BY NEAL PIROLO
A solid foundation having been laid by the local church, let’s turn our attention to the least understood of the four levels of care: partnership level missionary care.
A Scriptural Foundation
The Scriptural foundation for this vital aspect of the missions process—the partnership level of care—is found in the Letter of Romans. Paul had heard of an “unreached people group” in Spain. On his way there, he wanted to visit the Christians in Rome.
In chapter 10, Paul was ready to spell out for us the whole missions process. Using a gapless linear form of reasoning so well understood by the people of that day, Paul laid out his premise in verse 13. And because he had something very important to say, he established that premise in Scripture by quoting Joel 2:32: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Using all the varied and creative “means” available to us, the goal of all missions endeavor is the salvation of the lost.
Now, Paul begins a series of four (not three) questions with each new thought directly connected (without a gap) to the previous thought. Thus, he must begin his reasoning with the thought of calling. Question one: “How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?” An easy concept to understand. No one is going to call on one in whom they do not believe. Next question, tied to the previous newly-introduced thought of believing: “How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Again, a simple progression of thought. A third question: “And how can they hear without a preacher?”
A Broken Process
There it is! The question we have all been waiting for, or so goes the average missions conference. And with all the passion of a skilled orator, the one making the appeal can work up the emotions of many. To this end I’ve even heard the misuse of scripture in Isaiah 6: for, after Isaiah said those “famous” words, “Here am I. Send me,” God sent him to his own people, not into a cross-cultural ministry! But, not to be concerned with such detail, to the front they come, making a “commitment” to be a “missionary”. Of course, many wake up the next morning wondering, “What in the world did I just commit to?”
This is one of the great tragedies in the Christian community. Whether it’s in the appeal or just in the structure of a missions conference, disservice is done to those who could be mobilized into the ministry of serving as senders. Ninety percent of conference attendees will never go to the field. Yet, without a clear understanding of all that is involved in Paul’s last question, they go home wondering, “Why did I waste my time at yet another missions conference? I’ll never go to the mission field, but going is all they talked about.”
A Better Way
But the beauty of timeless Scripture is that Paul didn’t stop at the third question. He asked one more. And it’s relevant to note that when using this form of logic, you end with the very most important point you want to make. So, here is Paul’s final question. It has to be tied to the preacher, the one who goes, the cross-cultural worker, the missionary: “And how can they preach (how can our missionaries be effective) unless they are sent?”
This final question then, draws our attention to the whole subject of “the rest of the team”. All involved in the sending process are vital, each in their roles. But, again, in the beauty of Paul’s inspired words, so that those who serve as senders (partnership level caregivers) do not get to thinking that they are the focus of missions, in verse 15, Paul brings our thoughts back full circle to the missionary. He does this by quoting Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.”
Those who go and those who serve as senders form a partnership team for effective cross-cultural ministry. The whole team owns the vision. “This is our ministry; the missionary is our field representative,” the team has been formed to understand. And each understands his part is vital to the successful fulfillment of the mission.
Although the one who scores the goal on a futball (soccer) team may be credited with the “win,” and might even bask in the applause given to him, he knows that the game would not have been won without the rest of the team. Likewise, though the missionary might allow the church to place him upon a pedestal when he comes home, having experienced some notable success, he knows that he could not have succeeded on the field without a strong support team.
Paul shouts out in the first verses of Philippians 1, “I rejoice greatly…that you are partners in the gospel with me!” The Philippians had never traveled with Paul, yet he saw them as partners. The six areas of care that Paul addresses in his letter to them (and that every missionary needs today) are moral support (the gift of encouragement), prayer support (the gift of intercession), reentry support (the gift of hospitality), logistics support (the gift of administration), communication support (the gifts of discernment and encouragement), and financial support (the gift of giving).
From my experience, there is no doubt that those missionaries who took the time (whose churches required the time) to develop a personal, relational partnership team have fared better during their time of preparation, while on the field, and upon their return home!
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).