Last week when I was shopping at Costco, I picked up a pack of almonds. Healthy people say that we should buy raw and unsalted almonds, so I picked up the biggest bag of nuts I could find. There was something interesting on the nutrition label; this bag of nuts had a note of caution: “Warning: Contains Nuts.” Seemed to be quite obvious to me, but apparently, someone thought it necessary to warn people that this bag of nuts contained… nuts.
Over the last few years, the Missionary Care Team at Trinity Church in Redlands, CA has been conducting research on the topic of missionary care. We have read books together, attended conferences together, met with sending agency representatives and interviewed missionaries to get a broader perspective on the current thinking and best practices in this vital role of the Great Commission. One of the things we noticed was that the Church was missing in many parts of the conversation. Most of the attention was given to equipping member care professionals within the sending agency, while the church was taking on an ancillary role. (Even considering the term “Member Care” leaves the local church out of the discussion. We had to use the word “Missionary Care” in our book since member care means something completely different in the context of the local church).
Some of our inquiries and discussions with sending agencies were met with skepticism and uncertainty. Apparently, over the years, the church has developed some sloppy habits, including the outsourcing of the Great Commission to missionaries and their agencies. As we place the monthly check on autopilot and hang their photo on the foyer wall, we go about our business of building the local church and leave the global church to the “professionals.” Often, the only time the church breaks the silence is when something goes wrong. When a missionary has failed to meet the standard of perfection (that is naïvely ascribed to them by the church) then church leaders step in with demands and sometimes even withdrawal of support.
So why would sending agencies even consider letting the church become more involved in the care of missionaries when there are so many stories like this happening all the time? When missionary funding is the bargaining chip and over-reaction is the method of operation, then what is the benefit of involving the church?
Our hope, through Mind the Gaps, is to provide training, initiate dialogue, and offer a realistic understanding of the roles that the church and agency can play. Working together to support our missionaries on the field in a pro-active and thoughtful way, can create a system of care that reduces burnout and attrition.
My note of caution for anyone reading this – “Warning: the church is full of sinners, hypocrites, and other imperfect people (self included)”. As a Pastor, serving in a local church since 1996, I must confess with honest disclosure, that we really should have a warning sign like they do on the bag of nuts. With this in mind, we humbly submit ourselves to working cooperatively with missionaries and their agencies. And we challenge other churches to join us on this journey, as we Mind the Gaps of care together.