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Upcoming Upstream Book: Holding the Rope

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Holding the Rope: How the Local Church Can Care for Its Sent Ones by Ryan Martin, set to be published in September 2022 by The Upstream Collective.

The church should take ownership in the supporting and sustaining care for missionaries, even when those missionaries are in partnership with a sending agency.

Churches may see their role in sending members to the ends of the earth as the finish line instead of the beginning of a partnership. Some churches even lose their identity as the lead role in the sending process along the way. Steve Beirn, author of Well Sent, affirms, “The local church has not remained at the center of sending. Often, the individual considering global ministry is at the center of the process, partly due to the fact that the church has not assumed ownership.”[1] He notes that agencies often end up being the ones in charge of the sending process. David Wilson, missions pastor and author, highlights in Mind the Gaps: Engaging Your Church in Member Care that mission agencies have a role to play, but that “the church is uniquely equipped to minister to its missionaries, especially when it sees gaps in care that the agencies, for whatever reason, do not or cannot provide . . . it would be completely negligent to simply delegate or outsource the responsibility of missionary care completely to agencies.”[2] Wilson describes the investment churches provide as giving birth, nurturing, and equipping its members to serve on the field. They have a unique role and responsibility to care for those with whom they already have a mutual relationship.[3] The church should take ownership in the supporting and sustaining care for missionaries, even when those missionaries are in partnership with a sending agency.

Faithfulness to the task of fulfilling the Great Commission is in direct correlation to our faithfulness to send and support well.

So why is member care so important that I would set out to write a book to resource the church in caring well for her sent ones? First, I believe faithfulness to the task of fulfilling the Great Commission is in direct correlation to our faithfulness to send and support well. Studies show that the average length of stay for a missionary on the field is two to four years, with close to half of missionaries leaving the field within their first five years. While those statistics are staggering, the greater concern is that over 70 percent of the reasons given for a swift exit were preventable.[4] If churches begin caring for their missionaries long before they commission them, then they can better stabilize, support, and strengthen their sent ones’ faithfulness to the task.


Second, the Scriptures speak to the local church’s responsibility in setting apart, sending, and supporting missionaries. The first section of Holding the Rope unpacks three texts that reveal the church is to support generously, give of its time, finances, and people sacrificially, and partner responsibly. Because the church is the primary means through which the Great Commission is accomplished, the care of the church’s sent ones should not be outsourced solely to a missions agency (although I will argue that the agency has a role to play in providing care).

If churches begin caring for their missionaries long before they commission them, then they can better stabilize, support, and strengthen their sent ones’ faithfulness to the task.

A third reason for putting this resource together is my personal passion for missionary care. Prior to my current role in missions mobilization, I served for thirteen years as a local church missions pastor. When members would ask what I loved about my position, I would often state that I appreciated having one foot in the church and one foot on the field. I am administratively gifted, which has served me well in missions mobilization and equipping; however, what greatly energizes me is being with sent ones on the field—breathing their air, walking their streets, eating their food, and hearing their victories, heartaches, challenges, concerns, and hopes within cross-cultural ministry. I have known the reality of meeting with missionaries whose children didn’t acclimate well to the field, praying against the Enemy’s attacks, and asking the Holy Spirit to give them the sustaining grace and power they needed. I have counseled a family who had reached the point of burnout as they transitioned from a village setting to urban life and were having to learn a different pace of work and rest. Still other opportunities have come my way, like refueling long-term workers by sending them short-term assistance and support. Being able to pray with, encourage, and exhort missionaries with the Word through Zoom calls, emails, and field visits is a great joy and delight that not only the missions pastor can take part in, but that the entire church can experience as well.


Through my studies on this issue, I developed a strategy for local churches to provide missionary care for their sent ones. I sought to meet the need for this strategy by working from a biblical foundation and an understanding of historical and contemporary examples of missionary care. In addition, I sought insight from the mission field, sending agencies, and local churches on best practices and gaps in missionary care today. Many of the voices you’ll hear testimony from are of missionaries on the field that I have personally interacted with as one of their pastors. Certainly I and others in the church didn’t do everything perfectly, but we sought to be faithful in sending and supporting well. I long for local churches to take up the responsibility and joy that I have experienced having one foot in the church and one foot on the field. Many churches, though, need an understanding of both the why and the how of missionary care, and that is what I aim for this resource to provide. In Holding the Rope: How the Local Church Can Care for Its Sent Ones, I have proposed a strategy for how the local church can best provide primary missionary care for their sent ones in the pre-field, on-field, and post-field stages. My hope in offering this strategy is that it can serve as a template that churches of any size could adapt to fit their context.


In his article “Don’t Just Be a Sending Church, Be a Staying Church,” Aaron Menikoff writes,


It’s not enough to be a sending church. You need to be staying church. A staying church doesn’t let the rope fray or the bond loosen. As inconvenient as the relationship may be, the staying church remains involved by praying faithfully, communicating regularly, visiting occasionally, and always looking for new and creative ways to help. This is how we hold the rope, and we mustn’t let go.[5]


Churches that send and support well in partnership with a mission agency will develop long-lasting partnerships with their sent ones that help sustain field personnel, promote the furtherance of the gospel and the church, and result in the glory of God.


NOTES

[1] Steve Beirn and George W. Murray, Well Sent: Reimagining the Church’s Missionary-Sending Process (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2015), 20.

[2] David J. Wilson, ed., Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care (Colorado Springs, CO: Believers, 2015), 5–6.

[3] Ibid., 6–7.

[4] ReMAP and ReMAP II are some of the most thorough mission research studies conducted just before and shortly after the turn of the millennium with regard to missionary retention. ReMAP is an acronym for Reducing Missionary Attrition Project. The research contained in them was conducted by the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance. The fieldwork in ReMAP II involved 600 agencies across 22 countries and represent some 40,000 missionaries. The effort was primarily led by William D. Taylor. World Evangelical Alliance, “ReMAP II: Worldwide Missionary Retention Study & Best Practices,” 10, http://www.worldevangelicals.org/ resources/rfiles/res3_96_link_1292358945.pdf.

[5] Aaron Menikoff, “Don’t Just Be a Sending Church, Be a Staying Church,” Reaching & Teaching Blog, 24 November 2020, https://rtim.org/dont-just-be-a-sending-church-be-a-staying-church/.

 

Ryan serves as Director of Missions and Operations with Lightbearers Ministries. He graduated in 2022 with a Doctor of Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary, where he also serves as a trustee. He has received an 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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