A Word to Pastors: Why We Must Develop Relationships with Missionaries

Pastors, I’m asking for the personal privilege to speak directly to you with this post (and, Southern Baptist pastors, be sure to read my note at the end). The title of this post states my single point: all of us simply must develop more relationships with missionaries. Here’s why:

  1. God has called us to reach the nations, and we’re more likely to do that when we know missionaries. I have never seen a strong missions-minded church without a senior leader whose heart beats for the nations. Ever. This burden often begins with knowing missionaries whose fire then becomes our fire. Pastor, your church will send out more missionaries when they know some because you introduce them. 
  2. With the opportunities we have today to meet missionaries via technology, we have no excuse not to connect our congregations with them. Long gone are the days when we could only meet missionaries who were spending time in the States on their furloughs. The issues of security for missionaries and their national partners are still real ones, but the options to meet them via technology while they’re on the field or furloughing elsewhere in the States are numerous.  
  3. Missionaries need the support of local churches. In fact, they want our support – but they shouldn’t have to be the initiators in every relationship. They lose precious time on the field when they have to seek out churches that ought to be seeking them first.
  4. Missions becomes real when we know names and faces of missionaries. An internet story or a journal article might be interesting, but nothing carries the weight of a live person who’s giving his or her life for people who need Jesus. A pastor who doesn’t know missionaries will produce a church with the same neglect. 
  5. Missionaries remind us what really matters. When I spend time with young families starting their missionary service or long-termers who’ve served for years, I’m reminded how silly some of our church and denominational squabbles are. The world needs the gospel.
  6. Missionaries need and want our prayer, and we’ll pray more for them if we know them. A generic prayer for God to “bless all the missionaries” is a start, but it won’t lead to lasting, heartfelt prayer. We really start praying when we can name a name, see a face, and lift up a need. 
  7. Missionaries can teach us how to reach our global neighbors. If you want to know how to reach your Muslim or Buddhist neighbor, talk to somebody who does it every day. That’s often a missionary.
  8. We’ll have more missionaries in the future if we know missionaries in the present. Many servants on the field today first learned about missions from a missionary visiting their church. They met a person, heard a story, saw a picture, or even ate something “weird” that they never forgot. We pastors must provide the same opportunities for the next generations in our churches. 
  9. The children in our church need missionary heroes. They’re going to develop their own heroes anyway (though, sadly, many of them will be fictional); if so, we at least need to introduce them to men, women, and other children who are serving God in unique and often dangerous places. If missionaries become their heroes, they’ll, too, consider following in their footsteps. 
  10. Pastors might just be called to the nations via a missionary. Every pastor must at least ask, “Does God want me to use my training and experience in an unreached, hard-to-get-to place around the world rather than in North America?” Knowing missionaries will force you to consider this question and will provide resources for wrestling through the decision.

So, what do we do? As pastors, we do whatever it takes to get to know missionaries and introduce them to our congregations.

Then, a word to my Southern Baptist pastor colleagues: it’s not accurate that our missions-supporting Cooperative Program keeps us too distanced from our missionaries. It’s not the CP that’s the problem; it’s (and I say this with all the love and respect I can possibly have) leaders who aren’t burdened enough to make those connections. Contact the International Mission Board or the North American Mission Board, and somebody will help you meet a missionary.  

What are your thoughts? 

7 Comments

  • Ted B says:

    Thanks for this post, Chuck. As a regular reader of your blog posts and a servant of the gospel in Central Asia for several years, I can speak on behalf of many of my co-laborers who would attest to the value of having good relationships with pastors – and I can assure you many of us would be delighted to get to know more in order to strengthen our partnerships for the sake of His name among the nations! Thanks for encouraging this.

  • Regan Miller says:

    Dr. Lawless, thank you for your article. Having been a pastor and now a “M” for 13 years, I completely agree with your points. The IMB should make a concentrated effort to educate pastors and churches about how they can “care for” missionaries and their families, especially those that come out of their churches.

  • Bob Allen says:

    As an emeritus missionary (30 years with the IMB, SBC, early retirement at the end of 2015), let me give my perspective on the church-missionary connection. You’re right — the CP doesn’t make us disconnected but we, both missionaries and churches, use the CP as an excuse to become complacent and lazy. Almost always, that’s an unconscious excuse. Let me speak just for me — I tended to take the support of Southern Baptists for granted and didn’t expend the energy needed to stay as connected as I should have. I was very busy on the field and the support was going to come. Our church (I’m now one of the Pastors of our stateside church) just automatically sends a CP check to the state convention and Lottie Moon Offering contributions to the IMB with little thought about who is supported by those gifts and even less talk about it to the church.

    Recently, I received an e-mail from a colleague who is still oversees. He was asking how in the world he can catch and keep the attention of local SB churches. By the same token, when I look in our church’s prayer room at the missionary newsletter, they are almost all 4+ years old! (Yes, I know “newsletters” are a bit old fashioned and that there are better ways to engage churches — I’m using that merely as an example.)

    Both churches and missionaries must see the church-missionary connection as vital. Missions is the task of the church. Missionaries come out of local churches. We need to be encouraging each other. Some might see my admission above as a reason to do away with cooperative support and move to a fund-raising model. Please, “No!” Southern Baptists have, historically, had the strongest and largest missionary force among non-Catholic denominations precisely because of our cooperative support. However, both churches and missionaries **MUST** put forth the effort to make the personal connections in order to encourage one another, to pray for one another, and to continue having a strong and large front-line missionary force.

    Thank you for this article and the one you wrote more recently, “A Word to Missionaries: Connect to Local Churches” (see the pingback for the link).

    • Bob Allen says:

      I want to add to my comment above. It is also very true that many churches have tried to establish connections with field missionaries with little or no response. By the same token, many missionaries have tried to develop relationships with local churches with little or no response. It’s a complex issue

  • Tommy Larner says:

    Thank you very much for your article. My wife and I served through the IMB for 31 1/2 years and now I am an Associational Director of Missions. Our link with local churches was key in our missionary service. We still maintain many of those relationships.

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