Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review: Serving as Senders: How to Care for Your Missionaries

Summary of Neal Pirolo’s Main Arguments

In Serving as Senders Neal Pirolo addresses the very important, under-rated, and under-addressed subject of serving in missions as a sender of missionaries. Mission work is highly esteemed and admired in Christendom and there seems to be a virtual list of hierarchy of duties that are “the most spiritual,” the most esteemed, or the most important (Pirolo, p. 28). High on that virtual list is being a pastor and going to the mission field, but what about the rest of us? What about the lay person? Not all of us are called to be a pastor or foreign missionary. We are all called to missions, however. So how do we go? Or a better question might be, “How do we serve as senders?” Pirolo asserts that “It is clearly established that those who serve as senders share an equal responsibility and privilege with those who go (p. 184).”

Neil Pirolo addresses how we are to care for our missionaries, in Serving as Senders, while they are preparing to go, while they are in the field, and when they are returning home. Chapter one, “The Need for Senders,” addresses the need for senders in missions using stories and case studies (p. 23), and from the scriptural basis of Romans 10:15, “And how shall they [go] preach except they are sent (p. 14)?” Pirolo breaks down the “life span” of the missionary and outlines and charts out when the missionary will need support and how that support is helpful in the section “A Cross-Cultural Worker’s Life Time-Line (p.17).”The time-line of a cross-cultural worker’s life looks like this: a. normal living, b. anticipation of approval, c. prefield preparation, d. honeymoon period, e. culture stress, f. ministry of love, g. anticipation of return, h. culture stress in reverse, and i. full integration (p.17-21). During each of these stages in the life of a missionary, according to Neil Pirolo, support is needed from senders to missionaries in these six areas: moral support, logistics support, financial support, prayer support, communication support, and re-entry support (p. 22). These six areas of needed support are “the meat” of Sending as Servers and make up chapters two through seven, the body of Pirolo’s work.

In chapter two, “Moral Support,” the need for moral support is discussed. Going as a missionary can be a frightening and fearful undertaking that requires outside moral support for the missionary to “Be strong and very courageous; [and to not] be afraid or dismayed: for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9) (p. 28).” It is a shame that there has been a trend, even in Biblical times, of lack of moral support for those being sent (p. 31-34). We must be conscious of this trend and work to reverse it by giving our missionaries the moral support that they need to go.

Pirolo states that “Moral support is the very foundation of the support system (p. 30).” My favorite quote in this chapter is “People are so afraid for the other programs of their church that they don’t want anything to do with daring adventures into the unknown, or the uncomfortable. Mission ministry, after all, could be regarded as competition to the status quo-according to non-moral supporters . . . (Pirolo, p. 34). People can be quick to discourage calling to mission because it upsets the “norm” and means work for them. Instead of giving moral support, kickback is given, like in the case of the Apostle Paul or William Carey in their call and mission.

According to Neal Pirolo, and I concur with him, there are many ways that the church has not supported mission. These ways include stones of incrimination; where discouragements of all kinds are offered up, self-indulgent sleep; where the focus remains on comfort, worries about public opinion; where the public “welfare” is emphasized and the missionary is encouraged to be quiet about their “going” to not disrupt the “general public,” competition; where the establishment is “threatened” and other ministry is seen as competition, contradictory counsel; where the people may not be supportive of where God is leading the missionary, and finally, distorted theological views; where mission is discouraged despite scriptural mandate (p. 34-39). Instead of being a discouragement to mission, the church should offer up their encouraging moral support saying, “Bon voyage (p. 39)!” This solid-as-a-rock moral support, according to Pirolo, includes Jesus as the corner stone, the simplicity of moral support, the integration of missions, active listening, and commissioning (p. 39-48). As the church, we must understand that moral support is the basic foundation of the support system in mission (p. 52).

“Logistics Support” is the title for chapter three. In this chapter Pirolo brings up the importance of providing our missionaries the logistical support that they need. The scripture that begins this chapter is 2 Timothy 4:13 where Paul asks Timothy for his support while he is in the field: “And when you come, please bring the cloak I left with Carpus at Troas and the books, but especially the parchments.” It is striking to me, like in this scripture, that there are basic services that we can provide that are huge in helping those we send. What may seem minute or simplistic can mean the world for those who are in the field. Pirolo encourages us to be mindful of the needs of those we are sending. These needs are: accountability in ministry, confirming spiritual growth before they go, while they are in the field, and when they come home, managing business affairs like money, taxes, health, and death, and attending to personal details in reference to material goods, family matters, and ministry needs (p. 56-66).

While I was beginning to read Serving as Senders, this idea of logistics support played out in real life concerning contributing to personal details of the missionary and their ministry needs. A friend of mine e-mailed me about a backpack that I leant out to a mutual friend of ours. She told me that she was on her way to Romania for two years and that this backpack was just what she needed, as required by her sending organization. She wanted to know where we had gotten this pack and how she could get her hands on one similar. My wife and I still had the pack in our storage closet and had shifted our gear and packs we use to a smaller and lighter style. This pack she was inquiring about was just laying there not being used. Here was our opportunity to serve as senders through this basic and free logistic support. We gladly gave our friend the backpack. We had no idea how much this would mean to her. This simple thing for us to do apparently helped our friend tremendously and helped her economically; it helped her to feel relief and to feel supported. We were also blessed through helping and sending and being a part of her adventure and mission.

