“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place . . . They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him . . . And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
The Heart Debrief is a simple yet powerful tool that any church can use not only for their sent ones but also for anyone in ministry or who has struggled through a difficult season in life.
There are few examples of suffering in Scripture greater than that of Job, who suffered the loss of wealth, health, and family. Early in the story three friends travel to join him. Upon arrival there are many things they could have initially done. They could have tried to encourage him. They could have tried to explain the situation. They could have tried to meet his physical needs. But instead they did something interesting—they came together to show him sympathy and comfort him by . . . saying nothing?
Many of those sent out from our churches cross-culturally for the sake of the glory of God among the nations have also suffered loss. Like Job, they lose families (by leaving them behind), lose wealth (by giving up lucrative careers and selling houses), and put themselves at risk for health issues by moving to places with less access to medical care. Listening well is one of the greatest tools in our arsenal as we seek to care for our sent ones. Listening well is also an increasingly rare practice in a culture that prioritizes instant reactions and hot takes. With these realities in mind, our church started using a process called the Heart Debrief to give our sent ones the space to process the good and the bad of their most recent missionary term.
Listening well is an increasingly rare practice in a culture that prioritizes instant reactions and hot takes.
The Heart Debrief
As Dr. Brenda Keck describes it, the Heart Debrief is a tool that “builds health and resilience” and provides space for a person to debrief experiences from a previous season by asking four questions:
What are treasures to be celebrated?
What are changes to be acknowledged?
What are losses to be grieved?
What are wounds to be healed?
We provide these questions to our sent ones ahead of time so they have time to process and write down answers. We then gather in person to discuss them together. Each person has fifty-five minutes to share their answers. If more time is needed, then more time is granted; if there is time left over, then we allow space for any other issue they want to discuss. Many times, a person believes they will not need the allotted time, only to discover they have no problem sharing for the entire fifty-five-minute period. After the time is up, each person who is there listening shares what they heard that encouraged or challenged them. The purpose here is to affirm their experiences, not to correct, and not to offer advice or a plan of action (that can come later, if needed). If a couple is participating in the heart debrief, then we also have the spouse affirm the one who shared, which often provides a rich, sweet time of connection between husband and wife.
Maximizing the Impact of the Heart Debrief
The following are some suggestions that will help you maximize the Heart Debrief experience:
Actively listen. Many of us in ministry, especially in missions/global ministry, think strategically and are gifted in solving problems. We need to remember that people participating in the Heart Debrief are not problems to be solved but people to be listened to. During the debrief, just listen. By listening, we bear witness to their story. Feel free to ask clarifying questions, but refrain from commenting or smuggling in advice in the form of a question.
Do not fear silence. Many people, especially men, are not used to processing their feelings the way they will during this debrief. Do not be surprised if some people finish after twenty minutes. If they do, then instead of moving directly to affirmation, we’ll ask them to take a minute or two of silence and see if any other things come to their mind that they would like to share. In a group setting, fifteen seconds of silence seems long, and two minutes seems like an eternity! Resist the urge to fill that space with words or move the process along. Many times, people who think they have nothing more to say are able to find more to share when given extra time to process their thoughts.
Participate in the Heart Debrief as a group. We use two to three Global Ministries staff when we do a Heart Debrief with one of our sent ones (whether a single or a couple). You do not have to use staff, but whoever is there needs to be sympathetic and understanding toward the struggles and challenges our sent ones have faced. To make it less formal, we suggest going through the Heart Debrief after you have shared a meal together in someone’s home.
Pray. Pray before, during, and after the Heart Debrief. Our sent ones are often dealing with trauma, disappointment, and spiritual dryness. Pray the Lord will use the Heart Debrief process powerfully in the lives of our sent ones.
People participating in the Heart Debrief are not problems to be solved but people to be listened to.
The Heart Debrief is a simple yet powerful tool that any church can use not only for their sent ones but also for anyone in ministry or who has struggled through a difficult season in life. Giving people the time and space to verbally process their feelings and experiences while actively listening engenders trust and unity, and it is often the first step in the healing process.
 Dr. Brenda Keck, who created and developed the Heart Debrief, serves on faculty at Concordia University Irvine as an Assistant Professor of Counseling. We were introduced to the Heart Debrief by Dr. Keck at a conference in New Orleans in 2019 and have used it at our church, specifically within our Global Ministries, since that time.
Chris White has a passion for seeing all people groups in all the nations reached with the gospel! Chris received his Master of Divinity with a specialization in Christian Apologetics from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017 and is currently a ministry associate on staff in Global Ministries at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA. Chris has traveled throughout the world teaching, training, and mobilizing others to take their part in the Great Commission. Chris lives in Roswell, GA, with his wife and three kids.