It is impossible for any local church to carry out the Great Commission without missionaries.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.—Matthew 28:19–20
Missionaries, then, are our co-laborers in the harvest. Just as we strive to be a blessing to those we physically labor alongside, we should look for ways to be a blessing to the missionaries we are privileged to support and send.
How can we be a blessing to missionaries? Here are ten suggestions:
1. Keep their names in front of your church family. Post the missionary prayer letters in an accessible place. Feature a “missionary of the week” in your prayer bulletin. We’ve also added a “missionary of the week” slide to our pre-service screens for our midweek service.
2. Read their letters, and respond to their needs. Missionaries write and send their letters to be read! So read them, and pray for the missionaries as you read. And when they are facing a large financial special need, do what you can to respond as a church.
3. Don’t ever miss a month of support. Ever. For any reason. Unless you are okay with randomly not being paid and having no way to know when it will happen or any means to make up the difference.
4. Send anniversary and/or birthday gifts. When you can, send gifts to the family on anniversaries or birthdays.
5. Send updates from your church. Don’t send junk all the time (they do not need your weekly bulletin), but periodically send them something to let them know what’s going on at your church.
6. Visit them on the field, and bring necessary supplies for them. This is especially meaningful when you are the missionary’s sending pastor. Visiting your missionaries on the field gives you a realistic glimpse into their daily labors and is a tremendous encouragement for them. Before you go, ask them what supplies—and even personal items they miss—they would like you to bring from the States. If possible, allow your church family to participate in sending supplies, and leave as much room in your luggage as possible to take everything you can with you.
7. Refrain from sending a ministry questionnaire to missionaries on the field if at all possible. It’s much better to ask the tough questions before you start supporting a missionary. If you feel there is a change of philosophy that has taken place on the field that concerns you, you might address it with their home pastor before burdening them on the field. Often these random questionnaire letters will come to a missionary serving in a lonely part of Africa and make the missionary feel his integrity is being questioned. It is always fine to err on the side of grace. Obviously, if there is a blatant moral sin or theological error, they need to be dropped, but that should be in cooperation with their home church anyway; so always start there. Even questionnaires sent from a church to all their missionaries can be discouraging and defeating to a faithful missionary laboring in a lonely, difficult place. Personal correspondence is great. Random questionnaires should be avoided.
8. Use technology to shorten the distance between your church family and the missionaries you support. Call a missionary family on Skype during a church service or missions conference to let them know of your love and prayers and to ask for specific prayer needs.
9. Make it easy for the missionary family to re-enter the States when they come back for furlough. Give them time and space to adjust and to help their children adjust to life in the States. One of the purposes of furlough is to report to supporting churches. Another purpose is renewal. Try to contribute to both purposes being accomplished.
10. Host a yearly Missions Conference that challenges the church family and encourages the missionary. And encourage your church family to get to know missionaries who come through to present the burden for their fields. (In recent years, we have begun our Missions Conference on Saturday evening with a service specifically centered around getting to know the visiting missionary families.) Use Missions Conference to develop a relationship that reaches beyond financial support to the level of faithful prayer support that we are far more likely to give to those we actually know.
The story is told that when William Carey first prepared to go to India, he was at a meeting with would-be supporting pastors. One pastor suggested that the field of India was so dark, so unknown that the mission there seemed like men going into a deep, unexplored mine. “I will go down,” Carey responded, “if you will hold the rope.”
Encouraging a missionary is our opportunity to “hold the rope” for someone serving the Lord in the midst of spiritual darkness. May we be faithful to hold it firmly and faithfully!