MEMBER CARE is the usual work of the church. It may be diﬀerent in practice among workers in cross-cultural contexts, but it is not vastly diﬀerent from the care for each other that we are called to provide, as God’s Church.
It is tempting to think of some logical reasons for the need for member care: to reduce attrition rate, increase morale, enhance productivity, or that happy members could be a recruitment strategy. Yet when we look at missionaries as persons created in God’s image, those reasons become insuﬃcient.
Dr Laura May Gardner reminded us of this, and the biblical basis for member care. She said, among other things, that Jesus provided the working example in the caring relationship with the disciples; that Jesus gave his followers a model, that of a shepherd; that God severely rebuked leaders for bad shepherding; and that reciprocal care is illustrated in the Gospels, as well as in Paul’s teaching of living as one Body.
Methodist Missions Society (MMS) sent five of us to the first Global Member Care Network (GMCN) Conference in Chiangmai from April 23 to 27, 2012. Dr Gardner, one of the 31 plenary and workshop speakers, reminded the participants of the scope, function and the awesome responsibility of this work.
Addressing the 350 participants at the opening plenary, Mr Harry Hoﬀmann, coordinator of the GMCN, spoke of member care as “about you and me being loved and cared for in the context of missions and life”.
He presented this “Pyramid of Care”:
Mr Hoﬀman spoke of the apex being God, and the supporting structures as the providers of that care. e categories are the missionary’s Family and Friends, Sending Church and its Structures (pastors, staﬀ, missions committee, small group), People Helpers (missions agencies, organisations), and Professionals (counsellors, psychologists, medical support).
“You” in the above, in contextual reference here, are the missionary in the field, as well as possibly the national workers there. Just as member care is a “total package”, member care providers need to be identified and placed in a position of eﬀective care.
The need for member care in MMS has long been recognised. is has been provided for in some sense. Member care has two facets: the ethos of care, and the specifics of care.
We want to develop people, missionaries, who are eﬀective as well as resilient over time. e ethos must include the long-term care, a proactive and multi-faceted approach (self-care, one-another care, training), modelled by leaders and eﬀective structures, with an established philosophical statement, like “we encourage personal responsibility; dependence on the Lord; mutual care; connecting with sending churches; empowering, not coddling members, to thrive, not just survive”.
Dr Lois Dodds, a missionary wife, psychologist, and member care provider, emphasised the clarity and provisions of the “specifics of member care”. From the time a person enters as a missionary candidate, there is a need for an awareness process. e missionary candidate and the sending church and agency would need to acknowledge and process personal and family thresholds, as well as personal risk factors.
There is yet another model for member care by Kelly O’Donnell and Dave Pollock where both sending church and missions agency are banded together to provide for sustained and committed care for all mission personnel (from recruitment to retirement). Perhaps this is a better working model for us in e Methodist Church in Singapore.
MMS has grown over the last two decades and it is now intentional on member care. A number of initiatives will be taken to raise the level of member care. Pray for us and with us.
Deborah Chou is a voluntary member of the Personnel Committee of Methodist Missions Society.