By Content & Operations Manager, Dan Bush
I just had surgery on my nose. When my pain medication wears off, I remember how agonizing the situation is. If I laugh, smile, eat, burp, or raise my eyebrows, my whole face aches. It is amazing how this small member of my body, the nose, is so connected to the rest of me.
In a similar way, the body of the church is filled with broken toes and tibias, elbows and earlobes that are being made well. We collectively and individually are being sanctified. Still, the Lord does not wait for us to be fully healed to join his work. In fact, a part of his mission is to heal us and others.
Our churches send out fractured members to multiply disciples and churches, but these extensions of the body do not cease to be a part of that body. Even the most godly missionaries are still called to abide in Christ, and part of abiding in him is to be part of his physical representation on earth–his body.
Missionaries are called to stay connected to the church which sent them. Hopefully this church discipled them. Hopefully, it has been instrumental in their healing process. Regardless of the investment that was or was not, the church needs to invest in their missionionaries even after they are sent. Jesus stayed connected with his disciples after sending them out. Luke writes, “when the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done” (Luke 9:14). Jesus wanted to know what happened in and through them. The apostles also were deeply connected to Jesus as well. Paul returned to Antioch after his missionary journey. “When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all the things that God had done with them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples” (Acts 14:27-28). If we are sent out by Christ and from his body, the expectation is that we will continue to stay connected. The body will continue to be an agent of healing to missionaries even as they are reaching out their hands to heal others.
In years gone by, it was not possible for the church to have the real-time communication that we do now. Christ’s body was only able to send letters and receive missionaries upon their return: these are still important practices to keep. However, communication can now be so much more frequent, and so the responsibility falls on both parties to connect in more regular intervals to share how the Lord is working.
Even though the joys of weekly body life are not feasible with such long distances between them, missionaries do well to still minister to the body by sending newsletters, staying in tune with changes at the sending church, and keeping up with it’s members. The church also does well to disciple their sent ones by receiving and responding to their communications, sending messages of their own, visiting them, and also providing times of debriefing and counseling on and off the field.
Get Plugged In
At the same time, missionaries are called to deeply engage the people they are sent to and seek their healing; that means being part of the local church in the foreign context. There are usually a small number of church options for missionaries: attend a local gathering, an international church, a satellite gathering of a western church, etc. There are going to be difficulties with any of these options, but we must remember that Paul invested in and also received investment from the churches among whom he was involved.
Attending an indigenous local church can get sent ones plugged in with the people whom they are trying to reach in a deeper way. These local gatherings can also illuminate new understandings of the brokenness of the indigenous people. At the same time, they provide the missionaries with a greater understanding of new methods of healing not only for their target people, but also for themselves. God does not call us overseas because we know everything about him. When he calls us overseas, he is calling us to become learners. Joining a local church will teach us so much. However, this type of membership can also be a challenge for sent ones linguistically, theologically, and relationally.
Missionaries also have the option of attending an international gathering. Often these types of churches give sent ones easier outlets for healing. They tend to provide their members with greater levels of care, because they provide them with a place of common theological understanding. Attenders do not need to relearn how to understand the service they participate in. The problems with these types of gatherings is that they can devolve into gripe sessions about the local people, or become business meetings where workers are expected to report on how well they shared the gospel. Accountability can also be hard to find in these churches, because organizational covenants and church expectations deter missionaries from transparency. Transparency is key to healing on the field.
All this being said, the sent ones might find that they need to dig deeper into the sending church or international church communities, if there is a lack of investment from either. Even when they are in the most remote places, missionaries are not lone rangers. “The body is not one member, but many…But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desires” (1 Cor 12:14,18). If we believe the word, we must embrace our brokenness in the context of the body wherever we find ourselves engaging in God’s mission.
My nose is going to heal, but it can’t heal itself–it needs to be part of my body to heal. In the same way, broken missionaries must find healing by always staying connected to and being plugged into the body where they are already at work.