When Churches Receive Missionaries

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the need for churches to take responsibility (rather than support) for the missionaries they send out. I received the following reply on Twitter.

This post is a partial response to this question.

My starting point is that if someone comes to work for a church, in whatever capacity, they are subject to the direction and discipline of that church. Whether you are a pastor, a youth worker, a caretaker or a missionary from another country, you should do whatever it is that the church gives you to do (with reference to appropriate employment legislation and norms).

However, when a missionary who is supported by a fellowship in another part of the world comes to a church, things get slightly more complex. Let me give an extreme example. I am aware of someone who was sent by their home church to a congregation in the UK to work as an evangelist and Bible teacher. However, the British church were not prepared to give them any teaching responsibilities and basically set him to cleaning the building. While I am fully in agreement with an unrelated post by Stephen Kneale which insists that anyone who is in ministry needs to literally get their hands dirty, there is clearly something wrong here. The people who have commissioned the missionary and who are paying for them to do whatever it is they are doing, need to have some voice in the process.

There are two extremes that have to be avoided; the sending (paying) church must not dominate things to the extent that they are imposing their will and their programme on the receiving church. Equally, the receiving church must not totally ignore the wishes of the sending church. This sort of thing can only be worked out by a free and frank dialogue and by writing up some sort of agreement between the parties involved. This means that the two churches and the missionary all need to have a clear understanding of their roles and the expectations that are placed upon them. In some circumstances, it may be necessary to have some sort of missionary agency or other party involved in the agreement, too. However, things are already complex enough with three parties involved (two churches and a missionary) adding a fourth makes things very difficult.

The idea of drawing up an agreement may seem a little heavy handed. Indeed, if everything goes well, something like this is hardly needed – but things don’t always go well. Sometimes relationships breakdown, sometimes there are genuine misunderstandings that need to be cleared up and some people (pastors and missionaries) just don’t know how to work with others. In these sorts of situations, it really helps to have a clearly understood way to address the issue in place. Developing a structure to deal with a crisis in the middle of the crisis is never a good way to work. I wrote about the need for contingency measures to be in place in missionary policies here.

Though they were not written for this specific context, the Global Connections Guidelines for Church to Church Partnerships are a good starting point for drawing up agreements between churches.

Some thoughts in summary.

  • The receiving church should work with the sending church to establish a working relationship which sets out what the missionary is going to do and what will happen if something goes wrong.
  • The receiving church should be responsible for day to day management and the continual training and development of the missionary. This would normally include things like annual reviews, developing job descriptions and the rest.
  • The receiving church should keep the sending church informed of how things are going.
  • The receiving church should allow the missionary to return home from time to time for home leave or “furlough”.
  • It is not acceptable for the sending church or the missionary to pursue their own agenda, using the receiving church as a base for this.
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