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On-Field Care: Prayer Is Not Just the Means to Do the Work—It Is the Work

“Prayer does not equip us for greater works—prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work.”


These famous words uttered by Oswald Chambers reflect a key component for on-field care. While there are those in the church who cannot go to the field for various reasons, everyone in the church can provide strategic care through prayer. David Wilson notes, “Your missionaries need to know you are praying for them and what you are asking the Lord to do. That is a sincere form of encouragement and a much-appreciated reason to let them know they are not forgotten.”[1] We see in Acts 13:1–3 that the church at Antioch was in the midst of prayer and fasting when the Holy Spirit exhorted Barnabas and Paul to be set apart for missionary service. But their prayers didn’t conclude there; they continued beyond and sustained them on the field. Bill Cook and Chuck Lawless express concern that believers often become more reactive than proactive in praying for missionaries. They write, “They pray only when they hear a concern from a missionary on the field—and sometimes praying only begins after the enemy has already won a battle in a missionary’s life . . . cover the missionary in prayer before the battle begins, while the battle is ongoing, and after the battle is over.”[2] Prayer must be a weapon that churches continually wield.


Praying for missionaries not only provides individual care, but it also builds communal bonds across the life of the church. Finding ways to include prayer for the nations across the church’s various ministries helps build awareness and increase advocacy for missionaries.


Here are some ways that I have found were helpful when I was a missions pastor for mobilizing the church in prayer and strengthening the bonds with her sent ones.

Praying for missionaries in the service

During our weekly services, our order of service contained a pastoral prayer where, along with prayers for needs around the world, members of the body, and other local churches, we prayed for our supported partners. Each week, I would provide our elders with prayer requests for a particular partner that would then be incorporated into that prayer.

Praying for missionaries not only provides individual care, but it also builds communal bonds across the life of the church.

Highlighting sent ones through the weekly newsletter

Coinciding with our weekly prayer for missionaries in the service, our church also put out a weekly prayer newsletter. The newsletter included an update from a missionary our church supported, as well as their recent prayer requests. This resource obviously necessitated regular communication with our sent ones to ensure we had regular updates from them. These updates provided another way to put our missionaries’ faces and needs before the church.

Including missionaries in your member directory

Our church had a member directory that we updated quarterly as we voted new members into our fellowship and had others leave our congregation for one reason or another. A section of that directory contained all of our supported mission partners, a picture of them and their family, and a brief biographical sketch. Our members were encouraged to pray for a different page of the directory each day, which would include our missionaries. So every month, the members of the church would collectively be praying for our sent ones.

Having missionaries share in the service

Whether it was via video call or when they were home on a stateside visit, we wanted to make sure that our missionaries were both seen and heard from. Including them in our services provided great encouragement for interaction and touchpoints to help our missionaries see that they were not out of sight or out of mind. I also know of churches who have a missionary spotlight during their Sunday morning announcements, which offers another avenue to highlight missionaries.

Prayer cards

If you opened my kitchen cabinets, you would see prayer cards taped to the inside. I purposefully have placed them here so that whether I’m grabbing a glass for dinner or unloading the dishwasher, I am reminded to pray for our missionaries around the world. These cards also are great to utilize in family worship times.

May we not see prayer as the least we can do in missionary care but as one of the strands in the rope that we are holding.

Whether it’s by praying for missionaries in the service, highlighting them through weekly newsletters, including them in your member directory, or having them share with the church when stateside, thinking strategically about prayer for sent ones is crucial. David Wilson says, “Praying with others can provide accountability, mutual encouragement, and opportunities to learn more about the missionaries and their work.”[3] May we not see prayer as the least we can do in missionary care but as one of the strands in the rope that we are holding as our missionaries journey into the darkness to shine the light of the gospel among the nations.


You can read Part One of this series here.


This post is adapted from Ryan's book, Holding the Rope: How the Local Church Can Care for Its Sent Ones, published by The Upstream Collective.


NOTES

[1] David J. Wilson, ed., Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care (Colorado Springs, CO: Believers, 2015), 70.

[2] William F. Cook III and Chuck Lawless, Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019), 279.

[3] Wilson, 70.

 

Ryan serves as Director of Missions and Operations with Lightbearers Ministries and is the author of the recent Upstream publication Holding the Rope. He graduated in 2022 with a Doctor of Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary, where he also serves as a trustee. He has received a MDiv in Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (2008) and an undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, TN (2005). Prior to joining Lightbearers, he served for thirteen years as a missions pastor in the local church. Ryan lives in Fayetteville with his wife, Rebekah, and three children: Hudson, Annie, and Hattie.

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