Expectations: What Do Missionaries and Churches Say to Each Other?

A missionary and their sending church need a strong family bond, and yet, like a family, can suffer from misunderstood needs and expectations. Each needs to communicate expectations and serve their partner well. Even a supporting church should clarify its expectations and might need to assume a larger role. If your church is welcoming a missionary for home assignment (HA) or sending a new worker, be open about your expectations. Circulate your commitments. Perhaps these examples will help.

Topic

MISSIONARY EXPECTATION

CHURCH EXPECTATION

Pastoral care

Even though far away, I need my sending church to continue to be my spiritual home, providing nurture and accountability. Please continue to pastor me.

We recognize our responsibility to be your spiritual shepherds. Spiritual care in a local church and from your agency does not replace our role. Please seek and respect our leadership in your life and ministry.

Missionary care

Please send someone to the field to provide spiritual care and assess how well I am flourishing as a person, a family, and a cross-cultural worker. Please do this at least every two years.

We embrace our role as care givers and want to strengthen our care for you. We will send a pastor (and wife), others with pastoral gifts, and, if needed, a professional counselor to assist you. Please be open about your needs so that we can serve you well.

Ministry assessment

Tell me how you assess the value and success of my ministry. While holding me accountable, please know I am also accountable to my agency and local leaders who have cross-cultural expertise and proximity to the work. Balancing expectations is challenging. I need to know that to admit a weakness or failure will not jeopardize our relationship or my support.

Please complete a simple report at least every six months. Your answers shape how we pray and partner with you. Admitting weaknesses or failures will not affect our relationship or support unless a moral issue is involved. We are God’s stewards of your efforts and our resources and seek to ensure all is done well. We depend on your agency and local leaders to help set goals; we will look at how you work to achieve those goals.

Prayer

I need your friendship and financial support, yet even more need your passionate intercession. Please help people to regularly pray to tear down spiritual strongholds and transform people and communities. I need to hear regularly you are praying—even hear your prayer through the Internet if possible.

We want to pray more for you and your work. We need regular, specific prayer requests and regular reports about what God has done through our prayers. Help us to know how to intercede in what you are doing and wrestling with now.

Communication

I need to regularly hear from you, my church family. Sometimes this will be form letters, but will you write a personal note or call me at least monthly? It’s hard to remember what you don’t know and awkward to “blow my own horn.” Could you help capture and tell my story?

We need consistent, quality communication from you. At least monthly, email us prayer requests for next month and an update on how God answered our prayers about last month. Quarterly we need a longer update or a simple video.

Information and decisions

Inform me of changes in our church—don’t assume someone has told me! I need to know there is a shift in theology or policy, a change of key staff leaders, missions-team changes, and changes in your expectations of me. Annually please resend a list of missions team members, contact info for my liaison, and your expectations of me. Each year let me know how you think I’m doing at serving for and with you.

Our church is committed to you and the purpose for which we sent you. Help us to become a better sending church. Be honest about how we communicate and what we could do to better support and encourage you. Please involve us early if you consider making a major change in your ministry focus, field assignment, or agency relationship. Because we send you and care deeply, we want to pray with you and have a voice in its outcome.

Advocate team

Thank you for recognizing the need for me to have an advocate team—people dedicated to representing me to our church and our church to me. Please train my advocate team in their role and encourage and support them in functioning well.

We believe an advocate team is essential and ask you to recruit a leader and at least four or five members who care deeply about you and your ministry. Please maintain contact with them and take responsibility to aid their work as your representatives.

Home assignment

Please let me know at least six months before my home assignment how much time, and any specific dates, you want me to spend with the church. Please talk to me about my housing needs. Sometimes we need privacy and our routine, so staying with a host family, even a parent, adds stress. Will you help fund a place to stay? Usually I must continue to pay for housing on the field and do not have funds to cover a rental near my sending church.

Please share your plans at least six months before you return for home assignment. Because healthy relationships require time, we expect you to spend X% of your time with us. We will work with you to find and fund a housing option and best use your time here.

