Reviewed by Micah McCormick
Mind the Gaps is a book about missions. Many books have been written about missions, but this book occupies quite a small shelf in the library of missions books. Specifically, the authors seek to “show the ways in which the local church is uniquely equipped to minister to the missionaries it sends and to mind the gaps of needs which are not always met by agencies” (7). Mind the Gaps isn’t a work of ivory tower speculation—it’s written by a mission team very much active in their own local church in seeking to care for their church’s missionaries. Although the variety of authors and topics at times gives the book a slightly disjointed (or at other times repetitive) feel, by and large all the contributions make for an excellent and unified resource on missionary care.
The book is divided into five sections:
- preparing a mission team [a care team in your local church who will reach out to your church’s missionaries]
- preparing and selecting missionaries
- relationship building in the local church to support missionaries
- ministering to the particular needs of missionaries
- helping missionaries through ministry transitions (e.g. retirement).
Mind the Gaps does an excellent job of offering numerous suggestions for missionary care that are simple and concrete. Many of these suggestions fall under the general admonition for churches to be proactive rather than reactive (6). Don’t merely wait for a missionary to inform you of radical highs and lows—tribal revival or life threatening danger or financial crisis—rather you should faithfully reach out to them and assure them of your care and support amidst the more “normal” ups and downs of every day missionary life. As a pastor who recently returned from an overseas visit with a missionary family sent out by our church, I found their words echoed in much of what I read in Mind the Gaps.
In the book, individual church members are continually encouraged to be in regular contact with the missionaries their church supports. This contact might come through email, skype, letters, phone calls, care packages, social media, or some combination of all of those things. But the care doesn’t have to be overly complex. Many Christians make the mistake of assuming that because they aren’t best friends with a given missionary, or because they aren’t a pastor, they have little to offer a missionary in terms of personal verbal encouragement. But consider the following note from one of the authors: “When I ask missionaries, ‘What does missionary care look like for you?’ the most common answer is simply that ‘someone sent me a note to let me know they are praying for me.’ Another frequent response is ‘my kids received a birthday package.’ Yet another response is . . . ‘They read my monthly newsletter . . . and pray for me’” (65).
Mind the Gaps puts prayer in its proper perspective by quoting Oswald Chambers: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work” (66). The book doesn’t merely call on churches to pray for their missionaries in a general sense. The book observes how often Paul the missionary asked for prayer in concrete ways (67). Then it offers pages of specific ways to pray for missionaries, broken down into several categories with scores of bullet points (68-74).
Even though the book isn’t particularly long, it’s quite comprehensive, tracing out missionary care from the actual selection of supported workers all the way to the point of retirement from the field. Churches are encouraged to care for missionaries by choosing them carefully, making sure that the missionaries are aligned with a church’s missionary vision, and by considering the missionary’s character, competence, and calling (35). The authors don’t shy away from reminding churches of the financial needs that missionaries face. One former missionary points out that far too often, church budgets for missionaries don’t increase from year to year, even though many missionaries live in cultures where the cost of living does increase from year to year, just as it does in America (138). Each short chapter of the book ends with several helpful diagnostic questions that could fuel further discussion in a small group or a mission team meeting or among church members at large.
Although I would recommend the book, that recommendation comes with a couple asterisks. First, at times the book seems to prioritize the missions agency over the sending/local church. For example, the authors ask who has final authority when a missions agency and a church have a disagreement over a certain course of action in respect to a missionary, and they conclude, “In general, the sending agency has the final authority over the one who was sent out” (98). Even the title of the book, “Mind the Gaps,” refers to churches coming alongside missions agencies and supporting them by filling in the cracks, so to speak. In the New Testament, however, normally churches are the organizations taking center stage—commissioning missionaries, sending them on their way, supporting them, and helping to navigate difficult decisions with respect to personal conflict on the field. Missions agencies can still have their place—providing specialized training and logistical answers for difficult cross cultural questions, for example. But it should be the missions agencies that support the local/sending churches, not the other way around.
Second, and this asterisk is much harder to articulate, at times Mind the Gaps seemed to pit nurturing care against corrective care. I got the impression that the missions team of a church existed simply to listen and provide a confidential and sympathetic ear for missionaries, while others (pastors or mission agency workers?) were the ones to evaluate, choose, correct, rebuke, and if necessary remove a missionary from the field. I doubt the authors would appreciate having their approach labeled a “good cop, bad cop” paradigm, but the book repeatedly speaks of the missions team having a non-evaluative role (36, 58, 61), even though others undoubtedly should (36-47, 59). Certainly a missionary may have a closer relationship with any given member of a church (whether a pastor or not), and may confide in that person more closely, but doesn’t such a relationship provide an even healthier context for loving correction as needed? Conversely, if missionaries are afraid to share their spiritual discouragements out of fear that their financial support will immediately be pulled when the missions pastor finds out, wouldn’t addressing the pastor’s heavy handed approach be a better way forward than creating a safe missionary communication space where no provisional evaluations/judgments of any kind are allowed?
These asterisks aside, Mind the Gaps addresses an area that is far less emphasized than it should be. Too much church literature is taken up with novel approaches only loosely connected to Scripture. How can we not address John’s straight forward command to care for those who go out “for the sake of His name” (3 John 7)? We are called to “send them on their way in a manner worthy of God” (v.6). How do we do that? Mind the Gaps gives us many places to start.
Micah McCormick is assistant pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church, New Hyde Park, NY.
Buy the books
Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care