Do Missionaries Need Pastoral Care On The Field? – part 15

Please remember that this site is focused on missionaries who are going into the most unreached remote and many times dangerous situations. The number one reason why there are still so many unreached people groups in the world is that the Christian body has not gone to them. The photo on this article is of remote tribes in Papua New Guinea which is the number one country in the world [2022] needing Bible translating discipling missionaries (not traditional Bible translators) to go into remote areas with no communications.

So we ask ourselves why? Why has the Body of Christ not gone to these remote tribes? Is it because the people groups are resistant, or that their languages are hard to learn? Not necessarily. It is because missionaries tend to go where it is easiest to receive and send communications and get pastoral care on the field. So when we go into an area so remote that we cannot send or receive communications, pastoral care becomes impossible. You just can’t get it. So, those tribes are still lost today.

In other situations where communications are being monitored, you should not be sending them because you will alert those snooping your communications and be flagged. I have talked about examples of hundreds of missionaries being expelled from closed countries. The country did not expel the missionaries one at a time. They waited until they had identified large groups of missionaries and kicked them out all at once. This causes more impact on the sending countries and local congregations because the expulsion was massive.

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

(NIV Matthew 10:16)

Should my pastor or mission director visit me on the mission field?

If you go to a remote unreached people group, either you won’t be able to get pastoral care, or you shouldn’t be getting it. Your visitors would have to travel too far and spend too much money to come to see you. It’s just not practical. Visits to you on the field from people back home jeopardize your work. Moreover, you almost certainly will not have access to modern communications, or you should not be communicating with your home church, pastor, or agency. I cannot overstate this. It will be like the old days when missionaries had no telephones and no email.

When I was with a large mission agency, the person who was giving pastoral care in our country eventually stopped, because he wasn’t able to travel that far to see us. I had to travel to him when I needed to see him. Should mission agencies be sending pastoral caregivers around the world to spend a few days per year with their missionaries? Are you, the missionary, really that encouraged by the yearly visit? How much pastoral care can you get in a few days?

Wouldn’t you rather put the travel cost of your mission pastor or director to good use? In my case, I had better things to do with my finances and time than to visit our leader. Obviously, he had better things to do as well; he never came to see us. I am not criticizing him. I am just saying that it wasn’t practical for either of us.

Missionary pastoral care on the field is something that was invented by agencies. It keeps them in business. It allows them to play missionary once a year. Agencies mean well and want to take care of their missionaries. They don’t want to abandon their missionaries, but once the missionary is on the field, they are pretty much on their own, especially in remote peoples with no access to communications. Even in places where you do have communications with your agency, the amount of care given is not worth being a member of an agency. I personally know several directors of mission agencies and large denominational missions departments. I am always studying them closely; I secretly want to know what it is that they do. Whenever I am around one of them, all I do is ask questions, and, many times, I wonder why they or their staff travel all over the world, year after year, to spend only a few days with their field missionaries.

I don’t know what I find harder to believe: that you can get pastoral care from a yearly visit, or that you can get it over a phone or the Internet. I guess over the phone or the Internet would be better than nothing at all, if it did not jeopardize the field missionaries’ ministry. I try to imagine myself getting pastoral care on a remote field. Maybe, in times past, when the local church was much more interested in missions and gave more, it was reasonable that an agency director spent thousands of dollars visiting missionaries. Even if an agency’s bank account was overflowing with money, I can’t justify it. I have a dilemma right now because I need to go to India and cannot justify spending 2,000 dollars on a plane ticket. Even if I had 200,000 dollars in my bank account, I would have a hard time justifying spending 2,000 dollars of it. Think of how your missionaries would feel, those who are struggling to live month to month, knowing that you spent $2,000 or even 4,000 dollars to visit them on the mission field.

Missionaries need to get all the pastoral care they can before they go to the field.

