The Incomplete Pass: A Call for Missionary Teams to Receive Well, Part One

By Executive Director, Larry McCrary

Receiving new workers (whether they be short-, mid-, or long-term) on the mission field is one of the responsibilities of the long-term missionary. In Part One of this series Upstream’s Executive Director, Larry McCrary, will be expounding on what it would look like for missionaries to receive workers well. You can read the series here.

I must admit, I am a big fan of what Europeans call “American futball”. Living in Europe for so many years, I always feel the need to specify which kind of football to which I am referring. I am talking about the game where you can actually use your hands and not get a yellow card.

So, I naturally love the fall season. I love watching games on Saturday and even sometimes on Sunday. I played football growing up. I was an offensive lineman, but I always dreamed of being that speedy wide receiver who catches the ball and runs for a touchdown with the crowd going crazy. Alas, it was only a dream.

The Perfect Pass

If you have watched much football at all, you have seen a perfect pass. The quarterback, while under pressure from the defense, is somehow able to throw a perfect spiral down the field beyond the defensive coverage. The wide receiver then makes a perfect move to become wide open and just as the ball gets to him, even though he is positioned to catch it and run for a touchdown, you watch in horror as the ball goes through his hands and onto the ground as an incomplete pass. Despite the perfect pass, the receiver dropped the ball. Ugh!

There is a lot of emphasis in missions these days on the sending church. And rightly so, the church needs to send well. In Bradley Bell’s book The Sending Church Defined (written under the pseudonym Zach Bradley) he starts with a definition that Upstream has pushed out over the last ten years:

A Sending Church is a local community of Christ-followers who have covenanted together for the purpose of prayerfully, deliberately, and proactively training, commissioning, and sending their own members both locally and globally, often in partnership with other churches or agencies, and continuing to encourage, support, and advocate for them while ministering cross-culturally.

I am encouraged to see so many churches working harder than ever to “make the perfect pass,” to prepare and send out their members to the nations and to their neighbors. Yet as a pastor over the last several years, I have found myself even more concerned about what we were sending our teams into. How were they going to be received?

The Right Reception

I want our sent ones, whether they are going for a week, a year, or a lifetime, to be received well. That has led me to a number of questions I ask before sending:

Do missionary teams put effort into receiving people by providing thoughtful strategy before they arrive?

Do they provide a healthy environment for teaming?

Do they have an on-ramping plan for newcomers?

Do they know how to adequately adjust their schedules for non-vocational missionaries to integrate into their team?

My wife and I have lived overseas a good part of the last 15 years. In fact, we just moved back to the field. We both have day jobs, so we are trying to live intentionally and find ways to integrate onto a team. I strongly believe that how we receive short-term teams, new mid- and long-term team members, and marketplace workers is vitally important in the task.

Far too often missionary teams are more concerned with results (we may spiritualize it and call it “fruit”) than we are with deeply caring for the people who are coming to serve with us. It is often overlooked in planning and preparation. Over and over I have seen what happens when we “drop the perfect pass,” when we see the work as more valuable than the worker. In fact, I have messed up many times over the years in this very area. Because of that, I have learned how important it is to receive well, and that it is me who must grow and change (not “them”) in order to do so.

Sending churches want to do more than to pay, pray, and stay out of the way. Don’t misunderstand me here–they do want to pray, and they are often willing to invest deeply into strategic ministry, but they really want to find ways their churches can participate. They want to find ways to send their precious people to the field. Thus, they are growing weary of sending their members into unhealthy situations, of putting so much effort into a beautiful spiral only to watch it carelessly slip through the fingers of the receiver.

So how do we receive well on the field?

Over the next several months I will be addressing this topic from time to time, hopefully in ways that are practical and helpful especially to missionary teams and organizations. In the process, I hope it will help me to be a better receiver as well.