Member care is the emotional, mental and spiritual support a missionary receives from their church and sending organization throughout the entire missionary journey.
When done well, member care contributes to overall missionary success. But a lack of good member care can have detrimental effects on missionaries and their ministries.
When pursuing mission work — whether through sending or serving — it is important to prioritize member care before, during and after time spent on the field.
TEAM missions coach Stephanie Maher gained a passion for good member care while growing up in a military family and spending three years as a missionary herself. She earned her master’s in Christian formation and soul care and now works with churches as they develop and implement plans to support their missionaries. She also provides coaching for missionaries at the beginning of their journeys.
Recently, I sat down with Stephanie to hear her insights on how missionaries and those sending them can pursue healthy member care from start to finish.
What is member care?
Stephanie gives a simple definition: “[Member care] is when a missionary feels buoyed and supported on all sides.” Just as a buoy stays afloat in the water, so good member care should help keep missionaries afloat.
The key to good member care is trust. “The organization and the church are working together on behalf of the missionary and the ministry God has given them,” Stephanie says. “It is very, very important for there to be good communication and a strong relational foundation between them and with the missionary.”
Member care shows itself in a variety of ways, but a few examples are:
- Providing counseling resources for a missionary to process troubling experiences or events
- Debriefing with missionaries when they are on home assignment and transitioning between countries or agencies
- Arranging logistical support during home assignments (where to stay, how to get to and from the airport, etc.)
- Mobilizing a team to pray for and reach out to the missionary and their families on a regular basis
The list goes on and on, but good member care surrounds missionaries with constant support so that whenever they need to reach out, they know who to contact and what they’ll receive. For more on what kind of member care resources TEAM can provide as an agency, check out this blog post.
How do you achieve good member care?
To start, expectations on all sides need to be clearly communicated. This gives room for everyone to be on the same page and face minimal surprises down the road.
Stephanie gives three questions missionaries can ask to assess how member care will be provided for them.
- How do my church and organization work together?
- What resources does the organization offer (e.g. connections with counseling centers overseas, home assignment needs, debriefing, etc.)?
- What does it look like for my sending church to holistically support me on the field?
If strong member care isn’t in place – what are the effects?
If good member care isn’t in place, it can lead to burnout, ineffective ministry, family tension, spiritual loneliness/confusion and, in some cases, the missionary returning home and leaving the field.
“If you’re not able to process faith — who God is and what He is doing in a situation— along with mental and emotional issues,” Stephanie says, “you’ll potentially leave the field with an unhealthy and untrue view of God and yourself because you haven’t been given the opportunity to process and work through your questions on a spiritual level”
There are times when it is actually excellent member care to bring a missionary home for a time or permanently—if that is what is needed for the health of the missionary and the ministry. However, Stephanie says that if missionaries are returning home because they don’t feel buoyed and supported, “then the enemy wins. He wins by people coming home and not being able to serve, live and grow where Jesus has created them to.”
So, implementing good member care matters. It matters for a missionary to have a trusted friend to pray with when going through a tough time. It matters to have a counselor to talk to about relational issues on the field. It matters to have someone help think through how missionary kids will be cared for when they return to their home country for college.
Don’t be deceived that missionaries are only there to lead others; they need to be supported as well. And the churches and agencies that are successful at doing so make a member care plan from the beginning.
What role does the missionary play in member care?
Maintaining healthy member care requires intentionality. So when missionaries need the support offered through their church or organization, it’s essential that they reach out and ask for it. No one will have the same insight into what’s happening on the field like the missionaries do, so they have to be open and honest about what they’re facing.
Also, keeping themselves healthy means being involved in continual community. Social media makes this a lot easier. Missionaries can give updates, post photos and send out prayer request on sites like Facebook and Twitter. There are also online communities like Velvet Ashes or A Life Overseas that feature the honest perspectives of missionaries serving globally.
But, online communities can’t replace a missionary’s real relationship with their sending church. Missionaries have to continue making the effort and letting their churches into the real needs on the field. Just as their churches must continue to ask about them.
“When member care is done well, you see missionaries being celebrated, encouraged and empowered to serve … Member care done well or poorly, impacts the Kingdom for eternity,” Stephanie says.