I get most energized by being on the field with missionaries, but a close second is hearing from them while they are stateside. Walking alongside them as they readjust to their “home” culture, providing a listening ear, and commending them for their service help build their confidence and give honor and care where it is due. As churches and partners plan for post-field care and make themselves present for debriefing, they can also provide on-ramps into the church. Church leaders need to establish clear avenues and boundaries for ministry as they incorporate their missionaries back into the life of the church. As Zach Bradley writes, “It’s easy for them to be either overwhelmed with too much responsibility or under-utilized with too little opportunity.”
However, churches sometimes have a hard time relating to missionaries during the re-entry phase because of the reverse culture shock missionaries often experience. Reverse culture shock is a normal experience for returning sent ones, and it can often be more jarring than the shock of entering a new culture for the first time. Returning to what feels like “home” after being away can make the re-entry period challenging for a missionary. Craig Storti writes, “Home is the place where you were born and raised . . . your homeland . . . it refers to a set of feelings and routines as much as to a particular place—where you are known, trusted, accepted, understood, and indulged.” Navigating “home” is certainly tied into the ways in which a church relationally, spiritually, and even financially invests in its returning sent ones. As the church provides care in these areas, the missionary will feel a sense of belonging as they return from the field. Rather than feeling isolated, they can be further integrated and even have impact and influence during their time stateside. As missionaries and sending churches prepare for this re-entry period, they should work together to create a plan, and churches should make the effort to be present and to provide pathways for reengaging their sent ones.
We see a wonderful picture of a missionary’s influence in the life of the church in Acts 14. After concluding their first missionary journey through Cyprus, South Galatia, and Pamphylia, Paul and Barnabas returned to the church at Antioch, where they “spent no little time” with the members and reported how God had used them (Acts 14:26–28). Both in sending out “sent ones” and receiving them back, the church at Antioch reflects the local church’s crucial role in caring for missionaries through sending, supporting, and receiving. Upon their return, they (Paul and Barnabas) report back to the very church that had commended them to the grace of God, share all that God had done through them, and express how a door of faith had been opened to the Gentiles (Acts 14:26–27).
The return of Paul and Barnabas to the church at Antioch gives us a picture of accountability in mission partnerships and demonstrates the reciprocal nature of care. These men recognized their responsibility to speak back into the life of the church, both by commending the church for their support and by communicating all that God had done through them. In turn, the church at Antioch gained a greater understanding of Paul and Barnabas’s missionary efforts and of how to provide care for those they sent out.
What are some practical ways that sending and supporting churches can utilize the influence of missionaries as they reintegrate them back into the body? Here are some considerations:
A faithful shepherding church will strike a healthy balance between not overwhelming the missionary yet still utilizing them in meaningful ways to influence the global reach of the church among her neighbors and throughout the nations.
Take advantage of the opportunities to have your sent ones give testimony and updates about their work through corporate worship gatherings, Bible study classes, small groups, as well as platforms to share with men, women, children, and youth ministry gatherings. Speaking to a larger group in these settings provides a large casting of the net, both to update and mobilize your church to pray more fervently and give more sacrificially, and to consider how they might come alongside these global partners through short-, mid-, or even long-term service. Through times of sharing corporately and in small groups, missionaries can speak into the life of the congregation and stoke the missions flame. Thomas Hale and Gene Daniels exhort, “No one better than the missionary can bring the missionary vision to the home church [or] inspire young people to a life of sacrifice and dedication to Jesus.” The church must not miss the opportunity to hear from those who serve as an extension of the membership in a cross-cultural context.
Whether through training a short-term mission team or long-term missionary candidates, current sent ones can be a powerful resource to help give scope to a specific team serving alongside them in coming weeks and months and to shed light on life as a cross-cultural missionary. This training can also be done by retired missionaries that are in your church’s membership. In the church I previously served as missions pastor, we had a number of retired missionaries that helped mentor soon-to-be sent ones as they were preparing for the field. This one-on-one discipling towards the field was invaluable in preparing future missionaries for staying rooted in Christ, shepherding one’s family well on the field, preparing for cross-cultural life and service, and many other facets of the missionary life.
As the nations have now become our neighbors, missionaries can help train the church in practical ways to share the good news in a diverse world.
We often elevate the role of a missionary in the Great Commission, but because Christ’s disciple-making charge was given to all Christians, there are many tasks of global sent ones that are meant to be carried out by the sender as well. Your sent ones are an invaluable resource for evangelism training, specifically intercultural evangelism. As the nations have now become our neighbors, missionaries can help train the church in practical ways to share the good news in a diverse world. The missionary will know how to effectively communicate the gospel with the worldview of internationals from various backgrounds in mind. The lens through which we view life is not the same lens through which the rest of the world is looking, and we need to know how to communicate the gospel in a way those from other cultures and contexts will understand.
A faithful shepherding church will strike a healthy balance between not overwhelming the missionary yet still utilizing them in meaningful ways to influence the global reach of the church among her neighbors and throughout the nations. Avenues for reengaging in ministry ought to provide opportunities to strengthen pre-existing relationships, begin new relationships with the congregation, and also utilize their gifts as a member of their local body to equip and mobilize the saints for the work of the ministry from their Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
 Zach Bradley, Susan McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Andy Jansen, Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Coming “Home” and How Churches Can Help (Upstream Collective: CreateSpace, 2017), Kindle edition, ch. 7, “Welcoming Sent Ones.”
 David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken, and Michael V. Pollock, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, 3rd ed. (Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey, 2017), 278. Van Reken, and Pollock define “reverse culture shock” as “experiencing culture shock when returning to the passport country rather than a foreign land.”
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 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.