Pastoral visits are not needed for missionaries to remote unreached people groups. Here is a solution for you. If you are a pastor or mission director, do all your pastoral care before the missionary goes. If a missionary is not a solid Christian, he or she shouldn’t be going. Everyone needs pastoral care once in a while but if you are planning on being off the grid, in a remote area, you need to go having been pastored as much as possible. After all, you are going to be a pastor of people. Missionaries win converts to Christ, disciple them, and pastor them until they too are sent. Our current local congregation model keeps people coming back to our local congregation over and over because they continue to supposedly need pastoral care. Once they have this, they need to get out and start pastoring where there are no pastors. Will it be perfect, no. Will we have all the answers? Not at all. This is where Jesus (our primary pastor) comes in.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

(NIV John 14:26)

Agencies, pastors, and mission directors need to give them everything they need before missionaries are sent out. I heard a missionary in Northern Africa speak at a conference complaining that he did not get pastoral care on the field. Then he said it taught him to press deeper into God. He comes from one of the biggest agencies in the world, so bigger doesn’t always mean better pastoral care. Eventually, he found that Christ was his pastoral caregiver and learned to live without the agency. In Latin America, we call this “Cuidado Integral del Missionero” which means integral missionary care.

I recently heard the newer model from the director of Integral Missionary Care in Latin America. He spoke of four points of missionary care in the field. Three of the points were the missionaries’ responsibility. Missionary, yes you. If you are in desperate need of pastoral care, it probably means that you left prematurely. Or that you need to press into God. Get into the Bible, get on your knees, and get divine help especially if you don’t have any means of communicating or if you are in a closed or dangerous area.

I believe what I am writing here. I am a director of a mission agency, but not in the traditional sense. I have had to give pastoral care on occasion but, they probably did not really need it. They got all the pastoral care and discipleship from us that they needed during their time training. We taught them how to fish. We taught them to go to the source when they needed pastoral care so they could go as far as humanly possible.

If you the missionary are close enough to send reports or to have a visit from your sending congregation or agency, or if it is safe to do so, you probably have not gone far enough. Remote unreached people groups are remote geographically and/or politically. In both cases, pastoral care is not feasible. The disadvantages of all that is required to be a part of a mission agency simply outweigh the advantages. Get your training and go. If you go thinking you have all the answers your training was not like the Christian Leadership for Mission section on this blog

It is obvious that when Jesus and the Holy Spirit send the missionary, it will not be easy. It is assumed that, if you are ready to be a missionary, you are ready to get your pastoral care from God above. I cannot imagine that Jesus would have gone out to see if his disciple were OK and doing their job. If they still needed pastoring, he wouldn’t have sent them to begin with. He gave them the Holy Spirit for that. He knew what he was doing, and knew that they would need care. So, he did the most practical thing. He sent them someone that could always be with them: the Holy Spirit. You will not be alone.

If you feel that it is absolutely necessary to form a mission agency, don’t charge commissions, and don’t visit your missionaries on the field. Everyone needs counsel, comforting, wisdom, ministering, healing, love, encouragement, and edification. Unfortunately, you cannot get it through a three-day visit or voice-over IP. Our parents told us as children that we could not maintain a long-distance romantic relationship.

Sending protocol for missionaries to remote unreached people groups:

  1. Go, and God bless you. Don’t come back.
  2. If you get into trouble, go to the source, Jesus. We won’t be able to help you much, but we will pray.
  3. Don’t send us communications or letters, even through an encrypted internet. We know what to pray.
  4. If you have to return, of course, you can come here for rest and healing, but don’t come back unless it is absolutely necessary. Do not ever leave your people group, not for one minute.
  5. Don’t feel the need to send reports of your progress. You know what to do. And that’s between you and God. We don’t need your progress reports to raise money for the mission.
  6. We won’t be channeling money for you, so you won’t need to pay us a percentage of your missionary support. It all goes to you. Get a debit card or get provision along the way.
  7. If you are kidnapped or held for ransom don’t reveal the location of other missionaries and don’t expect a ransom payment.
  8. If there is a coupe, war, terrorism, or a disaster, stay with your disciples. More doors open because of it.
  9. If you die, someone (your partner) will bury your body or someone will throw it into the fire or the trash. You don’t need to be buried in your country of origin. No one will pay for the return of your body.
  10. Your partner or family stays on the mission field if you die.

This may sound harsh, but Jesus told us that if they killed him, they will kill us too. (Matthew 24:9) Dying on the field is part of opening more doors for the Gospel. There are a certain amount of soldiers who are going to have to pay the price with their lives in a real war.

