“Why Member Care? …Why Not!?”

One of my favorite depictions of Jesus is J.J. Tissot’s “Sleeping Jesus” based on Mark chapter 4. Here we see God Incarnate, the One who cares for the world, weary from a full day of ministry, taking the time to care for Himself. Throughout the Gospels we find Jesus drawing aside to pray, or rest, or spend time with a few close friends, or just get away from those who were pulling at his cloak. If Jesus had to be conscious of self-care, how much more do we need to be? Add to that, we are called to love and care for one another; as exampled by Barnabas, the Encourager, and Aaron who held up the arms of Moses when he grew weary in the heat of battle. Today’s “cross-cultural Christian workers” (CCCW) are on the front-lines of global evangelism in ever-increasingly dangerous and stressful parts of the world. Who are the “Aaron’s” and “Barnabas’” in the lives of these harvest hands?
     There is no question that the needs and stressors of workers are many, varied, and sometimes extreme. For example, in a 1993 study, parallels were drawn between the experiences of trauma and stress in Vietnam War veterans with that of foreign [workers] (Miersma). Thankfully, interest regarding member care has increased in the past 2 decades, but it remains an under-researched issue, and often slow to be implemented by sending agencies. Reasons for the increased interest may include; recognition of preventable attrition (issues not related to end-of-contract, retirement, etc) and current economic conditions (With fewer numbers of personnel on the field, expectations, work-load, and corresponding stressors increase. However, it is generally more cost-effective to preserve personnel than to replace them.). Additionally, there is a missiological reason for not only the increased interest, but also an increased need in caring for the holistic needs of CCCW. Global missions as related to world evangelism, now finds itself focused in the most volatile and dangerous parts of the world. As sending boards continue to focus on unreached people, CCCW’s are now living and working in areas that are war-torn, plagued by terrorism, disaster-laden and often living among people who are less than welcoming. They are regularly exposed to personal attack, persecution, threats, hostage situations, murder, terrorist attacks, political conflict and war. Too often, member care resources in these global areas are inadequate or non-existent. Inadvertently, we may be attempting to advance the call of the Great Commission with unhealthy, ineffective (or at least under-effective) harvest hands.
     Member Care has been described as: “The commitment of resources for the development of [cross-cultural Christian] personnel by mission agencies, sending churches, and other [sending] organizations. It is concerned with keeping personnel and their families healthy, resilient, and effective. It is an ongoing and strategic means to help [CCCW’s] get their job [the Great Commission] done.” (O’Donnell, 1992). Member care is understood to be holistic: encompassing the worker’s spiritual, physical, mental/intellectual, emotional, relational/social, and occupational needs; is ongoing: related to the wide range of needs from recruitment/assessment through end-of-contract/retirement; is a network of relationships comprising self-care, Master care, peer-to-peer care, pastoral care, organizational care (field/sending church/board), and specialist (critical needs) care.
     While member care includes proactive preventative care, most often it is utilized in a reactionary or crisis care manner (70-80% of the time; Hay, Lim, Blocher, Ketelaar, & Hay, 2007). Cross-cultural Christian workers seem to regularly under-report or minimize the effect of stressors (Bagley, 2003), perhaps due to a personal theology of suffering and faith, or the appearance of being unspiritual, or even out of fear of losing one’s assignment.
     So, what do we need in order to create or increase member care resources, thereby advancing the Great Commission? Here are a few thoughts to stimulate further exploration and discussion (some of these topics will be discussed in future editions):
     • Soul Care: Emphasize a renewal of spiritual disciplines and resources; offer/promote spiritual retreats
     • Self Care: Assess/promote individual holistic wellness (e.g. using the “Wheel of Wellness” or the “Comprehensive Miss. Wellness Inventory;” Gray). Give permission to get to the “back of the boat” (Mark 4:38).
     • Peer Care: Train and utilize “Pastoral Care Givers.” Encourage healthy relationships, networking, and accountability partners. Incorporate a “coaching model” for non-critical support (e.g. life/work balance, stress reduction, goal-setting, annual performance review, etc; utilize e-communication such as ‘skype’).
     • Sender Care: Develop an organizational culture of holistic member care. “Give permission” for care requests. Provide training opportunities for stress, burnout, conflict resolution, inter-personal issues, marriage/family, etc.
     • Specialist Care: Identify and encourage mission specialists in the areas of: counseling/psychological, crisis/disaster/debriefing, “mobile member care teams,” pastoral/spiritual, physical/medical, family/MK, team building, conflict resolution, training/education, etc.
     (based on O’Donnell’s “Model of Member Care,” 2002)
     Effective member care strategies are important because people are important, and cross-cultural Christian workers are strategic to fulfilling the Great Commission. I invite your comments, suggestions, or questions.   –thg


Bagley, R. (2003). Trauma and traumatic stress among missionaries. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 31(2), 97-112.

Hay, R., Lim, V., Blocher, D., Ketelaar, J., & Hay, S. (2007). Worth keeping: Global perspectives on best practice in missionary retention. (p. 183). Pasadena California: William Carey Library.

Miersma, P. (1993). Understanding missionary stress from the perspective of a combat-related stress theory. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 21, 93-101.

O’Donnell, K., O’Donnell, M.L. (1992). Perspectives on member care in missions. In K. O’Donnell (Ed.), Missionary care: Counting the cost for world evangelization. Pasadena, California: William Carey Library.

O’Donnell, K. (2002). Going global: A member care model for best practice. In K. O’Donnell (Ed.), Doing member care well: Perspectives and practices from around the world. Pasadena, California: William Carey Library.


About thgray

licensed clinical professional counselor; life/wellness coach; distance counselor/coach; international speaker, trainer
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