Confession #76: What Do Churches Expect From Missionaries? (Guest Post from a Preacher)
I’m excited today to welcome Jimmy Hinton to my blog. Jimmy is one (of many) brothers to my good friend Stephanie and I was blessed with the opportunity to serve with him a few years ago in Haiti. Before the holidays I posed him the question: As a preacher, what do you believe supporting churches expect from the missionaries they support? Here is what he had to say.
There have been two climactic, life changing, “aha” moments for me—one was in my marriage and the other was in my ministry. After months of frustrations, passive aggressive behavior (on my part), and lots of hurt feelings, I finally asked my wife, “What do you expect from me?” It was a question she had been waiting for and one that would pave the way for a deeper, more meaningful marriage. We both wrote down what our expectations were of each other. It was amazing, and amazingly simple! I’ve kept her list in my wallet and have pulled it out many times over the past few years. It was a simple exercise, and one that has reshaped the way I treat her. It has undoubtedly changed our marriage for the good!
The other moment came when, after months of frustration (again!), I began looking for something to help me in my ministry. A part of me felt like I was failing the Lord’s church, and another part of me felt that the church was failing God. Then I discovered Thom Rainer’s book High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret For Keeping People In Your Church. The book has literally changed the way I do ministry. Since reading it a little over a year ago, we have appointed elders and deacons for the first time in the church’s 104 year history and are doing some amazing evangelistic ministries. The church is healthy, has a clear vision, and is reaching the lost in our community.
Expectations. What do churches expect from the missionaries they support? Do they even have an interest in missions, or are they so inward-focused that reaching the lost is secondary? If this is the case, I urge churches to find a meaningful ministry to support and get involved with. There is an epidemic of dying churches in the US due to inward-focused ministries that neglect the lost.
I have several friends who are missionaries in foreign lands, and also have friends who are serving at congregations who are supporting missionaries. My congregation also supports missionaries living abroad. I’ve seen both missionaries and churches enter into the “marriage” partnership but quickly find themselves at an impasse. It’s important for both churches and missionaries to make their expectations known in order to avoid breakdowns in communications and strained relationships. What are some important expectations/things that can enhance the church/missionary relationship?
Face to Face Contact—We get lots of letters in the mail requesting that we support people going into the mission field. To be honest, letters are expensive to mail out and have minimal effect. They get lost, de-prioritized, and classified as spam. And they are impersonal. Updates from active missionaries churches are sponsoring should come monthly but missionaries should request a Skype or FaceTime with the supporting congregations. This makes your mission work meaningful and lets the entire congregation know that the missionaries they support are more than just a blurb in their church bulletin. I once surprised our congregation by Skype-ing in our missionaries during a sermon. We spoke with the family, sung a hymn with them, and prayed with them. It had a huge impact on the church and was a major encouragement to the missionary family. They still talk about that experience today.
Share Your Discouraging Times—Too many missionaries, possibly because churches have put “performance pressure” on them, have felt the need to only share the good things (progress) going on out in the field. The reality is that missionaries sacrifice a lot. They get lonely. They are working long hours in a stressful environment away from home. They get discouraged. They get depressed. Healthy churches want to hear about those times, too, so that we can pray with you and encourage you and your families.
Invite—Invite supporting congregations to come out into the field with you. We’ve had invitations from our missionaries in Ecuador and, though we have not been able to send some from the congregation yet, it is nice that they want us to come visit them, see what they are doing, and help them on a short-term mission trip. One of my wife’s expectations is for us to spend meaningful time together. The same is true for the church-missionary relationship. I have yet to see genuine relationships be sustained and nurtured through letter-only interaction. We got an invitation to go to Haiti in 2012 and had several from our church go for a week. Being among missionaries (the Kittrells) gave me a whole new perspective on what they actually do. It was incredible, encouraging, and helps us keep focused on the church worldwide. Ironically, I met Hunter’s parents in 2011 through a short-term domestic mission trip we planned to Virginia for tornado clean up. I met Hunter and Jillian one year later when we went to Haiti, though my sister and her husband were already friends with them. Our congregation sent another team to Haiti in 2013 and are looking for more ways to get involved overseas. My dream, of course, is to take young people along and let them witness mission work so that we can train future missionaries!
Serve Others and Reach the Lost—I’ve seen a lot of missionary updates where they mostly tell stories of family trips or extracurricular activities that the team does together. While these things are important, so is knowing that you are not masquerading burnout with family barbecues. If the ability to serve others or reach the lost is being hindered by burnout, ask your supporting congregation for a break. Missionaries are faced with so many tough things (new culture, new language, raising kids in a foreign culture, loneliness, isolation, lack of resources, etc.) that to deny them rest is a sin. Likewise, missionaries need to specifically ask for rest when it is needed.
Cast a Clear Vision—Some people are good at raising financial support but soon find sponsoring churches cutting funding out from under them. There can be a host of reasons for churches cutting funding, but one reason is that churches feel like they don’t know what the vision is for the ministry they support. Helen Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight with no vision.” Churches who are vested in your vision will be vested financially, if funds are available.
These expectations are not exhaustive, but hopefully they can enhance relationships between sponsoring churches and the ministries they support. I travel a lot and know dozens of ministers in the eastern US. I can’t tell you how many ministers express frustration because the topics in their churches revolve around funding building projects and managing savings accounts. When I ask how much of their budget is designated for missions, several tell me that 0%-5% goes to local or overseas mission work. This has got to change. Churches need to seek meaningful ministries to support and be involved with. I urge churches to invite missionaries into their churches to speak and cast a vision for the church, much like Paul and the other missionaries did. One thing that we have found is that getting involved with foreign and domestic missions has driven our congregation to be more involved in local missions within our town.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32 ESV).
Jimmy is a graduate of Harding University’s School of Religion and is the minister of Somerset church of Christ in Pennsylvania. For more of his writing, you can check him out HERE.