Chapter four, Financial Support, addresses our need to be senders through the financial support of our missionaries. There are many ways to give to missions financially, some are conventional and some are not so conventional. There are more ways to help support a missionary financially than just to give them money, though this is very important as well. However we give, we must be wise in our giving (p. 79, 80). We can also be good stewards of our own resources and lifestyles as we live and give to missions. It is disturbing that we spend more on chewing gum, dog food, and cards as Americans than we do on missions, notes Pirolo (p. 80). We can also give by helping to manage wealth wisely for those being sent, both abroad and at home (p. 83, 84). As senders we can “live more with less” and help give to missions and manage our own wealth and the wealth of those being sent (p. 92). We should be good stewards of our resources and generous givers.

Prayer support is addressed as a major key in serving as senders in chapter five, which is appropriately entitled Prayer Support. Prayer is important, as Ephesians 6:18a says we are to pray, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (p. 93).” It is not only important to pray for our missionaries and for those who they are going to. It is also important to pray and fast for them (p. 110-111). Pirolo states that we need to also pray for more laborers in the harvest fields (p. 112). We must also pray for the gospel to break through, for the enemy to be bound, and for God’s kingdom to come (p. 113-114). Prayer is essential for missions.

Communication Support, chapter six, addresses the importance and the need for helping missionaries in their communication needs as we serve them as senders. Ask anyone what the most important element of business or marriage is and they are likely to tell you that communication is the most important element, missions is no different. Communications is very important for missions according to Neal Pirolo in serving as senders. Sometimes communication affects missionaries financially as well (p. 120). It is important to communicate with those who we send so that we can monitor and provide for their needs, such as: prayer needs, financial needs, and other needs and to give them encouragement.

An area often neglected and not understood in supporting missionaries is re-entry support. Chapter seven, Re-entry Support, addresses this often neglected area of support. Just as culture shock is an issue when someone enters a new culture, there is also culture shock reentering one’s own culture in returning home after being gone for a long time of mission (p. 137, 195). Part of being good senders is supporting those whom we send when they return home.

The difficulties of reentry, according to Pirolo, can include: physical challenges, professional challenges, material and financial challenges, cultural challenges, social challenges, linguistic challenges, national and political challenges, educational challenges, and spiritual challenges (p. 139-146).These reentry challenges can be difficult for a missionary and our support is needed as we serve as senders by helping with these issues upon their reentry.

My wife and I had the blessing to help a missionary upon her reentry from her mission to Burundi. This missionary, a good friend of ours, had had a tough time while away on mission and needed a free and peaceful place to live while in transition between mission and the next step of her life. We happened to have a spare room and bathroom in our basement, so we were able to have her come live with us. It was great! The experience for us was overwhelmingly positive and was such a huge blessing for us. It was a helpful and blessed experience for her as well and we saw God work and move in all of us. We were able to serve as senders in the area of reentry support. This reentry support is such an important and crucial part of serving as senders.

Finally, in chapter eight, Your Part in the Big Picture, Neal Pirolo connects us with the larger picture of global missions and the roles that we play in global missions. God is working mightily in the harvest fields, and there is so much more work left to do. We are invited by our Lord to join in with Him in His work. What a blessing! There are so many unreached people in the world, especially in the 10/40 window (p. 172), and we can take part in reaching them by serving as senders. We must move boldly forward in this missionary effort and we must serve as senders (p. 173-176). Pirolo ends this chapter with a summary of the ways that we can serve as senders in these areas: moral support, logistics support, financial support, prayer support, communication support, and re-entry support (p. 177-180).

Also important to note, in the structure of Serving as Senders there is also an Epilogue that gives information on how to support Emmaus Road International, who published the book, and information in the resource section of the book which includes information on further study, motivation for missions, strategies for missions, prayer support, reentry support, financial support, inspiring stories of missions and missionaries, and information on videos, publications, seminars, training opportunities, and speakers. Also included in the back of Serving as Senders is a way of educating others on how to serve as senders through a detailed Group Leader’s Guide. This leader’s guide is a great tool to multiply influence and missions though education and to increase missions through increased education, and an increased number of “senders.”

Evaluation: Assessing the Theological and Practical Relevance of Serving as Senders

Serving as Senders, by Neal Pirolo, is a theologically sound, practical, relevant, and well done book that is very important and pertinent to us in mission. Not all of us are called to go to a foreign country to do missions, and missionaries cannot go unless they have a support system to send them while they are preparing to go, to care for them before they go and while they are in the field, and to support them when they return home. Pirolo’s quote is encouraging to me “It is clearly established that those who serve as senders share an equal responsibility and privilege with those who go (p. 184).”

I have spent most of my adult life in serving Christ through doing youth ministry, which I think is cross cultural ministry in its own right. My call to youth ministry, while unique in its own right, is not cross-cultural foreign missions as most of us understand missions, nor is foreign cross-cultural missions my calling. I have always wrestled with the idea of “going.” I have always viewed “going” as foreign missions and have never experienced that specifically as my calling. I suspect that I am not alone in this. This is why I believe that Serving as Senders is such a great book. It addresses how people, like me and others, can serve in missions by being senders of missionaries. This book illustrates how we can paradoxically “go” by staying and sending.

I highly recommend this book to anyone in church leadership, anyone who is considering going on mission, or anyone who has a friend or family member who is going on mission. This a practical guide to support missionaries, by serving as senders, as they prepare to go, while they are on mission, and when they return.

May we be serving as senders!



Pirolo, Neal. Serving as Senders: How to Care for Your Missionaries. Emmaus Road International, San Diego, CA. © 1991

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