayed home, or be recalled from the field. The irritating self-promotion etc. when they are at home shows up in other ways when they get back out on the field. I’m guessing these are the same guys who make a pastime of negative talk about the nationals, and complaining about the household help. Did it start in the field, or was it only exacerbated here? Dunno, but a tighter link to a sending church sounds like good preventative medicine against it.
Some additional thoughts… Good discussion, btw!
I haven’t seen much response from other US-based pastors in this discussion, which concerns me…hopefully it’s because this was written over the weekend.
The church-missionary connection is crucial, seeing them as an extension of the home-ministry & not competition or “releasing” them, making sure they’re both called & ready to “go”, the whole field & furlough perspective.
These are, in a sense, age-old, long-term issues, but completely inconsistent with the biblical record in Acts. Just saying…
Interesting observation about the apparent lack of response from U.S. based senior pastors. I share your concern.
Lord, please don’t let what this lack of response from these people in such key positions in local churches actually prove my perspective is accurate….please!
Jeff, et al,
a few thoughts on Acts, the church & missionaries…
After being instructed to go out into the world in Ch 1, it takes persecution to get the believers moving outside of Jerusalem.
When revival breaks out in Antioch, Syria, the church sends a trusted man (Barnabas) to oversee it. He in turn goes to Tarsus for Saul (Paul), whom he knew was gifted & called to minister to Gentiles, and brings him back to lead what becomes a mega-church, of sorts.
In Acts 13, the first intentional sending out of missionaries took place, including Paul & Barnabas, 2 of the 5 leaders gathered for prayer & fasting. In other words, they were primary leaders sent out from the church.
At the end of Acts 15, Paul wants to return to check on the new church plants & disciples, which is an example of Jeff’s original query.
You get the idea, I hope. The book of Acts is our plumb line for world missions, because it is our model of what the church did. And so, a question that needs to be honestly asked– Are we staying true to the plumb line, or going another direction?
Hi Jeff! I just saw your reply. Thank you and I’m glad an idea is worth exploring. I am happy to communicate more with you offline about this and answer what you asked. Thanks!