Short-term teams and individuals

I am excited about people from my sending church coming to help, but please carefully screen participants and preparve them well before they arrive. Please respect my guidelines regarding team ministry, size, and timing. Hosting people takes a lot of time, and it’s a lot of effort to navigate the cultural gaps between people here and the church’s team. I want this to be a win for everyone.

We believe that involving our people and their gifts with you on the field benefits all of us. Please don’t just host a team because you think it is expected. We want to send only those who can contribute well and with particular gifts or expertise. We can’t meet every need, but please let us know needs and we will try to meet some of them.

Invest in improvement

Please invest in learning opportunities to increase my ministry skills and ability to thrive in this cross-cultural setting. Training conferences and courses are costly and usually are not funded from my support. Despite efforts to stay updated, I feel reverse culture shock when I come home from the field and am unprepared for the changes in my church. My first reaction may be criticism. Help me to understand societal and church changes.

Please invest time and energy to see our church grow in its global vision and cross-cultural ministry passion and skills. Missionaries used to assume the pastor and missions leaders could maintain global passion here. Today we need you to take an active role here, mostly one-on-one interaction. It isn’t enough to connect with those already committed to missions and your work. Help our church build a greater passion for missions.

Financial support

The constant challenge to maintain enough financial support is emotionally draining. Please ask me about financial needs; it’s awkward for me to bring it up. Assigning a missions team member to help and encourage me finances and support-raising would be great.

Help us understand what your support package covers and doesn’t. If you have major, unfunded expenses such as a vehicle or children’s education, please tell us in advance. If you have other sources of income, such as a part-time job or Social Security benefits, talk to us about how these affect your financial situation.

Burnout

Most missionaries return on home assignment with some burnout. It is difficult to hit the ground running at home and to be unrelentingly optimistic about my time on the field. Help me to balance rest/renewal time and ministry time. Help me to get counselling and cover the cost, if necessary.

Talk to us honestly about your spiritual and emotional state, especially as you prepare for home assignment. If we believe you need professional help, please cooperate with us. It’s not a mark of failure, even if some extended time at home is needed to return to a state of wellbeing.

Cross-cultural ministry at home

It would be encouraging to see people in my home church stretching outside their comfort zone to reach cross-cultural neighbours. Let’s talk about ways I can help you reach out to peoples in your community who have similar cultures as those I serve on the field.

We would like to benefit from your expertise in reaching people from different backgrounds. Would you invest some time to help us strategize, train for, and implement cross-cultural relationships here?

Third-culture kids and older parents

Please care about my children. There’s nothing more important and I often battle guilt for taking them away from home and extended family. Support my choice of whatever education option seems best for them. Ask me how you could help my kids to enjoy home assignment (in a place they don’t consider “home”).

We want to consider your entire family’s needs. It’s easy for our congregation to assume how your children feel on the field and with us. Help us know what we can do to help them flourish. We also want to help you care for your parents, especially if they are older and live in our area. Let’s discuss how we can serve you by serving them.

Special projects

I envision projects that could have major impact on my ministry, yet they can’t be funded through my support income. Could you consider a major gift to assist what I believe God wants to do here?

Giving patterns are changing with younger generations, who are more eager to give to a special project than to make a monthly donation to a general or missions fund. Help us to create attractive ways for younger generations to support you, especially through a project.

Don’t judge too quickly

If I decide to leave the field, please don’t make me feel like a failure or hint I’ve abandoned God’s call. You don’t know what it’s like until you have walked in my shoes. Please extend grace and help the congregation to do so. Help me and my family make a difficult transition.

If our church determines that we can no longer support you because of a change in our ministry focus, do not judge us doing what we believe God is calling us to embrace. We will try not to make a sudden support cut that doesn’t allow time for you to raise the lost finances elsewhere.

This article is shortened, adapted and reprinted with permission of Catalyst Services 2019. Ken Zacharias, Director of Global Outreach, encouraged its publication.

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