Pastoral care of missionaries on the field is not needed. If it were given as I suggest above, it might help more than it hinders. Agencies (feeling the need to give pastoral care) are preventing the extension of God’s kingdom. They bog down the missionary with these unnecessary requirements that do not allow the missionary to go beyond their reach. We must always look to the teaching of Christ and the apostles first when developing protocols. They not only taught against structured institutions but there is also no evidence of a sending structure in the New Testament. We have taken a few verses and built a wide range of protocols that keep the missionary from getting into the remote unreached areas. This should be enough for us to seriously question the need for a sending agency.

Missionaries do not go to the field alone.

It is Biblical that Jesus taught that they go in teams of two (Mark 6:7). Also, the apostles (with few exceptions) went in very small teams mostly in two by two. This is the New Testament model. This is not evidence of an agency. Paul asked some churches to help with finances to aid other churches but this is not an agency. People help each other in mission work but this is not an agency. We need to go two by two. There is deep spiritual wisdom on not going with large teams. I have a good friend who is the director of a large agency and they send teams of six to eight people. We think we know better than Jesus, but he has a reason for everything he does. We need to follow his instructions.

The current agency structure has grown to the point that its protocols and requirements are just not Biblical. Many use the terms “lone wolf” or “lone ranger” when those terms are really not Biblical. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Remember? We must go with someone else. Don’t go totally alone. The agency insists that it needs to give pastoral care when Jesus’ methods are not honored. They want to accompany you as you go on the other side of the world. Even if this was realistic, it would not be how Jesus sent the disciples.

If you were to start a mission agency, what could you do for your missionaries? You could become experts on the country that your missionaries want to go to and help them get a jump-start, but is it worth creating an entire agency? Your missionaries will eventually learn what they need to without your help. You might be teaching them the incorrect things, as you have not lived in those countries. Even if you lived in those countries, your information will quickly be out of date.

There have been at least five mission pastors in my sending congregation since I was sent out in 1986. For about three years, my wife and I lost all communication with our sending congregation. I didn’t know why until, one day, we were going to be traveling to my hometown, so I got on the website for the church, and behold: there was a new mission pastor. I made an appointment, and we spent about two hours with him. He told me that he had just taken the role of mission pastor and that it had been vacant for those years. I had a few other communications with him after we met, but that’s it. No real pastoral care to be found there. No one told me that there was no mission pastor and no mission department for those years of silence. What I am saying is that many people are trying to give the appearance of providing pastoral care to their missionaries.

2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

(NIV Acts 13:2-4)

Look closely at the verses about and pay attention to Who is doing the sending. Verse 3 is usually made the case for an agency with protocols and pastoral care in the field. Did the brothers and sisters help the two, yes of course. Did other churches get involved is supporting? Yes, they did. Does this warrant the need to establish agencies? I don’t see it.

I will be very candid here. I believe that the local congregations have become so weak in being involved in God’s great commission that agencies have formed to help immature people try to get ready for the task of mission work. Has it been all bad? Maybe not, but the evidence that it has not gone so well is that there are so many unreached people groups still. Something has to give.

Having said all of this, if you can get real pastoral care from a real pastor while on the mission field, fantastic. If you can get it without them having to spend thousands of dollars coming to see you or compromising your safety and ministry, that would be even better. However, it should be no reason for you to be upset and come home if you can’t get it. After all, your church did not send you as a missionary, your mission pastor did not send you as a missionary, and least of all, your mission agency did not send you. You were sent by the Holy Spirit. You were sent to be a pastor of the future believers. You went out of obedience to the Word of God and the command of Jesus Christ to take the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world.

This spiritual commendation has little to do with your home church or your mission agency. You are the one who has to encourage yourself in the Lord with your partner once you are far from home. You should have a certain level of maturity in getting your guidance and help from the Lord if you are going to be a missionary. Even if you don’t, you will learn it soon enough.

David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God.

(NIV 1 Samuel 30:6) Some versions; David encouraged himself in the Lord.

