My experience with missionaries during my time as pastor was very positive. During my time “on the road,” I have been able to talk with many pastors, who have shared their experiences with missionaries. Again, the experience of most pastors is very positive — but every pastor has one or two stories of things that went very wrong with visiting missionaries. Below are pieces of advice culled not only from my own time as pastor but also from numerous pastors I have visited with and fellowshipped with. A missionary who takes these things to heart will avoid many potential problems as they visit churches.
It is unfortunate, but there are some pastors who have a very negative view of missionaries because of things that a few have done. Missionaries as a group are sometimes viewed and “moochinaries,” begging money church-to-church; as telemarketers who call ceaselessly and repeatedly, even using the pastor’s personal cell number and interrupting those rare family times; and even as carnal salesmen. This really is unfortunate, because it impacts the spiritual men and women who have given their lives in surrendering to do God’s work. The advice below will not only help the missionary who heeds it, but will help those who must follow in their tracks.
Also see, “Things Missionaries wish Pastors Understood.”
1. Don’t describe your work as being “on the front lines,” as it implies that our church is on the “back lines.” In truth, the pastor and many of the active members are very literally on the “front lines” every day, in ways you cannot imagine.
2. Be honest and reasonable about the amount of funds you are raising. Money does not grow on trees. People in the church make some incredible sacrifices to support missions. Many live very conservatively and give up things that they could have had so that they can help you do the Lord’s work — not so that you can live the middle class lifestyle.
3. If you are not living and laboring as a missionary stateside, what makes us think you will magically start doing it when you get to your field?
4. If you complain about the food or accommodations we have sacrificed to provide you with during your stay with us, we probably won’t be inclined to support your work. If you are not grateful for what the Lord provides today, how are you going to be grateful for what He provides you on the field?
5. We are contacted by 6-7 missionaries every week who are seeking meetings. We love missionaries, but cannot invite everyone who contacts us. It’s nothing personal. And, while calling 5-6 times doesn’t help you get that meeting, it may cut into the only family time I have this week.
6. All those pictures of your travels you are posting on facebook look a lot like vacation pictures. We understand that as you travel you need family time, exercise, and downtime, but when the preponderance of pictures you post are of leisure activities, it sends the wrong message about what you are doing and makes your mission a “harder sell.”
7. When we give you 15 minutes to present your mission, we mean 15 minutes, not 30 or 45.
8. Be careful when talking to our people about other preachers, churches, colleges, and ministries. I have to deal with the fallout after you leave.
9. You aren’t the only one living by faith.
10. The folks in the church are at many different levels of spiritual growth. Some are very mature. Others are newborn babes. Don’t put them down, talk down to them, or disrespect them. Don’t assume you are more spiritual than they.
11. We understand that you have financial needs. If you are still on initial “deputation” then probably MOST of your needs are financial. We understand. Be straightforward about it. Don’t veil your needs as “prayer requests.” Just tell us the needs. We love missionaries. We will help if we can.
12. Present your ministry, but talk more about God than yourself. Self-promotion may get you what you want in this world, but no matter what acrobatics of logic you do in your mind, it never benefits God’s work. It’s all about Him, not you. You’re just the tool He happened to grab. If you don’t understand that basic concept, you are not fit for the mission field.
13. Don’t complain about or dwell on the sacrifices you have made for the ministry. Ask any pastor the price his family has had to pay to serve the church. Ask the givers in the church what they sacrifice in order to support the church and missions.
14. God has called you to your field, so naturally you believe wholeheartedly that yours is the most worthy, most needy, and most valuable mission in the world. We get that. But please understand that God has called people to many different places of service, so we may not see things the way you do. It’s not because we don’t think your ministry is valuable or because we are not as spiritually discerning as you.
15. Don’t talk down other missionaries or other preachers. Maybe your opinion is right. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you show the grace of God, not the pride of the human heart.
16. We love missions, and people in our church sacrifice greatly to support God’s work — not so that you can have 21 kids. And, if you visit our church with all 21 of your children, don’t expect us to be able to comfortably lodge all of you.
17. If we are supporting you, please communicate with us from time to time so that we know what you are up to and know how to pray for you.
18. Don’t focus too much on money. We know that it is a necessary tool for doing the work to which you have been called, but when you get to the field you will discover that “prayer support” is much more valuable than financial support, and you will wish that you spent more time getting people to pray for you. Remember, you are in a spiritual, not fleshy, battle.
19. If you do not agree with the beliefs and standards of our church, please do not come asking for support. If you have a question or concern, ask before you come. We will be happy to graciously discuss it with you and help to determine if you are a good fit for our church.
20. If you show up unannounced at our church, that’s fine. Everyone is welcome, and we are glad you are in church on a day when you have no meetings scheduled. However, please do not promote your work to our people (including handing out prayer cards) without consulting with me (the pastor of this local church). I have to do “due diligence” with every missionary I put in front of this church, and I can’t do that if you conduct a “sneak attack” on the people of my church. It won’t get you a meeting or support, and may just cause some headaches for me. Remember, you are a minister of God, not a traveling salesperson.
Some great feedback has come in since publishing this article. Below are some additional points that should be included on this list.
21. Understand that every church has it’s disgruntled and/or immature members, as well as members who are out of step with Christ. Ours is no different. Some of these members may attempt to use you to subvert the pastor or the church. Beware when answering questions like, “What do you believe about … ?” or “What would you do if you were the pastor and … ?”