Is Your Church Ready?
Care team, what do you do when one of your church’s global workers reaches out and asks for help? What if your communications with them reveal the need for an on-site visit?
Our care team recently did some soul searching on these questions. We had been wrestling with it for some time, so we took a pause to reflect on how we wanted our care efforts to evolve. It became clear that, in addition to our team, we needed a network of people that could effectively focus on caring for our partners in the field.
Why is having a network of people for field visits so important?
When done carefully, with the right people and the proper training, field visits play a vital role in helping to sustain global workers in their calling to the Great Commission. It is also the New Testament model. Scripture is filled with examples of the impressive network of support that surrounded the early church as the gospel message began to spread.
The Early Church Model
“Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.” (1 Corinthians 16:15–18, NASB95)
Refreshed—that word captures the whole of a care goer’s mission. The sense of the Greek word anapaúō is to cause to rest – to cause someone to take a break from their activities in order to be refreshed, to revive, rest, remain, quiet.
One commentator says this about this passage regarding the necessity of anapaúō within the fellowship of believers;
“God’s servants are to be no different from God, who sends times of refreshment to the hearts and minds of his people. The contemporary church needs such people who will service the needs of others with the gifts they have been given for this purpose. The congregation is not being asked to authorize such ministry but to acknowledge its existence.”
It is an ever-present need, and we’re called to address it.
In his article for Missions Frontiers, Neal Pirolo undergirds the scriptural basis for care by highlighting several places that reveal Paul’s needs: encouragement (Rom 15), logistics (Acts 19–20), financial support (Phil 4), and prayer (Eph 6). He says, “Without the aid of computers and cell or satellite phones, Paul maintained an amazing degree of contact with people and churches. And today, as culturally adaptive as a missionary may be, he needs contact with his home culture.”
Refreshment, encouragement, provision, financial support, and prayer—these needs and more, like counseling, debriefing, childcare, and medical assistance, still exist among our global workers today.
A Model for the Present
When it came time to expand our care trips, we turned to our colleagues in the care ministry at Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, NC. After some fruitful conversations with Matt Clark, Director of Missionary Care, he put us in touch with John and Anne Bartuska, the lay leaders at Summit who spearheaded their effort now known as SENT (Sent Encourager Network Team), a group of goers commissioned to care for the church’s partners worldwide. Funded by the church and generous benefactors and commissioned by the church body, SENT has grown significantly. Their model provided us with the template we needed to develop our own network.
Four Essential Elements
Our care team engaged in several brainstorming sessions to determine the areas that are essential for a viable network. The need-to-know elements that rose to the surface were: costs, partner needs, the right goers, and proper preparation. To effectively establish a sustainable, enduring network, there are two elements that need to come first: provision and priority.
Global worker care is an ongoing need and should be part of any church’s mission budget that sends or supports workers to the nations. We were fortunate to have funds to appropriate for care trips, so we used what we had to do what we could in caring for our partners. At the same time, we started to raise awareness regarding care trip uniqueness by educating church leadership, the church body, and by talking about it on social media, speaking at Missions Council, engaging our partners when they were in town, recruiting and training care contacts, even dedicating a Sunday to global worker care—anything we could do to increase awareness that care is crucial to health in the field.
As awareness grew, provision grew as well, through budget decisions and, more recently, direct contribution to the effort.
One of the trickiest things for a care team to determine is how to prioritize in-person visits. The larger the number of sent or supported workers, the harder it gets. Developing a safe, yearly assessment to evaluate how our workers are doing is vital to this process.
The prioritizing and provision elements of care are ongoing efforts that take place behind the scenes in the heart of a missions department. Once the where and when are established, it’s the people, the team, the goers, that lie at the heart of developing a network for care trips. At this point it’s all about them and their preparation.
Pray for people of prayer, who are spiritually mature, culturally sensitive, travel savvy, and flexible. Pray for people who share a heart for global worker care and have the skill set and spiritual gifting that will help meet the expressed needs of the partner.
Identify people with spiritual gifts like hospitality, administration, teaching, service, etc., and skill sets or vocational training like technical expertise, financial acumen, medical professionals, or licensed counselors. Be on the lookout for these folks as you minister alongside them at home or abroad. Prayerfully approach them about involvement in care ministry.
*It’s important to know that your network of people need not be limited to your local church body. Utilize the relationships you’ve made with care people at other like-minded churches and organizations. We’re all in this ministry of care together.
Commission your people like you would any sent one as they prepare to leave on a care trip. Commissioning goes a long way toward validating the purpose of the trip. Nothing contributes to the development of a network quite like the acknowledgement of their mission in front of the church body.
Nothing contributes to the development of a network quite like the acknowledgement of their mission in front of the church body.
Prepare your team on the fundamental elements of global worker care. There were those who joined our network who were unfamiliar with the ministry of care. Be sure to dispel any misconceptions your new team of goers may have about their purpose. A great way to do this is by going through one of the many excellent books on care together. We even developed an informative video about the basic foundations of global worker care.
Engage in cross-cultural awareness so your network of people will know what it’s like to work within other cultures. We shared our own personal experiences of cross-cultural work and gleaned valuable information from our own partners. One great way to expose trip goers to other cultures is to check out the international restaurants in your area to become familiar with the culture of food and customs.
Offer debriefing training focused on adults and children for anyone who desires to further their preparation. Our core team includes trained debriefers and professional counselors. These skills are among the most needed for any care trip. Adding to their numbers will only be a benefit. These are the people that will likely be a part of every care trip.
The better the preparation, the more confident and sustainable your network will be.
Don’t forget safety and security. It is easily overlooked but oh so necessary. Familiarize yourself and communicate with your team about any security issues related to where you are headed. Know the laws, the language you should or should not use, the embassy's location, phone number and addresses of where you're staying, etc. Ask everyone to register for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program).
Our church recently implemented mandatory child protection training for staff and any layperson who will be involved with ministry to children in any way. This training requirement includes anyone participating in a short-term trip where children will be present.
The better the preparation, the more confident and sustainable your network will be. Your team will know how to take care of themselves, and when the time comes, be ready to take care of others.
Once your team has been identified and prepared, send them!
Put Me In, Coach!
You might have the classic John Fogerty tune in mind when you hear this, or you might be thinking about flying coach class (which you most certainly will be doing whether support raising or on a church budget). Either way, once your team has been identified and prepared, send them! Take newbies as extra members of a small care trip team to participate and learn, or send them to participate in a larger care trip. Get them involved in Great Commission work by letting them use the gifts, talents, and training they have received.
Final thought: make it a practice to debrief your teams during but especially after a care trip. Each venture into the field will bring struggles, trials, challenges, joys, and victories. Work through those as a team. Be intentional about bringing refreshment to your team members (and yourself) the same way you have to your partners.
There are many great resources available for training a care network. Here are just a few I recommend. If you want to know more, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would love to talk with you about global worker care.
Holding the Rope by Ryan Martin
Tender Care by Reagan Wilson and David Kronbach
Care Contact Training
Safety and Security Training
 Zodhiates, S. (2000). In The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). AMG Publishers.
 Winter, B. (1994). 1 Corinthians. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1187). Inter-Varsity Press.
Shirley Ralston (MA in Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband, Jeff, now reside in Houston after living overseas for several years. You can find her on Twitter and texpatfaith.org.