“and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(NIV Matthew 28:20)

Commonly, the missionary’s pastoral care decreases or disappears after two or three years. These are the statistics for western missionaries, and they are worse for emerging world (global south) missionaries. Half of all missionaries sent from the emerging missionary movement will lose their support and most of the contact with their sending churches within two years. This statistic has puzzled me for a long time. They come from a continent-wide survey taken between 2002 and 2020. You might be able to use a translator to look at this research. It was done by a friend who wrote a forward to my book named Dr. Levi de Carvalho Director de Research COMIBAM International. See this page (you can use Google to translate it from Spanish to English). We require all our missionary candidates to read this research and write response papers on it.

One day, I was invited to speak to a group of young people, and I told them, “Half of you will lose your support and contact with your local church within a few years.” A friend of mine, who is the head of a mission agency, was upset. He stood up in that meeting and told me that I couldn’t say these things and discourage them like this. I first explained that the data comes from surveys (above) of hundreds of missionaries. Then I said that I would rather be honest with them so that they don’t have high expectations. If you think about it, it actually frees you up from so much worry about your connection with your home congregation, agency, and finances. It also means, no pastoral care after those two or three years.

If we don’t tell the missionaries that people don’t stand behind them, they will get depressed. Even worse, they may want to come back. If they know beforehand, they can gear up to not be so upset and even prepare for a smaller amount of finances and pastoral care. But, if they are never taught in the first place that they need to raise set levels of funds and that they will be getting pastoral care on the field, they won’t be disappointed. I don’t take pleasure in writing these things, but so many things being taught are hindering the extension of the Gospel. We are not teaching the new missionary candidates correctly. They need to know the truth. We cannot continue to make promises that we cannot and should not keep.

I come from a congregation of fifteen thousand members. They have several satellite churches with between 1,000 and 2,000 members each. In 1986, fifteen pastors gathered around me, laid hands on me, and sent me on my way (Acts 13:2-4). And then the Holy Spirit sent me as a missionary. I was the first person in that congregation saved, baptized, trained, and sent as a missionary. To this day, I don’t receive any communications, pastoral care, or finances from them. A friend of mine was also sent to Eastern Europe at around that time. She and I are the only two missionaries sent by our home church that we know of. Today, neither one of us has any pastoral care or support from them. I haven’t thought about them in years. I obeyed the Lord in my heart on my conviction to go to the mission field, and the Lord has taken care of me. In my first year on the field, the youth group supported me with 100 dollars per month. In my second year, that congregation sent me 235 dollars a month, allowing or freeing up the youth group to drop my support. I would be considered very fortunate compared to the Nigerian missionaries being sent out today with only three months’ support. I had twenty-four total months of support. That is what the research shows done in about thirty countries.

You will have to go to a place where there are no pastors, no friends, no other Christians, no Bibles, no Christian radio, and no congregation. You, the missionary, will be all alone with your partner in a foreign land to do your mission work. You and your partner, if you have one, will be going it alone. I think this is why Christ sent his disciples in pairs. He knew they would need encouragement. The first disciples usually traveled with someone. Go with a spouse, if you need one, or if you have one.

If you can’t find anyone willing to go where you want to go, what do you do? If you don’t have a spouse, this shouldn’t stop you from going. Go with or without a spouse, but try to take someone along if you can. Don’t marry someone who will not go to the mission field, or you will have a dilemma. My missionary pastors always told me to find my future spouse on the mission field already doing what I am doing. I did, but many fields don’t have missionaries, especially unreached people groups.

Get your pastoral care from wherever you can, firstly from Jesus, the Bible, prayer, God, and the Holy Spirit, from seeing God do his work among the unreached peoples. Then from the trees, butterflies, or wherever is true, noble, right, and pure. (Philippians 4:8-9) Don’t be bitter about not being contacted or supported y your local congregation or agency. They did not send you. Just look to Christ. He is always there. One day, I assure you that you will eventually have Christian friends from the unreached people group you are discipling. You need to remember that. They will keep you company. They will be your new family. You might even find a spouse, and then again, you might not. Having a spouse is not a high priority in the great commission. Read Matthew 19:11-12 and 1 Corinthians chapter seven.

This topic can not be covered in a blog post. Remember to get into your New Testament and look for the answers for yourself.