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Leading the Advocates

I once had a turtle named Fred. Fred liked to eat watermelon. But I went on vacation and forgot to leave Fred any watermelon. When I came back, Fred was dead.

Don’t be like me.

When you have missionary advocates, don’t forget to feed them. Nobody wants a “dead” advocate. In this short article, I’ll tell y0u how to keep them “fed” by answering three questions.

What kind of training do they need?

How do you gather them?

What do you do when you gather them?

Let’s get started.

When you have missionary advocates, don’t forget to feed them.

What Kind of Training Do They Need?

Two important elements of training come to mind. First, train them in the role of an advocate. Begin with a general overview, as described in Upstream’s “Establishing Advocacy Teams.” Be sure to cast the vision from Scripture (for examples see Philippians 2:25–30 and 3 John 6–8). 

Unless advocates have been missionaries, they don’t fully understand what missionaries face.

Beyond the general overview, however, you should include your church’s specific expectations for an advocate. Outline it in writing. Walk them through it. Then hand it over (maybe on a magnet they can put on their fridge). For best results, invite an existing advocate to share their experience with them.

Second, train them in the life of a missionary. Unless advocates have been missionaries, they don’t fully understand what missionaries face. But they need to know in order to care well. Describe the highs and lows and the grind. Consider giving them Thomas Hale’s On Being a Missionary. Better yet, recruit a missionary to give personal testimony.

How Do You Gather Them?

When you train advocates in your expectations for them, be sure to include how often you expect to meet with them. Upstream’s Director of Training, Jared Burwell, recommends meeting monthly for the first three months and quarterly after that. Put it on the calendar and give them the dates. 

Why do this? Remember Fred—you need to keep your advocates fed. They will need ongoing encouragement, accountability, and coaching. They will need a way to report about their missionaries. They will need a sense of community, of being part of something big and important.

For the above reasons, it’s wise to gather them all at the same time rather than meeting one on one. If you need to have a few one-on-ones, you can schedule those in between group meetings, but meeting with everyone will be good for the team and will mean less meetings for you!

What Do You Do When You Gather Them?

Building on the previous section, it might be helpful to think in terms of three buckets: encouragement, accountability, and coaching


Open by refreshing the vision. Affirm their importance. Make observations of a job well done and/or share how a missionary has been blessed by them. 


Simply ask the question, “How’s it going for you and your missionary?” Then let them share. Stop often and pray for their needs and the missionaries’ needs. 


Provide ongoing education. Choose a relevant topic. Make a brief presentation (not anything overwhelming). Jared Burwell recommends addressing these issues:

  • Active listening

  • Reentry care

  • Team dynamics (see Peace Pursuit)

  • Third-culture kids care

  • Soul care

  • Prayer

  • Spiritual warfare

  • Sending church

  • Or read through Holding the Rope together

That’ll feed ‘em!

Sorry, Fred. 😢


Bradley is a missiologist, pastor, and trainer. He has been at Upstream since 2014, producing blog and social media content, authoring The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning "Home" and How Churches Can Help, co-authoring Lent and Missions: A 40-Day Devotional, and serving as a board member. He is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church. As a former global sent one, Bradley reflects on missions and formation at Broken Missiology.


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