At the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, there is a wonderful, descriptive paragraph on what Paul and Barnabas did as they returned to the church of Antioch:
“Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.” Acts 14:24–28
Paul and Barnabas had been through the ringer on their first missionary journey, and it was time to step away from the front-lines missions work for a season. While they likely needed to recharge physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that isn’t the focus of the text. The focus is on the sending church from Antioch and how Paul and Barnabas interacted with them once they returned.
We observe from this passage that Paul and Barnabas were able to share all that God had done with them. Paul and Barnabas needed this opportunity to share. They needed to be heard. And they needed to hear the encouragement of their senders.
But the church also needed Paul and Barnabas’s words. They heard about the gospel going to the Gentiles. This was a relatively new concept for the Jewish people, and the stories Paul and Barnabas shared helped to instill the truth that God loves all peoples. The church needed the opportunity to see that sending two of their five leaders was not in vain. The church needed to be encouraged that their investment of time and resources in Paul and Barnabas produced fruit. The church needed to be reminded that getting the gospel to peoples and places that have never heard is a priority in the mission of God. They needed to be encouraged as senders.
Missionaries need to be heard and encouraged, especially by their home church.
Like the church of Antioch, our church members need to be reminded of what God is doing amongst the nations; to be encouraged by the bravery and perseverance of those we have sent; to be reminded of the great needs that are in the hard-to-reach places of the world; and to learn from the unique perspective of the missionary that you have sent so that our churches do not become too insular and self-focused.
The missionary also needs the opportunity to speak of the wondrous things the Lord has done. Missionaries need to be heard and encouraged, especially by their home church.
As the missions pastor of a larger church, one of the things I struggled with was that we had more cross-cultural missionaries sent than weeks in the year to put them up on stage. With stage time in front of a couple of thousand people each week being pretty selective, the opportunities to give missionaries a slot to speak with the entire church was limited. While we were able to do this for some of our most connected missionaries, we were not able to do it for everyone. And even when we did, our time was limited to four to five minutes with them.
For many missionaries, the best I was able to do for them was to meet with them and get them in front of the small group that was praying for them. This never seemed particularly encouraging to the missionary, and I always felt a little sheepish about not finding a way to bless them more.
Finally, being compelled by Acts 14:24–28, our missions team attempted to tackle this issue by starting Lunch and Learns for anyone on furlough that was sent from our church. Through these Lunch and Learns, we provided a space after our Sunday services for our sent missionaries to have a meal with church members, to share what God was doing in their ministry, and to be encouraged by the body.
Consider the Lunch and Learn as an avenue for loving your missionaries and giving your church a deeper heart for God’s glory amongst the nations.
Lunch and Learns have proven to be a really helpful practice for us as a church. There are many benefits:
Missionaries get to share what God has done. They are encouraged by the turnout, the meal, and the space provided by the missions team.
Members of the church get to hear from those missionaries about all that God has done, which cultivates awareness of God’s global mission and of specific people sent from our church. Often there are connections made at Lunch and Learns that get a member of our church connected to a particular need our sent one has.
The Lunch and Learn time is pretty simple:
Ten to fifteen minutes for everyone to get started on their lunch. (Pro-tip: send out an RSVP for the event to get a general food order, but up the order by another 25 percent to account for extra people.)
The missionary shares for twenty-five to thirty minutes on what God has been doing in their ministry. Pictures and key bullet points are always helpful, so have the missionary bring something to the event. They likely have prepared something like this prior to coming home on furlough, so this usually is an easy ask.
As the missions leader, host a Q&A session for ten to fifteen minutes. Be sure to prompt the attenders at the beginning to have some questions ready for the presenter(s).
Work with the missionary on a basic handout that includes key prayer requests, how to sign up for their updates, and how people can give to that missionary’s support account.
Pray for the missionary at the end.
Waiting to start Lunch and Learns until my seventh year of being a missions pastor is a regret of mine. It has been such a simple, inexpensive, and fruitful way to live out the elements of “Cultivating Awareness,” “Inviting Sent One’s Influence,” and “Receiving Sent Ones during Re-Entry.” Our missionaries have always been so thankful for the opportunity to share and so thankful that church leadership initiated this event for them.
There are many ways to encourage missionaries—stage time, a video, meetings with their advocate team, meetings with elders or staff, etc.. These are all great, but sometimes they’re not possible because of the size of your church or the number of sent ones. Consider the Lunch and Learn as an avenue for loving your missionaries and giving your church a deeper heart for God’s glory amongst the nations.
Mike Ironside is the International Program Manager for Reliant Mission. Prior to that Mike was the Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, for eight years, where he got to experience the ins and outs of being a sending church. He served on staff with Cornerstone 2006 to 2022 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Content for the Upstream Collective. Mike, his wife, Emily, and their four kids continue to live in Ames, IA, and serve at Cornerstone.