A Member Care Model for Best Practice
Member care is going international! Over the past five years (1997–2001), for example, interagency consultations on missionary care have taken place in India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Hungary, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, New Zealand, USA, Peru, and Brazil. It is especially encouraging to see caregivers emerging from the Newer Sending Countries and their efforts to develop culturally relevant resources. Email forums, web sites, written materials, interagency task forces, and missions conferences enable these and other member care personnel around the globe to communicate and contribute.The member care field is truly maturing. It is developing as an interdisciplinary and international handmaiden to promote the resiliency and effectiveness of mission personnel, from recruitment through retirement.
“Best practice” is a relatively new term within Evangelical missions, although the underlying emphasis on the quality of care has been part of Evangelical missions thinking and practice for some time. Specific examples would be the emphasis on providing proactive care to all mission personnel (e.g., Gardner,1987) and the need to develop ethical guidelines for member care practice (e.g., Hall & Barber, 1996; O’Donnell & O’Donnell, 1992). What is new and quite helpful, though, is the emphasis on publicly stating specific commitments to staff care in the form of written principles and evaluation criteria (key indicators), to which a sending agency voluntarily subscribes and is willing to be held accountable. This, in my estimation, is the greatest contribution of the current best practice context to member care in missions.
Overview of the Member Care Model
The basic member care model was developed by Dave Pollock and me, with some initial help from Marjory Foyle. It consists of five permeable spheres which are able to flow into and influence each other (see Figure 2). At the core of the model are the two foundational spheres of master care and self/mutual care. These are encircled by a middle linking sphere called sender care and then surrounded by the two outer spheres of specialist care and network care. Member care specialists and networks stimulate the care offered by the other spheres.
Each sphere includes a summary best practice principle related to the overall “flow of care” needed for staff longevity (Pollock, 1997): the flow of Christ, the flow of community, the flow of commitment, the flow of caregivers, and the flow of connections. Note that the flow of care is initiated by both oneself and others and that it is always a two-way street. Supportive care thus flows into the life of mission personnel, so that effective ministry and care can flow out from their lives. Such a flow of care is needed due to the many cares and the assortment of “characters” in mission life!
The model includes the sources of member care, such as pastors from sending churches and mutual care between colleagues, and the types of member care, such as medical and debriefing care. Think of it as a tool that can be used by individuals, agencies, service organizations, and regions. The model is a flexible framework to help raise the standards for the appropriate care and development of mission personnel. Use it as “a grid to guide and a guide to goad.” Here is an overview of the model.
Sphere 1: Master Care
(Care from and care for the Master—the “heart” of member care)
From the Master—the renewing relationship with the Lord and our identity as His cherished children, cultivated by the spiritual disciplines (e.g., prayer, worship) and Christian community, which help us run with endurance and enter His rest (Heb. 12:1, 2; Heb. 4:9-11).
For the Master—the renewal and purpose that derive from trusting/worshipping the Lord, serving Him in our work, often sacrificially, and knowing that we please Him (Col. 3:23, 24).
Sphere 2: Self and Mutual Care
(Care from oneself and from relationships within the expatriate, home, and national communities—the “backbone” of member care)
Self care—the responsibility of individuals to provide wisely for their own well-being.
Expatriate, home, and national communities—the support, encouragement, correction, and accountability that we give to and receive from colleagues and family members (see the “one another” verses in the New Testament—a list of these is in Jones & Jones, 1995)and the mutually supportive relationships that we intentionally build with nationals/locals, which help us connect with the new culture, get our needs met, and adjust/grow (Larson, 1992).
Sphere 3: Sender Care
(Care from sending groups—church and agency—for all mission personnel from recruitment through retirement—“sustainers” of member care)
All mission personnel—includes children, families, and home office staff, in addition to the “primary service providers” such as church planters, trainers, and field-based administrators.
Recruitment through retirement—includes specific supportive care coordinated by the sending church/agency throughout the life span and significant transitions
Sphere 4: Specialist Care
(Care from specialists which is professional, personal, and practical—“equippers” of member care)
Specialists—missionaries have a special call, need special skills, and often require various specialist services to remain resilient and “fulfill their ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5).
Eight specialist domains of care—these can be understood and remembered under the rubric “PPractical TTools FFor CCare”. These domains and specific examples are as follows: Pastoral/spiritual (retreats, devotionals); Physical/medical (medical advice, nutrition); Training/career (continuing education, job placement); Team building/interpersonal (group dynamics, conflict resolution); Family/MK (MK education options, marital support group); Financial/logistical (retirement, medical insurance); Crisis/contingency (debriefing, evacuation plans); Counseling/psychological (screening, brief therapy).
Sphere 5: Network Care
(Care from international member care networks to help provide and develop strategic, supportive resources—“facilitators” of member care)
- Networks—the growing body of interrelated colleagues and groups which facilitate member care by serving as catalysts, consultants, resource links, and service providers
- Resources—the network is like a fluid that can flow into the other four spheres and different geographic regions to stimulate and help provide several types of resources.
Applications and Final Thoughts
This best practice model is relevant for two main reasons. First, it is biblical in its core concepts, with its emphasis on our relationship with Christ and with each other, along with the role of self-care. Second, the model is general enough to be both culturally and conceptually applicable across many national and organizational boundaries.
Life does not always work according to our best practice models. Likewise, our best efforts for providing a flow of care can only go so far. We must remember that God is sovereign over any member care model or approach. His purposes in history often take precedence over our own personal desires for stability and order in our lives (Jer. 45:1-5). This is frequently the case for missionaries, where hardship, disappointment, and unexpected events have historically been part of the job description.
Irrespective of the struggles and strains of life in general and of missionary life in particular, we know that there is still much joy in the Lord! Joy and pain are not mutually exclusive. Joy is refined by and often flows from life’s challenges and pains.
Member care is important not because missionaries necessarily have more or unique stress, but rather because missionaries are strategic. They are key sources of blessing for the unreached. Member care is also important because it embodies the biblical command to love one another. Such love is a cornerstone for mission strategy. As we love, people will know that we are His disciples.