I pastored for over twelve years before going “on the road” to raise support for our new church planting project. As a pastor, my experience with missionaries has been overwhelmingly positive, and as a “missionary,” my experience with pastors and churches has been 100% positive. I have not had a bad church visit, yet.
However, as I talk with and fellowship with other missionaries, there are some common (and some not-so-common) things that many wish they could communicate to pastors.
Most missionaries are spiritual, surrendered people who’s sole purpose is to serve and glorify God. They will not bring up these things, simply because they are gracious people and are very grateful for what God is doing for them through the pastor and the church.
Also see, “20 Things Pastors Wish Missionaries Understood“.
1. We understand the need for missionary screening forms so that your church can know who it is supporting with its hard-earned financial resources. We support that and are happy to complete those forms. However, when those screening forms exceed ten pages and/or ask questions like, “what does your wife wear to bed,” please be aware that you may lose the opportunity to support many worthy works which God would have otherwise desired for you to be a part of.. Please also be aware that missionaries who are on the road full time do not have regular access to printers to print an application, so it would be helpful if you were able to accept these questionnaires via e-mail. We don’t mind re-typing the questions into the e-mail.
2. Most of us are happy to visit your church even if you are not currently looking to take on new missionaries. We look at “deputation” as a ministry in and of itself, and strive to be a blessing, doing the work of God where ever we are. We also understand that “prayer support” is more valuable than financial support. So, if you would like us to come by and preach or be at your missions conference or camp meeting, please ask! We enjoy preaching, serving God, and blessing God’s people.
3. Our kids are pretty much just like those of your church. They are kids and have problems, and we are likely very aware of those problems. Please be gracious when they misbehave, and please don’t be quick to blame the “missionary kid” when something goes wrong. Pastors certainly know what it is like to live in a fish bowl, with all eyes on you and your family. Missionaries live a similar life, with everybody at every church watching them and critiquing them.
4. We go into 2-4 new churches every week, and are nervous each time we visit a new place. There are very good churches, and a few bad eggs out there. Because of what we do, we have to make our families vulnerable to those “bad eggs” and some of us have been burned badly. Your church is one of the good ones, but we don’t know that until we get there. Your friendliness and graciousness is so very much appreciated and helps put us at ease, and we praise God for it and you when we go to Him in prayer.
5. Thank you for being gracious to our children. They have been uprooted from their home, church, and friends. They sometimes spend 30-40 hours a week riding in the back seat of a car. They sleep in motel rooms, prophets chambers, dormitories, church members’ homes, campgrounds (because they are cheaper than motels), and rest areas, and rarely in the same spot more than 2-3 nights. Some left paying work in order to follow their parents. Most of the new friends they make while on the road, they will never see again. When you are gracious to them, speak kindly to them, do something special for them, or give them a gift of some kind, it warms our hearts more than you can imagine.
6. If you say you are going to support us, we believe you and rejoice. However, many of us have learned through experience that some preachers who say they will support a missionary – especially when voiced in front of a crowd at a conference or camp meeting – never send the promised support. This creates a problem for us, since we took you at your word.
7. If you support us, we thank you and rejoice. II Corinthians 9:10-15 is still in the Book, and it works! Please try to be consistent in sending support. We have to plan our ministry expenses based upon promises of support, and when support comes in late or skips a month, it often causes a problem. Yet, we will never complain about it or contact you about it, because we don’t take any support for granted and rejoice no matter what comes in.
8. We try to be “on top” every time we drive in to a new church, understanding that every church visit is like a job interview and first impressions are very important. Please just be aware that, when you see us come in to the parking lot, we may have just driven all night long from the last church in order to arrive on time. We may be tired and worn out. We may have just spilled coffee down our shirt. The family may not have eaten yet so the kids are grumpy. We don’t complain, because this is what God has called us to do and our eyes are not on the present situation but on the work God has in store for us. Your grace is very much appreciated, and never taken for granted.
9. Our car is our home. We spend more time sitting in it than we do sitting in church. Everything we have with us – sometimes everything we have in the world – is in our car. Some of us often sleep in it. Clothing, charging cables, food, utensils, and much more need to be kept easily accessible. We strive to keep it as neat as possible, but we do live out of it and are often hurrying from one place to another, so if it is not up to your usual standards, your grace is appreciated and we are thankful for it.
10. We live “on the road.” If you can recommend local places we can do laundry, find a quiet spot to to home school our kids, get Internet access, print out a few pages, wash and/or vacuum the car, use a sewing machine, pick up a few groceries or supplies, we would be grateful.
11. We don’t get to go home or have family time between meetings. We are almost “always on” from early in the morning until late at night, whether we are in meetings or traveling between meetings. Keep this in mind as you schedule our time for us during our visit at your church or meeting. Consider giving us downtime and even recommending places we can go and activities we can do as a family. Sometimes, just having a few hours alone, outside of the car, is the greatest luxury.
