Missionary on Furlough Spiritual Needs

Missionary on and his Furlough Spiritual Needs is an article by David Cox (veteran missionary) to help pastors and missionaries understand missionary needs.


Let me just “wax and wane” here a little bit. In my 30+ years of experience, I have to say that I have seen a lot. I have seen a lot of missionaries both on the field, fellowshipping with other missionaries, even me being involved in their ministries lightly, and in mission conferences, and by reading their prayer letters. My observation is first of all that there are a lot of extremely dedicated and sacrificial ministers out there that I am proud to be among their number. I would strive to be like or as good as them as my personal goal. I know I fall short. Many I have seen “fall out of missions” as if nobody even noticed them, and those cases break my heart. Discouraged they return to the US, defeated, depressed, usually bankrupt.

But by the same token, I have seen a lot of missionaries that shouldn’t even be in the ministry. Everything from no preparation in the Bible, some I doubt were even saved, to personal and marital problems, problems with their kids, to even seeing missionary pastors with alcohol-drugs-sexual addictions that would make even a pastor having an occasional visitor to his church with these addictions blush. Just because you are a missionary doesn’t mean you are free from sin, even gross sin. When a pastor “takes in a missionary on deputation or furlough“, he ministers to that missionary. That doesn’t mean every missionary has those problems or even that severity of problems, but the pastor should offer counseling services to him as “an equal to an equal” at least. The worse thing a pastor can do is “be a hotel“, that is come and spend the night, but my life is separate from your life, and I don’t want to know any more about you than I have to in order to be your hotel.

With all furloughed missionaries, they enjoy talking about the ministry with kindred spirits in the ministry. The principal objective for a local church pastor receiving a missionary on furlough is to encourage him in the Lord. Sometimes that means just listening, and sometimes it means sharing what God has taught you. But there is a profound and needy ministry in just being a friend, even if it is only for a weekend.

Note, his sacrifices, his tribulations and trials, his persecutions even, will all be rewarded by God in eternity, and maybe even here. Pastors also need this encouragement as much as missionaries need it. When they get together to fellowship, they are able to encourage one another. But every pastor ministering to a returning missionary should encourage them along these lines of faithfulness and reward in eternity.

Misplaced Missionaries that should not be missionaries at all

Although you have to “be very careful” and “be filled up on prayer“, in some cases, pastors should try to help these furloughed missionaries get out of the ministry and get into some kind of job situation where they can support themselves. The bottom line here is that if they are not examples of Christ, then they should resign from being a missionary or the Christian ministry altogether.

1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, ,,, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour…1 Timothy 3:7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Yes, we all sin, even pastors and missionaries. But we have to bring this verse to bear against our lives every day. Are we blameless? Are we exemplary? Are we like Christ?

Pastors can gently nudge these missionaries into some other kind of life besides missions. Note that the ministry and the testimony of Christ are damaged by not applying the requirements of God to ministers, especially leaders like a missionary. In some cases, exhortation and remedial effort by the missionary can take care of things, and in others, he should resign and return to the US and get out of the ministry altogether.

Every pastor that has a chance to counsel a missionary should always be aware that maybe God will use that pastor to encourage the missionary to keep on ministering or even transition to something else in the states.

Stop the Merry-go-round, I want to get off

In the case of most missionaries, their lives are a swirl of things that cause them to just get dizzy sometimes. Not physically, but spiritually, and although they have no intention of quitting the missionary ministry, they would like to just get off the merry-go-round for a while to get their wits about themselves again. Financial pressure may not allow this, but the point is that they can take a few weeks or a month “off” when on furlough. Meetings lined-up helps them do this. In my experience, I have enjoyed going with pastors to pastor conferences (although nothing developed from that for me as far as meetings) and also going on church outings, like father-son campouts, even before I was married. The time of good fellowship and food really recharges your spiritual batteries.

Some Tips for Pastors Encouraging Missionaries

First of all, do not undermine their way of leading or doing the ministry. Your missionary should be a leader. That means he should be making decisions by himself. If he is not, then he probably shouldn’t be a missionary. If they are open to receiving advice, then advise, otherwise be helpful and encouraging but not overbearing. Be an observer, a helper, an encourager, but not a father figure telling the missionary everything he is doing wrong if these are just style differences that you won’t necessarily do things that way. If he is grossly wrong, maybe you should have a talk with him about those issues, but in general, the attitude of the conversation should be like that in most cases.

Secondly, the two essential elements are talk and prayer. Do not go lightly on either. Prayer without talk is okay, but probably you don’t know the details of the guy’s ministry, and it is necessary to talk first, so you can pray intelligently. One of the most encouraging things a pastor can do with his missionary is to pray with him. Depending on when the missionary is available, this should be a regular thing every week or month over the missionary’s furlough.

Be aware that each of us has strengths and weaknesses, and God uses us with both, or even though we have both. Encourage the missionary in his weaknesses, so he can overcome and continue on. Do not build up his pride and ego by focusing on and exalting his strengths.

Note: Today, with cell phones and Internet meeting software like Zoom, and even emails, it is very easy for you to keep in touch with your missionary. Pastors should try to schedule a regular monthly prayer time with their missionaries through these means. Again, praying out loud and in the presence of the missionary is the greatest encouragement you can give them.

Thirdly, get more than just the pastor involved in praying for the missionary. The key points here are 1) people really know what you are asking prayer for, 2) people are really praying for your prayer requests, 3) there is a church-wide interest in the missionary’s ministry, and that ministry is as much the missionary’s ministry as it is the church’s ministry.

As a help, let me as a missionary give you my thoughts here. #1 All I said above is true. But, I do not expect nor can I handle 10–20 individuals in a church writing and calling me in a single week. As “great” as that would be, that is not necessary. If every church had just 1 dedicated person who would write to me as their missionary every other month, it would be tremendous. It would encourage me greatly also. When some supporter, pastor, or just interested Christian writes me personally, I always take the time to write them back a personal answer. But, the manpower here is really low on our side of things. The only thing is that that person remembers to pray, and remembers me in prayer. Again, email, cellphone conversations, or even Internet meeting software can be used effectively for this. No cost to the church or the church people except me and energy.

Next, remind your missionary by asking for an update if it has been a while. Another encouraging thing that help me as a missionary pastor, I am busy with my church on the field, giving them all the time and energy I can, then I have my wife and family, then my supporting churches, etc. So, I am a stressed-out, busy guy. Sometimes I go too long between prayer letters. But anybody that asks me for an update, I stop and immediately write them a “fresh” update at the moment. People in churches need to understand how this works. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Write or contact your missionary regularly for updates.

As another suggestion, effectively disseminate prayer requests. If you are in charge of getting updates from missionaries, it is discouraging to know as a missionary that those updates don’t go very far. Printing and posting them on a bulletin board, or even just summarizing them in a half-page prayer requests and posting them, is very encouraging to us.

As a missionary that a church supports for say 10 years, it is extremely disturbing that I just show up one day in their church, and I introduce myself, my name to the people in the back of the church, and nobody shows that they recognize my name. There are no missionary boards, no prayer letters, nothing. They support me, but not much more than a check once a month.

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