What a Former Missions Pastor (Who Now Serves an Agency) Wishes He Had Known to Ask
In scripture, we learn that the Church is being prepared for a union with Christ, and their relationship is likened in many places to a wedding. In Revelation, John saw a “new Jerusalem coming down . . . as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). Paul wrote to his churches about the union of a husband and wife being a picture of the union of Christ and His Church. And while the Bible portrays the mission of God as primarily being carried out by Christ and His Church, it is important for sending agency leaders to understand their role in the Great Commission as well. If we extend the wedding analogy a little further, mission agencies may find it helpful to view their role as that of wedding party members, like the bridesmaids. Their role is to assist the “Bride” and get Her ready for the big day.
While the Bible portrays the mission of God as primarily being carried out by Christ and His Church, it is important for sending agency leaders to understand their role in the Great Commission as well.
My wife reminded me recently about our own wedding years ago when her bridesmaids helped her keep her focus on the main thing–the wedding. She was getting distracted by the many petty details that always seem to keep brides from focusing on their primary goal of getting married. Her bridesmaids jumped in and helped her with the dress, the flowers, the caterer, the family squabbles . . . and they never overstepped the bounds of their role. They knew that it was their job to give advice and opinions, but it was the bride’s job to make the decision. The bridesmaids helped the bride put on her gown, but they were not to wear the dress and walk down the aisle. They knew it was the bride who should shine on that day, so they did everything behind the scenes and sought to not cause a scene. They took the posture of being a supportive and valuable “second” so the bride could fulfill her mission as the “primary.”
Sending agencies that value the local church in this way are honoring God’s design for the Church’s role in the Great Commission.
Hopefully this illustration is valuable in demonstrating the proper alignment of a missionary sending agency in its relationship with the churches that are sending homegrown disciples to their global assignments. Sending agencies that value the local church in this way are honoring God’s design for the Church’s role in the Great Commission.
With that as the foundation, here are some questions to ask potential sending agencies as you are preparing your people for missionary service:
Part 1: Missionary Care Support
What resources are available from your agency for the care and support of missionaries on the field?
What is your agency’s official statement on the role of the church in missionary care apart from money and prayer? Please clarify expectations you have from our church.
In the event there is conflict with leadership, is there a local support system near our missionaries’ field of service that is separate from the leadership structure?
Does a representative from the agency or region (that is not part of a local team) visit each field of service or team on a regular basis? If so, how often? Can our church’s missionary care team join these visits?
If our church’s missionary care team discovers a need for additional care, is there an established channel through which this need can be made known to your agency? Who is the specific contact person or department?
Does your agency provide proactive training in conflict resolution and have a prescribed means of intervening among team members when conflict arises?
What resources are available from the agency for spiritual, emotional, or family counseling? Do you have partnerships with specialists when you need to refer?
Does your agency sponsor conferences for its missionaries regionally or globally? Is our church welcome to attend and serve at these gatherings?
If the need for emergency or medical evacuation arises, what resources are available from the agency to facilitate this? Can you please share with our church missionary care team the contingency plans you have for our workers?
Part 2: Methods and Strategy
Describe the overall ministry philosophy and strategy of your agency. How does your agency seek to fulfill its goals?
Describe the role of our local church as it relates to your strategy and methods. What is your expectation of us apart from money and prayer?
Describe your accountability structure. To avoid confusion, do you allow for a church to enter into a covenant with you using a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for accountability between the church, the agency, and our missionary and his/her team?
Part 3: Financial Policies
How is the support schedule (level of support) for your missionary candidates developed?
Does the support schedule provide for benefits like medical, retirement, emergency/contingency needs? Is this required for all your workers to participate?
What percentage of a missionary’s support is used for the administrative overhead of the agency?
The purpose of these questions is to help your church and the mission leadership team get to know the policy and procedures of a potential partner sending agency. By asking these questions, you are conducting research that will help ensure that your beloved disciples, whom you are preparing for global service, will have a lifetime of faithful service to the Lord overseas. You are also developing a relationship with individuals in the agency so that when (not if) the needs of the field become stressful, you will know who to speak with to get some resolution.
As you are looking over this list of questions, there are some that may seem mundane or unimportant. As an example, consider the question about the agency requiring participation in retirement benefits. When I served as a mission pastor, I recall a time when a missionary came home from the field after serving faithfully for over forty years. It was time for her to retire due to health problems related primarily to her age. Unfortunately, she did not have adequate retirement plans in place when she got back.
At the time of her deployment, her agency asked if she wanted to enroll in the retirement plan, but she declined since doing so would require raising additional support. Opting out seemed like a convenient way of reducing her costs and expediting her deployment. In her zeal for the Lord’s work, she even rationalized her thinking by saying to herself, “The Lord will provide for me.” It sounded very biblical! However, the book of Proverbs is also biblical, and it contains wisdom to help God’s servants plan and prepare for the future. Now that she was off the field, her agency no longer had responsibility for her. Guess who did have responsibility for her? Yep! The local church.
It is incredibly important for churches to vet agencies on everything, even the smallest details.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22
Since the Church is the Bride of Christ, it is imperative that the local church choose wisely which bridesmaid will help her in her mission.
Like a bride waiting for her groom, we’ll be a church ready for you. Every heart longing for our King, we sing, “Even so, come; Lord Jesus, come.”
- “Even So Come” by Chris Tomlin
David J. Wilson (DMin) and his wife, Lorene, have served together in the local church since 1996. David was a missions pastor for over 20 years. They currently live in Kansas City, MO, where David serves as the Director of Church Engagement at Avant Ministries. They have written three books together: Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization; Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care; and Transforming Missionaries: A Short-Term Mission Guide.