top of page

Microskills for Advocates

When you have a struggle in life, who do you go to? Is it a friend? A pastor? An older man or woman? A counselor? When someone in your church has a struggle, what are the structures in place to help them with that struggle? A small group? Pastoral care? A connection with a counselor? Whatever the need, your church likely has a structure in place to help people who are struggling.

But what about your missionaries? Who do they connect with when they have difficulty? Their supervisor and their work friends are also their church, their ministry partner, and essentially their day-to-day family. While they should work to establish friendship with those people and receive counsel from them, this confluence of roles can make being transparent very difficult.

Missionaries experience a more-than-average amount of “failure,” and what they often need in a confidant, mentor, or a counselor is beyond what the typical advocate is trained to do.

While they can turn to those back home for some of these needs, their family, closest friends, advocates, and sometimes even church staff do not completely understand their situation. Some typical responses to the hard things about life overseas are:

  1. To encourage them to tough it out.

  2. To try and relate to them.

  3. To take their side, assuming that the supervisor, teammate, or national partner is truly as difficult as the missionary says they are.

  4. To encourage them to escape the difficulty of overseas life and return home (this is most often the response of family members).

Missionaries often struggle to find the right person(s) to talk with about what’s going on in their lives. They are faced day by day with the slow drip of having their routines, habits, and instincts flipped on their heads. Missionaries experience a more-than-average amount of “failure,” and what they often need in a confidant, mentor, or a counselor is beyond what the typical advocate is trained to do.

What do we do then, as missions leaders, for these missionaries? Do we need to pay for counseling for missionaries so they have access to this type of resource on a regular basis? Quite possibly. At the very least, the type of person a missionary should go should have some of the skills a counselor would have. 

I’d like to think there is a step we can take before that, however. Since our theme for this month is “Advocacy Teams,” I want us to consider how we can help our advocates be better equipped to meet the unique needs of our missionaries.

“Microskills” is a term utilized in the counseling profession to describe the competencies for effective communication needed to counsel a person to health. There are many lists of microskills that vary in length and depth. Skills that are found on almost every list that I’ve seen include:

  1. Non-verbals - Making sure that the listeners' non-verbals match the situation, sometimes even matching that of the person they are talking to. Always maintaining appropriate eye contact.

  2. Listening more than speaking - Working hard to be slow to speak.

  3. Acknowledging what has been said - Repeating back to the counselee what they are saying.

  4. Asking open-ended questions - Rather than yes or no questions, asking open-ended questions that cause them to say out loud what has only been said in their mind.

  5. Confrontation - At the correct time, with relational money in the bank, challenging their line of thinking to align more closely to their beliefs about what is moral and what is wise.

There are many other “microskills” that counselors use for effective counseling. For our discussion, is it possible for advocates to learn these microskills and put them to use with the missionaries in their care? It is a challenge, no doubt, but we can work towards growing in these microskills and training our advocates to become more proficient in them so they can provide more effective care for our missionaries.

To learn more about these microskills, check out our resource Microskills for Advocates. Upstream members can access this resource on the Upstream File Share. Non-members can purchase it for $1.99.


Mike Easton 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.


bottom of page