12. We spend most of our time sitting in church, sitting in the car, or sitting in the fellowship hall. The food served to us at churches and camp meetings is some of the best and richest food on God’s green earth. Between meetings, we are eating out of cans and eating off of fast-food dollar menus. As a result, many of us have a very difficult struggle with weight. We will not be offended (in fact, we would be very grateful) if you can recommend local places we can go for some exercise. Also, consider having salad available at your church dinners.
13. Don’t be embarrassed if your church is unable to provide the amount support you would like to provide. We understand that. We have been actively involved in our own church and missions giving for years, so we know what it is like. We rejoice at even $10 per month. If no monthly support is possible, consider taking a love offering 2-3 times a year and sending whatever it might be. And, if no financial support is possible, we rejoice greatly over prayer support.
14. My wife is a lady but is being asked to live like a gypsy. She has none of her precious things around her, except her family. She lives out of a car and cares for her family within that car. She doesn’t know when she will be able to do laundry again or how she will find the money to do it. She feels like her kids look like a bunch of hobos when they get out of the car at a church, and she feels that she looks (and lives) like a homeless woman. Her (and her family’s) dress clothes are getting prematurely worn out because they are worn almost every day of the week, sometimes for hours at a time. And there is no money to replace them. Please be aware of the stress and conditions she is living with, and understand when she might seem distant or unsocial. It’s not arrogance – it’s a feeling of inadequacy.
15. Every love gift is a tremendous blessing and much appreciated. If you would like to be an even greater blessing, consider giving part of it in cash. A check will take 1-3 days to clear our bank, even when using mobile deposit through our cell phone. We won’t tell you, but we may have put our last money into the gas tank to get to your church. Some cash on hand can be a great blessing.
16. We understand that no support is “forever,” and sometimes it is necessary due to circumstances to reduce or drop support. The economy and loss of members to entertainment-oriented churches have forced many faithful churches to make tough financial decisions. We also understand that some churches drop all their missionaries every 2-3 years in order to bring in some fresh faces for the congregation. We understand, and we are in favor of anything that is good and helps the local church. Please try to give us a little warning, when possible, if support will be reduced or dropped. It can be very discouraging to lose support from 3-4 churches in one month, with no communication or explanation. We need to budget ministry expenses very closely and unexpected income drops can wreak havoc, and most of us can’t just go out and get a part time job to cover the lose of income.
17. Thank you for being gracious to us when we are not “on top of our game.” We experience extreme income volatility, live out of a car, have extraordinary expenses, prematurely wear out our clothes and vehicles, are away from friends and family for extended periods of time – plus have all the other challenges that a typical family has. We try hard to stay on top and positive but when we are not, we sure appreciate your grace, understanding, and friendship.
18. Most rumors are false. If you hear a rumor or story about us, please call and we will be more than happy to talk to you about it. Rumors that get repeated and passed from preacher to preacher can kill God’s work and certainly displease our Lord. Call us about it. We’ll do the same when a preacher tells us some story about you.
19. We are grateful for any accommodations you can offer, since we do not have the income to pay for a motel night. We are even happy with dormitory-style housing. If possible, could you arrange for our family to stay together? Sending the ladies off to a ladies dorm and the guys off to a men’s dorm creates logistical problems for the parents and emotional problems for the kids. Still, if that is the only way to do it, then we are grateful for the accommodations! When designing or remodeling your dorms, could the showers be set up to allow guests to shower in modesty rather than having glass doors or curtains that open up into a public area? We live in a nation and age of great sexual immorality, and sexual deviants are attracted to churches and church events – this is not our grandfather’s society. We don’t want to feed their lusts.
20. It’s hard to introduce my family and share our testimony, life, calling, burden, and work in 15 minutes. If that’s all the time there is, we will make the absolute best of it, but it may not be a fair presentation of what God has called us to do. It will be more of a TV advertisement than a description of what God is doing in and through our lives. We are happy with whatever parameters you give us and we will make it work, just be aware that it may not be enough for the congregation to understand and evaluate us and the ministry God has given us.
21. Finally, don’t be embarrassed by any accommodations you offer us. That prophet’s chamber which you think is too small and needing renovation, well to us it is wonderful. It’s so much better than sleeping in the car at a rest area, like we did last night. That meal you offer us, which you think is too meager or boring, to us it is just perfect. It is so much better than the fast-food dollar menu. So you can’t offer a big love offering? That’s fine – do what you can, and the Lord will always take care of us. That old washing machine and dryer, well they are worth their weight in gold to us. The smallest things you do can feel like the greatest luxuries to us. Thank you! We are grateful for you and everything you do.