Missions Blind Spots: Navigating the Invisible Obstacles for Church Leaders

Churches can maximize the impact of their missions ministry by avoiding these seven hindrances to effectively sending and supporting missionaries.

The blaring horn surprised me and caused me to jerk the car back into my lane.

I was not paying close attention and had only looked in my mirrors before attempting to change lanes. A car was tucked neatly in my blind spot. It was completely invisible, yet certainly there.

This incident on the road made me realize that just as our vehicles have blind spots, so do our churches and their ministry efforts—particularly when it comes to supporting and sending missionaries overseas.

Every church has blind spots. This isn’t a criticism but a reality. As we work with our global team and engage with local churches, we have observed some recurring blind spots that mission teams and church leaders often overlook when sending or supporting missionaries. By shining a light on these blind spots, we can bridge the gaps in our understanding and elevate the effectiveness of our overseas ministry endeavors.

1. Over-Accountability

Accountability is vital for missionary support, regardless of the funding amount involved. However, it’s crucial to recognize the proportionate accountability role each church should play. Expecting a missionary who receives minimal financial support to fill out extensive reports, make monthly calls, and make annual visits may create an undue burden. Finding the balance between reporting and support that encourages meaningful dialogue without overwhelming the missionary is key.

Moreover, accountability should not only focus on administrative matters but also on the spiritual well-being of the missionary. Engaging in regular conversations about their ministry challenges, spiritual growth, and prayer needs fosters a deeper sense of support and connection. Acts 14:24-28 highlights the importance of both accountability and engagement in the context of missionary work.

2. Under-Accountability

Conversely, asking nothing of our sent ones—no questions, communication, or reporting—leads to limited understanding and minimal relationship-building. Effective missionary support requires active engagement from church leaders. Regular communication, intentional inquiries about their ministry experiences, and ongoing prayer support create an atmosphere of care and investment.

As church leaders, we are called to provide spiritual oversight and guidance to those we send out on mission. Acts 14:27 states, “On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” This text demonstrates the importance of missionaries reporting their work and experiences to the supporting church, enabling a deeper understanding and connection.

3. The Nonverbal Message of Support Levels

Choosing a support level for missionaries involves more than financial considerations. Church leaders must recognize the message they convey through their support decisions. There is no “wrong” support level, as missionaries need churches, organizations, and individuals at all levels of support. However, it is essential for supporters to understand what their chosen support level communicates to the missionaries.

Philippians 4:17-18 emphasizes the mutual relationship between supporters and missionaries. Paul acknowledges the generosity of the Philippian church in supporting his ministry, stating, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.” Even more important than financial support is the depth of relationship it communicates.

4. Leadership Transitions

One of the most common concerns shared by veteran missionaries is the effect of leadership turnover in their supporting or sending churches. Uncertainty arises as they wonder whether the church’s missions philosophy will change, if they will continue to receive love and support, and how the new leadership perceives their ministry approach. Leadership transitions can deeply impact sent and supported missionaries, making it crucial for church leaders to address these concerns and provide reassurance.

Pastors, elders, and other church leaders involved in the missions programs of the church should pay careful attention to the New Testament’s qualifications and exhortations to shepherds, realizing they are called not only to shepherd their own flock but also to show shepherding concern for the church’s missionaries. By demonstrating consistent support and providing clear communication during leadership changes, church leaders can minimize the negative effects on missionaries.

5. Building Relationships With Sending Agencies

Churches must ensure doctrinal alignment with their missionaries. It is essential to establish a strong relationship with the sending agency that facilitates the missionary’s work. This connection provides churches with valuable insights into the missionary’s training, support structure, and accountability measures.

Additionally, partnering with the sending agency creates a network of support for both the missionary and the church. In times of crisis or unforeseen circumstances, having a trusted contact within the sending agency allows for prompt intervention and guidance. Pastors must prioritize sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), and this means we align ourselves with reputable organizations that share our commitment to the gospel.

6. The True Cost of a Visit

Inviting a missionary to speak at a church’s missions conference or event is an opportunity to minister to both the missionary and the congregation. However, it’s crucial to consider the actual costs involved. Often, the expenses of travel, time, and energy incurred by the missionary far exceed what might be expected.

Church leaders must be mindful of the real costs associated with visits and ensure that appropriate compensation is provided, including transportation expenses, lodging, meals, and any other relevant costs. Valuing the missionary’s time and efforts demonstrates our appreciation and support for their ministry.

7. Connecting for Long-Term Impact

For many long-term missionaries, their greatest need upon returning home is not financial support but connection. Imagine coming back to your church after being away for eight years—so much has changed. Veteran missionaries often seek reconnection with those who sent them out to the nations.

Church leaders should prioritize efforts to facilitate reintegration and reconnection for returning missionaries. This involves intentional relationship-building, providing opportunities for sharing experiences, and involving them in the ongoing life and ministry of the church. Church leaders should seek to tap into the wisdom of sent workers to and a lasting impact on both the missionary and the local body.

As church leaders, it is our responsibility to identify and address blind spots when it comes to supporting and engaging with missionaries in overseas ministry. Let us continue to strive for greater awareness and intentionality, cultivating a culture of support, understanding, and love for those who dedicate their lives to spreading the gospel in far-off lands. Through our collective efforts, we can maximize the impact of our missions endeavors and be faithful stewards of the Great Commission.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Focus on the Family on July 19, 2023. Used with permission.

Paul L. Davis

Paul Davis is president of ABWE. Prior to his appointment in 2017, Paul served as senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Holland, MI. He attended Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a master’s degree from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Paul and his wife, Martha, have been married for 28 years, and have both served in numerous roles in Christian ministry and education. They have four adult children. Follow Paul on Facebook.