This is a guest post by Scott Fulks. He and his family are headed to Spain in the next month, so I asked him to share some thoughts on the deputation process.
With display curios and prayer cards in tow, hundreds of missionary families make the trek to their next destination each and every week. Upon arrival the car is parked, the kids and bags are unloaded and the front door of the church is opened. What is in store for them on this Missions Sunday? The answer rests squarely on the condition and preparation of the church.
Our family of four just finished pre-field ministry. For the past 19 months, we have traveled to scores of churches and were often immensely encouraged and, at times, deeply discouraged. In this two-part series, I seek to assist churches by laying out a number of incomplete but useful ways through which a congregation can first, encourage, and then, discourage, visiting missionaries.
1. Be a church led by a number of men in godly leadership
Without a doubt, the healthiest, most vibrant and effective churches across the United States are those led–officially or unofficially–by an expanding group of godly men. Where men are absent or passive, churches are lifeless and void of vision. Where few male leaders are present, the product is shallow and void of needed assessment. A missionary is immensely thankful to attend services which a number of leaders have dedicated their efforts to preside over a God-honoring and Christ-exalting service. To observe several men who are actively serving, discipling others and promoting the spread of Jesus’ fame is both exciting and stimulating to any missionary.
2. Be a church who contemplates the details
It is a pleasure to open the front door of the church and be welcomed with a genuine smile, be greeted by one’s name, and have a display table prepared for use. It is a breath of fresh air when a church has been encouraged for weeks to visit the missionary’s website. A church who has become familiar with our location of service, our sending church and our teammates is exceptional but certainly revitalizing to those of us who must repeat these mundane facts to countless inquirers. These small but significant tokens of care put your guests at ease and make them feel at home.
3. Be a church where grace is primary
One Sunday afternoon, I sat across from a pastor in his living room when he asked me the best question I ever had to answer. He looked me in the eye and asked with sincerity, “What is the gospel?” As the only one to have asked me this question throughout the entirety of our recent travels, it was refreshing, unassuming, and penetrating. Whereas many missionaries experience those who are ready to debate divisive points of theology, this question remembered that which is of first importance [1 Cor 15:3].
4. Be a church who is genuine with us
As a missionary, we perceive ourselves as fish-out-of-water since we have to travel around the country and miss our own church’s gatherings. We appreciate immensely those who see us as friends, not strangers and potential partners, not passers-by. We welcome those who see our glaring weaknesses and graciously point us to Christ. We are deeply touched when those we visit recognize our less-than-perfect life situation. Often one touch of care is a means of sharing with us that you recognize our humanness. We remember well those who filled up our gas tank, provided a hotel for a change, or carried in our display bags; these were sentiments from genuine friends.
5. Be a church who is upfront about potential support
Financial support is often the elephant in the room which both the church and the missionary know is present. Churches can alleviate this burdensome situation – and thereby encourage their guests – by informing the prospective missionaries of the feasibility of financial partnership. If consideration is possible, give them a reasonable expectation of the process which is to follow – don’t leave it vague or awkward for the missionary. If the answer is no, it will not hurt our feelings, so please tell us. It is better to know that support is not reasonably possible than to be led along to the contrary only to great disappointment later.
How does your church reach out to missionaries on deputation?