A sending church provides ongoing care in partnership with a missions organization by building a relational structure that nurtures the health of sent ones for as long as they are afield. This involves both church leaders and members in advocating holistically for sent ones through prayer, communication, accountability, logistics, visits, and crisis care.
– Upstream Collective Sending Church Element #12
The question of who provides member care—sending church or sending agency—when a missionary is sent out from their church is not an either/or issue—it is a both/and. Both players are important, yet too many times I have seen the church, who has invested much in their sent ones prior to going to the field, simply hand them off at the commissioning service and expect the mission sending agency to take it from there.
When this happens, the church has basically outsourced missionary care to the agency. Sending agencies have developed a lot of systems that help the worker, and most have very good member care as a part of what they provide. They are to be commended for that. It is both useful and needed.
But agencies are not the church. They exist to help the church by supplementing the care that churches provide.
The church has a significant role to play in caring for its sent ones. After all, they are covenant members of your congregation, and you have the responsibility to care, shepherd, and hold them accountable, even if they are not present. And beyond that, missionaries desire that their churches will care for them.
Churches and agencies need to find ways to work together in caring for our sent ones.
Missionaries desire that their churches will care for them.
The other day I was talking to a mission pastor about this very topic. We were thinking through how the church should hand off the worker to the mission sending agency. But really, there should not be a hand off, as though missions is some kind of relay race. Instead, it’s better to think in terms of a journey. You and your candidate are on this journey together. You are walking with them as they prepare to go to the field. You are praying with them. You are helping them develop their cross-culture mission skills and disciple-making skills. You have helped them discover where God is leading the church and them to participate in mission together. You have assessed them, and they have completed a lot of work to be ready to go. You have even helped them develop an advocacy team that prays for them and represents them to the church. And you have helped them find an agency that has both them and the local church in mind.
Instead of a handoff, all three groups should join hands and move forward in the missions journey together.
We often think of commissioning services as the natural “hand off” time. But what if, instead, you viewed this service as just the next step in your ongoing journey with them. Because you have been intentional to partner with sending agencies that value the sending church and desire the continued involvement of the church, you can now invite the agency into the journey as the three of you—the sent one(s), the sending church, and the sending agency—move forward and continue building your relationships with one another. Instead of a handoff, all three groups join hands and move forward in the missions journey together.
The sending agency should join the journey and get to know the church and the goer before they even depart. The agency field leader will be pivotal in this process, as they are the ones that will be relating to and supervising the sent ones on the field.
The Sending Church should create a covenant between all three groups. Roles and responsibilities should be identified, communicated, and even committed to one another. Doing so will ensure proper care channels are provided throughout the ministry of the sent one.The sending church can provide spiritual accountability, prayer, financial and ministry support, shepherding, and a safe place to talk.
The sending agency will usually take the lead in strategy, so it is important for the team leader to value not just the output of work but also the worker themselves. The sending agency often has a member care department that can help steer the goer as they adapt and live cross culturally with all of the challenges that brings. If necessary, they can also lead the way in crisis situations the sent one faces. The member care department should also be a safe place for the sent one to go to when issues arise. And goers should not wait until they are in a trouble spot before they reach out but should utilize their insight and wisdom on a regular basis.
Sending Church, please do not simply hand off care to the organization. It is not the best for your sent one, your church, or the agency. Your sent ones need you.
Mission Sending Agency, value the sending church. See them as a vital partner and a caregiver who can minister to their sent ones in ways you cannot.
And Goer, you need to utilize both. You need to communicate well with both. Initiate times when you can meet with both your mission leader and your field leader (and hopefully your sending church and sending agency are being intentional about this as well). When the church, the agency, and the worker continue forward together, God is honored, and the worker can benefit from the missionary care he or she needs to be fruitful and faithful in their field.
Larry is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Upstream Collective. He and his family have lived in Europe for nearly twenty years, where he has served in a variety of strategy and leadership roles. Prior to moving to Europe, he was a church planter and pastor in the US. He is a co-author of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, The First 30 Daze: Practical Encouragement for Living Abroad Intentionally, and The MarketSpace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.