Four Levels of Missionary Care: Part One

By Neal Pirolo

There is no doubt that the ministry of missionary care is multi-leveled and multi-faceted. It’s multi-leveled in the cooperation of at least four levels of care: church, partnership, agency, and crisis care givers. It is also multi-faceted in the diversity of need of each individual field worker (including individual children) in each of numerous ministry locations and situations. Each level has its strengths and weaknesses. Yet, the weakness of one is the strength of another. There is a vital need for these four levels to continue to increase their cooperation so that missionaries are better cared for. After all, missionaries are Too Valuable To Lose.

Missionary care should begin a long time before any agency is involved. I believe that we need to begin at the church level because the Great Commission was given to the church. I realize the church like a wayward spouse “divorced” itself from the commission in 1793, when William Carey’s passion for the lost was squelched with the words, “If God wants to save the heathen, He will do it without your help or ours!” But also, like a repentant “spouse,” the church is declaring their need to reengage fully with God’s commission: “Go ye into all the world…preach the Gospel; make disciples.” Therefore, let’s begin with the Church.

To Identify and Nurture  

The first issue at this level is the identifying and nurturing of a prospective missionary. This will probably begin long before that person realizes a personal call. We do not need to go as far as the church in Jerusalem did in changing Joseph’s name to Barnabas when they identified his giftings. But, having done so, it was clear that he would be the one to be sent to Antioch. They definitely did not need an evangelist; they did need a reconciler—one who could make sure all things were being done decently and in order. (See Acts 11:22-24)

Likewise, the Antioch church wisely sent out (at the Holy Spirit’s direction) an evangelist (Saul) and a reconciler (Barnabas) when it was time to go to the “regions beyond.” (See Acts 13:1-4)

The focus of our church life should be outreach. Yes, the life of the church is worship, the growth of the church is nurture, but the mission of the church is outreach! And we should be ready to send out our workers as needs present themselves.

Nurturing the prospective cross-cultural worker is giving him opportunity to exercise his “cross-cultural muscles”. That means giving him the opportunity of working within the missions fellowship of the church by praying for missionaries, ministering to internationals who live among us, participating in a good short-term trip, doing something so seemingly mundane as helping a first-term missionary sort through what to sell, what to give away, what to store, and where to store it.

He must learn the discipline of commitment. He must become a real “seedy” character! That is, filled with the seed of the Word of God to be able to produce spiritual fruit. (Seedless fruit, you know, cannot reproduce.) Then also, to be a student of the Word to be able to see that fruit mature—to go out and reproduce again.

To be clear, this nurturing could even begin in the church nursery! The bobbles on the mobile above the crib could be globes of the world. That baby could be “touching the world” before it even knows there is a world in need. And the carpet in the toddlers room could be cut in the shapes of the nations of the world. He may not understand what he has “toddled” on until his third grade teacher brings the class to that room and shows them the location of the people group for whom they are currently praying.

To Sound A Clarion Call  

As the church continues to nurture their prospective cross-cultural workers in their body, the leadership needs to be sounding a clarion call that reflects the ethos of the church. Should our focus be on Pauline-style evangelism, going where the Gospel has never been preached? Are we more inclined to come along side of existing national churches and nurture them in the Word in such a way that they will go out and teach others, as Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2? Do we have a compassion for the humanitarian approach? Do we want the personal call of the individual to determine our focus? In other words, “Write the vision, make it plain, so that he may run who reads it!” (See Habakkuk 2:2.)

Decisive Point of Battle  

Yet, in answering those questions, we must be clear that wherever that call would take the field worker and whatever it is that he would do, it must be at a decisive point of battle. The church must be able to answer two questions—both of them—in the affirmative: Is it worth taking? Can we take it? Is it worth spending ten to twenty years translating the Scriptures into an indigenous language? Do we have the personnel and stamina to support such a long-term project?  If the first answer is yes, but the second answer is no, it is not a decisive point of battle for your church. Both answers must be in the affirmative. Is it worth directly partnering with national ministries? Do we have the resources (personnel and financial) to support their initiatives? Both must be answered, yes.

The Rest of the Team  

A major part of the pre-field preparation of a missionary is the development of his partnership team. Paul, a missionary of the first century, wrote a letter to one of his sending churches. In it, he addressed six areas of care they were providing for him. It is the church’s responsibility to ensure the missionary has a vital, functioning partnership care team. 

In a local church, the leadership had confirmed his personal call. (See Acts 13:1-4) One of my organization’s white papers tells the following story. A missions pastor handed a missionary candidate a book to read to help him develop his partnership team. “I’m not gonna read dat book!” he shouted. The pastor calmly, but deliberately said, “We cannot stop you from going to that country, but if you want us to send you, you must read this book and develop a partnership team.”

Agency Accountability  

A fifth, equally vital responsibility of the church is to actively relate with the agency in the care that they have agreed to provide for the church’s feet. I liken the missionaries being sent out by a local church as the feet within that body. (Isaiah 52:7) And it must be clear by all four levels of care that missionaries are members of the spiritual body, the universal church, of which the local fellowship is a microcosm. A tragic myth within the missions community is that once a person joins a mission agency, they become a member of that body. But a mission agency is not a spiritual body. Assuredly, all who work within that organization are spiritual, but the spiritual body is the church. This clarifies the need for the agency to be just that, an agent, assisting the church in fulfilling its commission.

And, by this, a solid foundation is being laid in the church for the care of its missionaries.


Neal Pirolo is the founding director of Emmaus Road International (ERI). It is a resource ministry for cross-cultural outreach (missions). ERI’s three-fold statement: Help mobilize the church in missions; help train the cross-cultural team, both the goers and the senders; and, network that church and team with ministries asking for help. Neal and his wife, Yvonne, live in San Diego, California. Yvonne leads meaningful short term ministry trips. Neal has written five books, two specifically on missionary care, Serving As Senders~Today and The Reentry Team: Caring for Your Returning Missionaries. He also conducts seminars and teaches in Bible colleges in the United States and around the world. Neal and Yvonne have been married for 62 years. They have four children, sixteen grandchildren, plus some spouses and twenty great grandchildren (no spouses, yet).